Before Negin Fattahi Dasmal launched N.Bar in 2001, the personal care landscape in Dubai was dominated by one-stop shop salons in five star hotels. Often over-priced and unhygienic, Dasmal spotted a gap in the market and set about filling it.
Nearly two decades and 23 locations later, N.Bar and male grooming concept 1847 remain at the forefront of the UAE’s personal care market. Dasmal recently stepped away from daily operations, handing the reigns of N.Bar and 1847 to managing director Leila Sanii. Born in Iran and having spent more than 40 years in the UAE, like Dasmal, Sanii saw Dubai grow. As the city expanded, so did the company. When new retail spaces popped up in the city, a Grooming Company concept often followed.
We meet with Sanii at one of N.Bar’s recently opened branches nestled in the Riva Beach Club on the Palm Jumeirah’s Shoreline. As is the case with the concept’s other locations, the clinical white palate that dominates the interior is accented with fl ashes of hot pink. The company’s managing director echoes this juxtaposition of professionalism and personality: “My background is HR, human resources management. In 2012 I had the opportunity to meet with Negin Fattah Dasmal, the founder and the visionary of The Grooming Company which was one of the biggest opportunities that I got in my life. I started working with Negin from 2012 and I basically learned everything in this business from her. For me it was a great opportunity.”
The Grooming Company is a holding company for multiple UAE and UK-based grooming brands including N.Bar, 1847, JetSet, Sisters Beauty Lounge, Trevor Sorbie and Strip Wax. Leila Sanii is the managing director of two of the company’s brands: “N.Bar, is a nail salon for ladies, and 1847 is an executive grooming company for men. We have 13 locations of N.Bar in Dubai and 10 locations of 1847 — nine in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi, at the Saadiyat Beach Club. New branches of N.Bar and 1847 will open shortly in DIFC’s Gate Avenue.”
According to Sanii, the market was crying out for a concept like N.Bar: “I’ve lived in Dubai for 44 years and back then the only places you could go to get your nails done were in all around salons where you would sit there and get your hair done, your nails done and everything else concerning your grooming.” At the time, specialised salons weren’t commonplace but Sanii says that part of the company’s success was the ability to change people’s habits: “It was very important to educate clients. When you go somewhere, you don’t necessarily need to do all of your services together. If you go to a specialised place, it makes a lot of difference. In a nail salon, they only specialise in their nail services so you get the best out of it. When you go to a specialised hair salon, you get a specialised hair stylist to take care of your hair needs but at the beginning it was very difficult to make sure that people would understand that. Eventually, people got used to the fact that you would go to a nail salon to just do your nails.”
Another challenge was the fact that regulation and industry standards were practically non-existent: “One of the issues we had back then was that the places you would go to were not as hygienic as they were supposed to be. So when Negin came up with the concept of N.Bar, she set standards for hygiene.” Dasmal was inspired by the way in which dentists handled their tools and set about ordering sterilised manicure tools from medical suppliers. Sterilised tools are now mandatory in beauty salons throughout the UAE.
Sanii adds: “It was somewhere customers knew that everything was being sterilised. They could see everything coming out of the sterilising pouches so there was nothing to be worried about. I think what she did in this market was change the standards in grooming which set us apart as a specialised nail grooming business in the region.”
Training and the maintenance of the company’s standard operating procedures have kept both N.Bar and 1847 ahead of the competition. “We’ve got a very extensive training programme from the time that we hire our employees and specifically, the technical team. What we do is we take them through all of the standards that N.Bar and 1847 are following. They’re being trained on all the SOPs (standard operating procedures), and they’re being trained to deliver the customer service that we offer. That’s how we set ourselves apart from anything that’s in the market,” says Sanii.
The business not only follows municipality directives but they set their own hygiene and operational standards says Sanii: “When we set the standards 18 years ago that’s something that we managed to do by working closely with Dubai Municipality.
We were to be able to establish those standards and make sure that our clients knew about them as well. Our clients’ standards are very high.” Incumbent brands don’t seem to bother Sanii: “The market is huge here when it comes to grooming so we’ve got a lot of opportunities in the market. Yes, at the beginning people want to try new concepts but at the end of the day, you keep your standards and make sure that you have great customer service.”
In fact, Sanii says competition has had a positive impact on the business: “We believe that competition can be very healthy for all kinds of businesses. When you have a competitor, you try to stay ahead, you try to stay innovative and I think it helped us to create new services and come up with different ideas to ensure that we stay ahead of the business that we pioneered 18 years ago.”
In a bid to ‘stay ahead’ the company is working with a spa expert to develop a new range of customised services and a new product line is being developed. Male grooming has been a growth area for the business with 1847 recording a double figure year on year growth. Again, the company was ahead of the curve when it launched its male grooming concept 14 years ago. Sanii says: “I’ve seen a huge difference since 2004 when we first opened our 1847 in Emirates Towers. There’s a huge difference now with men taking care of themselves. They’re ok with stepping foot in a salon. They know more about grooming standards.”
The Grooming Company as a whole is experiencing growth according to Sanii: “We have expanded in the past year and a half and the profit of those new locations is going to help us a lot in the growth of the business. I would say we’ve had great growth in the past three years. Our year on year growth percentage is in the double figures which is fantastic growth in this market. With eight locations opening in the past year and a half, that has helped the company’s bottom line.”
International expansion is also on the cards. Sanii says: “Our brands and standards are very well established and the franchise model we have is perfect for someone to come in, go to their home country and start a very profitable business.
We’re going to Europe first because it’s closer. We’re also looking at Canada and the US but that’s going to be at a later stage. Europe would be our first priority after this region.
“We have our franchise department which is working to expand the business as franchises all over the world. That’s how we’re planning to expand. We’ve started franchising in India where N.Bar has just opened and we’ve been looking at expanding in Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and all of the GCC.”
Still, according to Sanii, there are some projects that they’d rather take on themselves: “We’re definitely going to go to London but this will not be done through our franchise model. London is a great market for us. As a holding company we own many brands. We own Trevor Sorbie which is a fantastic brand with seven locations in the UK and one that opened in the Dubai Mall in February. We also own Strip Wax, a chain of waxing salons in the UK. So I think that there’s a very good opportunity for us to own other homegrown brands in England.” Sanii believes that there’s a lot that they can bring to the European market when it comes to personal grooming and service standards: “In the Middle East people have a lot of disposable income and they are happy to spend money on their grooming. I believe that is because of the standard of the services that we provide in this region.”
Though the company has had its fair share of setbacks, namely in 2012 with the closure of a few branches, it has now entered a new phase of regional and international expansion. Sanii credits the company’s loyal customer base with its success through the years. Customer service is the differentiator. “We are very spoiled in this region. Our clients would vouch for that,” she smiles.