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Kuwaiti sisters Nora, Sarah and Dana Al-Ramadhan founded Apotheca Beauty in 2013 and have since paved the way in the beauty space in the GCC.

Can you talk us through your career journey?

All three of us have backgrounds in the financial industry. My [Nora’s] background is in Consumer Retail Products Investment Banking and portfolio analysis. I worked in New York City for two and a half years after receiving a finance degree in Los Angeles. Sarah received her MBA from London Business School and has a background in Mergers and Acquisition, while Dana spent five years at HSBC Corporate. Our professional experiences have provided us with the fundamental analytical and technical skills required to run a business such as ours.

Naturally, we each have very different personalities, styles, and different ways of working. However, our common interest and ultimate passion has always been beauty. Having all three grown up in a household of women, it was only natural to share and develop our beauty secrets with each other throughout our lives.

As sisters, what inspired you to go into the beauty business collectively?

We stumbled across distribution through a close connection to an A-list dermatologist in Los Angeles who wished to sell his products in the Middle East. We spent a couple months studying the GCC market, and soon realized that there was a serious gap for premium, niche beauty brands. From then on, our mission has been to supply a curated collection of these high-growth beauty brands to consumers in our region, while offering an unmatched level of support to these young brands we believed to have tremendous potential. We envision ourselves as extensions of the brands we represent in the Middle East and go through great lengths to service both our brand partners are customers.

 

Prior to 2008, I cannot say that I would have specifically imagined all three of us working together. However, when the idea of Apotheca came to mind, the process of working together was natural to us. We all had a passion for beauty, and throughout our lives would constantly share discoveries of various beauty trends. We also each had a background in finance, yet we had very different professional experiences that allowed us to bring unique perspectives to the Company.

How has Apotheca Beauty evolved since it launched in 2013?

We have been fortunate to partner with a variety fantastic of skincare, cosmetics, and haircare brands over the years, and have evolved to carrying beauty tools and ingestible beauty and wellness supplements. As our portfolio evolves, so have the areas of distribution that we cover. We have successfully expanded Apotheca Beauty into the UK and EU in 2018 and continue to grow our distribution business overseas.

In addition to distribution, in 2013 we also had a single Apotheca Beauty boutique in Kuwait City and followed with our e-commerce store (www.apothecabeauty.com) a couple of years later. Given the success experienced from our dedicated retail channels, we then opened our second store in October 2019 in Nakheel Mall, Dubai.

Our primary focus within our Apotheca boutiques is skincare, skin tools, and facial treatments. Our stores carry one of the most extensive skincare offerings within the GCC, while our Kuwait store offer a variety of facials, LED treatments, Oxygen infusions, VISIA facial scanning, and scalp treatments. We are excited to soon offer similar services within our Dubai store later this year.

This year, we are excited to be opening our third store in the Middle East – and what will then be our second store in Kuwait; While our eCommerce business continues to develop and cater to more countries within the Middle East.

It is our ambition to constantly evolve in an effort to provide the best level of service to both our brand partners and Apotheca clientele.

 

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Can you talk us through what it’s been like working together over the last eight years?

As sisters, we often are willing to challenge each other further than normal business partners might. We set ridiculously high expectations for ourselves and demand nothing but the best. This allows us to grow faster as individuals, while continuing to benefit our business. There is never an option of quitting or walking away, and therefore you are pushed to always find a solution.

Naturally, there are challenges when working with siblings, one being the ability to separate work and family life, which tend to intermix quite often. It has always been difficult to set boundaries and switch off work. There is always one of us ready to take a call, answer emails or do research in the middle of the night; and of course, we cannot help but share then and there with our sisters.

With that, working with family definitely brings us closer together. Being able to share achievements and success with my sisters only makes it that much more special and rewarding. We trust each other blindly, and that allows us the peace of mind to focus freely on our individual roles within the business.

In terms of beauty, how does the Middle East differ to other regions?

We are seeing an exciting shift take place in the beauty landscape within our region – not just in relation to what customers are buying, but how they are buying and where. With people spending more time at home, customers are becoming more comfortable with shopping online and more specifically shopping from their mobile phones. The local clientele has always been very tuned-in to mobile social network platforms – arguably more so than other regions, which has paved the way for the incredible growth being witnessed across digital shopping and even virtual skin consultations.

