Bodour Al Hilali is Dubai’s Queen of A-list Beauty

They say real beauty is effortless, but there is also beauty in working hard for something and making it look like you didn’t break a sweat. This is how women in business, especially in the Middle East, are dominating the scene despite tough obstacles.

If you have heard about Kim Kardashian and makeup guru Mario Dedivanovic’s makeup masterclass held in Dubai earlier this year, you’d be curious to know how these A-list celebrities somehow washed up on this side of the gulf. Meet the powerhouse whose vision changed Dubai’s concept of luxury beauty salons and made the makeup masterclass of the year happen. She is Bodour Al Hilali, founder of the Belle Femme beauty salon empire.

At 19, most people would have been satisfied just being in their own little corner of the world, but as early as that, Bodour had already chosen her track as an entrepreneur.

Gulf Tomorrow [GT]: How did you realize you wanted to start your own beauty salon business?
Bodour [B]: I grew up in UAE, and I loved going to beauty salons at a very young age. I felt that the beauty industry still had some room to grow. Growing up, I realized that all the good salons were located in hotels. There weren’t a lot of good salons in neighbourhood areas, so I wanted to create a concept where friends can go in and pamper themselves together, socialize, just have a good time while getting glammed up.
I opened the first location in December 1999 in Pyramid Centre, opened the one in Jumeirah a year later. Afterwards, we opened one in JBR, and then at The Walk, which is a different concept. Now we have five branches, with home service and Belle Enfence, the kids’ salon.

GT: What other aspects of the beauty business are you involved in?
B: Three years ago we started a hair academy because I felt like we need more training for our staff and other salons out there. We called it Hair Creators. A lot of our clients from GCC come to the academy and train their hairdressers.

GT: Did you ever feel like there was a struggle or a particular challenge while trying to establish your place in the beauty industry?
B: I was young, and I’m a woman, so I felt like getting the suppliers and getting the people we work with to take me seriously was definitely challenging. It took me a good two years to understand how the business works and what’s the direction I wanted to take.

I wanted to grow with multinational brands. We know there are specific guidelines when it comes to building an image for your business so they’d partner with you. That was also difficult to do.

Honestly there were so many aspects that were challenging, but another one that comes to mind is hiring the right staff. I am not a hairdresser. I have no experience as a beautician. Only as a customer can I give my feedback. I realized a lot of so-called professionals were lying in their CVs. It took me a long time to understand how to hire the right people.

GT: I guess everything was a learning curve. How was it like trying to learn what your market wants?
B: When it comes to understanding what my customer wants, it was a fun challenge because until today I always ask to be criticized. Criticism, when constructive, is important to the business, and I felt like it really helped overall. That’s why a lot of our clients have been our clients for many, many years. The whole point is to make sure that they stay and keep them happy as much as we can.

GT: We know that when you say Belle Femme salon, it means beauty and luxury. It’s become synonymous to A-list treatment. How did you reach this status?
B: The best beauty professionals always want to go one step higher, have more training, do something different, no matter how experienced they are. They always find out what’s the best trend in the beauty industry, the best tools…anything to enhance the experience of the customer.
Eight years ago, I thought, “Ok, let me let me spice things up more and give my clients a Hollywood experience.” I approached a celebrity colorist and a stylist from the US to collaborate with us. They would come to visit us three to four times a year at the salon. These are the people who do Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, and all the other A-list celebrities of Hollywood. At the same time we had our
staff learn from them and their technique.
It was working very well, and then three years ago we thought, “Why don’t we take it a step even further and start offering a masterclass?” We started off by getting a celebrity which was Khloe Kardashian. We got the best people in the business: makeup artists, hair stylists… And we did a huge masterclass and had around 500 to 600 people attend and learn. After that we did another one with
(Miss Universe 2012) Olivia Culpo. The latest one this year in January, we had Kim Kardashian and her makeup artist for the past 10 years, Mario (Dedivanovic).

GT: These masterclasses, were they exclusive for beauty professionals only?
B: Not at all. A lot of people who attended the one with Kim Kardashian and Mario are beauty enthusiasts. They love everything about beauty. They love makeup. They love these celebrities and their makeup artists, so why not bring it to them, and show them their idols’ techniques? And since we already have a good relationship with brands, we were able to give the VIP attendees goody bags worth $3,000. We were able to give them this interactive experience. On top of that, we started the trend of having masterclasses in Dubai. It may not be a completely new concept, but here in Dubai it is, and we started it. A lot of people are doing them now.

GT: Did you ever think of branching out outside of the UAE, and moving your business somewhere?
B: Yes. I was approached by a lot of people so I could franchise in other countries, but the problem is the company is like family. Since it’s personal, it’s not like something I can just give to someone and then let them take care of it. It’s not just a business. If I am looking at it just as a business, I can just make money by franchises from so many countries, but then I’m not sure they’ll care for it, or if they
will provide that service that we are supposed to provide.

GT: We’re curious to know how you handle all your Belle Femme branches. You must have a very busy schedule, so anyone who reads your story must be burning to ask: How does she do it?
B: I don’t believe in sitting in a coffee house, so what I do is I try to do a monthly schedule in which I go to the office once every two weeks so I know where we stand in terms of accounts. During the week I go around the branches, like today. Today I went to see the team, to see what’s up, what’s new. Sometimes we work on a project so I go to the other branches. I prefer working in this way.
With the marketing team, we decide to work twice a week from different branches, just to make sure that we are everywhere.

GT: You move around a lot! But when you’re not being the master of your beauty empire, what do
you do to wind down?
B: I love watching TV shows. Game of Thrones is my favorite. I like Jon Snow and the Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi. If they get killed I will stop watching. (laughs) I also love spending time with my family

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