Reem Abou Samra, is what you would call a renaissance woman. A seasoned entrepreneur with more than 12 years of fashion and jewellery retail experience, she is known to her followers on Instagram as the #Queenofselfie but uses her platform to support organisations such as the Rashid Center for People with Determination.
Just over three years ago, Abou Samra founded José Eber Laloge Beauty Lounge at The Address Montgomerie Dubai. Based on the principle of VIP service in luxurious surroundings, the concept was a hit with the Emirates Hills set from the start. Branches at The Address Boulevard, Downtown and Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah followed and her fourth Dubai branch, at Caesars Palace Bluewaters opened in April of this year. Abou Samra now has her sights set on locations further afield with plans to franchise the concept across the GCC.
We meet at the LaLoge’s Jumeirah branch. Located on the ground floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, the salon provides a full range of beauty and grooming services to both men and women. Abou Samra takes me on a tour of the sleek space. Its minimalist aesthetic is a departure from the opulence of the other existing locations but a few luxe touches remain in the form of Fendi chairs, a Bisazza gold-plated mosaic and crystal chandeliers.
“My vision was to start a new revolution in this industry the Middle East because most of the salons here are medium to low level. That’s why we started La Loge Beauty Salon. Everything I do is luxury and high level from the decor to the services, products and the customer service. Everything” Abou Samra says.
“I have a passion for beauty. Every woman wants to maintain herself and I saw that Dubai was lacking this because I couldn’t go to one place where I was very happy and it was very clean and luxurious. I wasn’t happy with any salon that I went to. Even if they had someone was good at hair, they wouldn’t have someone who was good at makeup or nails.”
As businesswomen we don’t have time. If you can do everything in two hours, of course it’s better for you. Otherwise you have to keep running from one place to another.”
Abou Samra says that it was her friends who convinced her to take the leap: “I said OK maybe I should do something like this for me so I can be happy and then my friends can use it as well. I started with a small salon but it was a very good location in Emirates Hills at The Address Montgomerie.”
So I started there and I called it LaLoge. I wanted to create the feeling of a private dressing room where a performer will go and transform themselves before a show. So she will enter as a normal woman and then she will emerge as a superstar. Because every woman is a star in her life. We want to give our clients this experience.
At LaLoge what is different is that it doesn’t matter who’s doing your service because you that whoever it is, you’re going to look and feel your best. From hair to makeup to everything.” Hiring specialists in every field that could meet expectations meant that finding the right staff was a challenge: “That’s the most difficult part because you have to give them the right training. You have to find the right person. Not only should they be very good at work, they should have a good personality and attitude. This is a problem in this field. That’s why we doing a lot of academy work because we have to train them in everything. So everyone who is enters the company knows that after six months there will be something else. It’s constant training.”
Moving into a new sector also came with its difficulties: “Of course it was a big challenge but I love challenges in life. So no problem. That’s my strength. Dubai now is not like it was before. Before anyone could open a salon but now it’s only for professional people who work hard. It’s the same as other countries. Before it was too easy, but now you have to be really good to be successful.”
Part of LaLoge’s success has been the ability to secure strategic locations that were easily accessible for its client base: “I opened the ﬁrst one at Montgomerie which is close to Emirates Hills, and then the Address Boulevard where we can cater for Downtown and Mirdiﬀ and now we’re in the heart of Jumeirah.”
With regards to competition, Abou Samra is adamant that she has none: “You have to look at everything combined. So no, we don’t have competition. People might ask ‘What is the difference?’ but that’s why I want them to experience it. The energy, the feeling, everything. You have to feel relaxed and happy to be beautiful. It can’t be a salon that feels like a factory. So even if ladies come and sit for three or four hours, they’re happy.”
With premium service and treatments featuring exclusive ingredients such as the Caviar Hair treatment or 24k Gold and Diamond facial it’s not hard to see why. Still, Abou Samra admits that maintaining a premium service is not an easy task: “They demand a certain level of service. But actually, our customers know we are the top. We give the best service and we have top clientele as well. Sheikhas come to us so we have very high standards.” In fact, privacy and discretion are important considerations with secluded mani/pedi stations and VIP rooms built in to the salon’s design.
Publicly, Abou Samra has massive following on Instagram and although she enjoys the community she has created, she is careful not to give too much importance to her social media persona: “For me it’s something extra. It’s not the main thing. It’s like another TV channel. You can’t just rely on it but it’s good for awareness.”
On social media people can see that the salon is open so maybe they will come and try it once but if they’re not happy, they won’t come back. If you’re not special, they won’t come back. So social media can give you a boost for the first two or three months and then after that, it’s yours.” Samra will soon have to create awareness about some new projects she has coming up: “We have another location. I call it my new baby. Also, we have plans to franchise in the GCC, across the Middle East and potentially Europe.
For a Dubai-based brand to be franchising a concept internationally is still fairly uncharted territory but Samra doesn’t seem phased: “For me everything is exciting. When you know what you’re doing, you have the confidence. We a few opportunities but nothing is finalised.
Actually, to tell you the truth, I was happy with the number of salons that I had. I didn’t want to open more but the hotels are approaching us. When we see something really exciting and special, we go ahead.”
Incredibly, when she founded the first branch three-and-a-half years ago, it took just six months for hotels to start approaching Abou Samra for partnerships. Speaking about fellow entrepreneurs she admires she says: “They’re all my friends. I know them very well. Especially Huda, I love what she does of course it’s different to what I doing but of course I love Huda Kattan. I also love Oprah because what she does is not only for business, not only for money. She’s someone that I look to for inspiration. But here in the region, no. I don’t want to be like anyone. I want to be different. My intention is to create something new and to give something back to the world.”
It’s easy to wonder how this businesswoman, wife and mother, who has so many things going on, manages to do it all. Abou Samra admits: “It was very challenging at first because everyone was saying ‘Oh she doesn’t know anything about this business. She will fail.’ Anything to do with service is a big headache. It was very hard but I know that when I want something, I do it 100% and I will get it back 100%.”
Abou Samra says that the key to using her time wisely is to concentrate on the task in hand: “It’s about knowing how to balance your time. From the beginning I was very focused because time is very important for me. So that’s why every minute, I have to allocate where I spend it. Now for example, I’m 100% with you and when I finish, I’m 100% on what I’m doing next. This is very important for anyone even if you’re not working.”
You can be everything - business plus social media plus mother plus friends, social life. If you really know how to balance your time, you can have everything and you can be on top of everything. Balance and wellness are fundamental to Abou Samra, who is also behind The Sanjeev Krishna Yoga centre in Jumeirah: “You want to look your best and you want to feel your best. That’s why we have also yoga centre. Mind, body, everything should be combined.”
Helping women reach their full potential is another issue close to her heart: “I love to support female empowerment. I like for woman to support each other even if they’re competitors, it should be should be healthy competition which is missing now I feel. Especially in the Middle East. We need to work more on this, on supporting each other. I have a lot of things to give back to the world. A lot of knowledge but before being very successful nobody will listen to you. So first we have to do this and then people take notice.”
Indeed, an expansion of four locations in three years is tough to ignore. Her advice for salon owners is simple: “They should ﬁrst be very truthful with everything they do - all the services and products. They should also be very clear about what they want. Don’t only look at your income because this will not get you anywhere. Instead, ask ‘What am I giving?’ Look more into customer service and how to make the customer happy.”
When asked if she gets any satisfaction from exceeding the expectations of the people who initially doubted her ability to create and run yet another successful concept, Abo Samra pauses for a second and says: “You should not be busy at all with proving people wrong. Forget about everyone else. Just do what you have to do.”