It is no secret that makeup and fragrance have dominated the beauty industry in the Middle East, skincare continues to gain in market share. More specifically, scientifically advanced skincare products with a credible dermatologist or facialist behind the brand outperform in our market. These founder-led brands tend to have products with powerful formulations that address real skin concerns such as acne, sensitivity/redness, hydration, loss of elasticity and pigmentation.

When it comes to working with big beauty brands – how do you go about this?

More so often than not, the brands that we approach are already curious about the Middle East market and are simply searching for the right partner to work with in the region. Brands understand that the Middle East does not lack a passion for beauty, so the demand is clearly there. The next step is to build out a launch strategy and ensure the brand’s philosophy is upheld in the region. It is important to us we keep our portfolio tight and strategic, so that we are able to dedicate ourselves to the commitment each brand needs – as opposed to bringing anything and everything.

Which brands are driving sales in the Middle East?

Currently, beauty brands with a credible figure behind it and an active presence on social media outperform. This is particularly the case when it comes to skincare and haircare. Dr. Barbara Sturm is the perfect example of this! She is a practicing dermatologist with high-profile patients from across the globe. Dr. Sturm also has a fantastic social media presence where she takes the time to educate her followers on the efficacy of her products and overall skin health while providing Doctor recommendations based on skin type.

In relation to cosmetics, brands such as Hourglass Cosmetics do particularly well. Hourglass, being both vegan and cruelty-free, is best known for its innovation in beauty and commitment to reinventing luxury cosmetics. Their products have cutting-edge formulas with active ingredients and stunning packaging that raise consumer expectations of how a product should look, feel, and perform.

The Middle Eastern consumer is highly knowledgeable when it comes to beauty and knows exactly what she or he wants. Products that perform and deliver the results they promise will do well.

Apotheca Sisters

How do you approach client retention and client engagement?

Our concept is totally unique, and we work hard to offer our clients the very best of beauty. We place a heavy weight on the criteria of what we believe it takes for a brand to translate successfully into the region – that includes: quality of ingredients, product performance, packaging and innovation. We focus on brands that specialize in a particular category of beauty, and therefore, have supreme quality in regard to what the market has to offer. While several of these brands are less than 20 years old, they also tend to drive new trends and reinvent beauty as we know it.

Another important differentiator that our clients recognize, is that we too are the consumers and users of the products we bring to market. We are three local women and know that if we do not love a product or use it on ourselves, then selling it to the region likely will not work. We have to believe in what we promote.

What have been the hurdles you’ve experienced throughout your career journey?

What we initially found to be more of a struggle upon launching Apotheca Beauty was ageism – young, female entrepreneurs coming into the industry and working with people who have been in the industry for decades. It was more of a challenge to gain credibility despite our education and consumer knowledge. However, our youthfulness has actually played out to be one of our advantages and led to where we are today. We are young, highly driven women with our fingers always on the pulse of what is trending.

We have learned to stay positive, work through it, ask for help when we need to, focus on the bigger picture, and do not allow ourselves to get discouraged. More often than not, when one door closes, another opens. Therefore, we always try to put in the effort to stay motivated, passionate and driven.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what have been the key milestones?

There have been milestones every step of the way on this incredible journey, and we are so fortunate. Opening our own boutiques and creating a space that we had envisioned was a dream come through. Personally, I love to shop for beauty in a comfortable, friendly environment where I can discover and play with ease. Our stores are meant to be a space where customers can do just that, and in an environment, that feels like your own private dressing room.

Additional milestones have been the team and culture we have cultivated over the years. We have been blessed with an incredible team who are a part of our Apotheca family. The people we work with inspire us on a daily basis. Everyone in the company is passionate about what they do and have a sense of ownership when it comes to their job. We work with people who are confident enough to suggest new ways of doing things, which then help grow the business. We trust in the ability of our team, which allows us to think ahead.

This is ‘The Beauty Issue’ – what does beauty mean to you?

To me, beauty means self-care and time. Making the time to go through beauty routines that have you feeling empowered is a wonderful thing. Beauty is another form of taking care of yourself and investing in you – both on the skin level and internally via wellness supplements.

June’s – ‘The Beauty Issue’ – Download Now

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