Valerie Reynaert is the Founder and CEO of VR Beauty Consulting.
Tell us about yourself, your background and why you founded VR Beauty Consulting
I am the CEO and Founder of VR Beauty Consulting, a specialist beauty industry consulting firm that partners with aspiring and existing beauty salon owners across the region to create breakout success in their beauty business.
I was born in Belgium and began my career working as a beauty therapist. I have been in the beauty industry now for over 20 years, 19 of which have been in the Middle East.
Before starting VR Beauty Consulting, I worked as a brand director and managing director for leading salon chains in the region. My years of experience have equipped me with the necessary skills to be a strategic advisor in the establishment of salons and start-ups and to entrepreneurs wanting to enter the industry.
Through VR Beauty Consulting, I deliver development plans and growth strategies that are challenging yet achievable, including plans and recommendations for training, operations management, recruitment, managing budgets and P&Ls, setting up of new salons or expanding existing chains as well as re-branding projects and setting up franchising opportunities. My ability to deliver this for my clients is rooted in a deep passion for business and beauty as well as over two decades of experience in the beauty industry.
My reasons for founding VR Beauty Consulting are to empower and inspire women from every walk of life, with different personalities and nationalities, to set up their own salon businesses; to walk the journey with them and guide them in making their businesses successful and realising their biggest dreams. It is to help existing salon owners drive their business to the next level, to the level of never-before-experienced success, to the level where the sky is the limit; and to support those working in the salon industry and to help them attain higher levels of achievement. I do this by offering top-notch education on all aspects related to the salon business.
What drives and motivates you?
The ability to inspire and empower female entrepreneurs to start a successful business, to develop their confidence as business owners and managers, to help them build a strong company culture in which people are happy and thrive and can continuously delight their customers. I am passionate about the beauty industry and am fortunate to be able to share my passion with like-minded people and provide meaningful support as they take their leap of faith! As an entrepreneur and founder of a start-up myself, I fully appreciate the courage it takes to turn a dream into reality.
What does a day in your life look like?
I usually wake up at around 6–6.30am. I never set an alarm clock as I function best when I’ve had the necessary amount of sleep my body requires. I than get up and start reading, with my coffee in hand and with my LP player playing classical/piano music in the background. By 7.30am I get showered; once ready, I write my daily manifestations. I start working by 8–8.30am. I never schedule any meetings before 10am, to guarantee I’ll have enough time to work on urgent matters or to get organised for the day to come. I usually work 10 to 12 hours a day, but as a business owner, it never really stops. I don’t mind though, as my work is my passion and hobby. As the saying goes: ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life’. After work, I’ll dine with friends, go to the Dubai Opera if a good play is on or just relax at home reading a book or watching a series. I end my day with journaling. Lights usually go out at around 10.30pm.
When you started your business did you have a roadmap or what strategy did you implement?
I believe a successful business is made up of key individuals who bring their unique talents to the table. Everyone has a role to play and needs to support and encourage one another to succeed. I have built VR Beauty Consulting using this learning, both in the services we offer our clients and how we deliver them, as well as the services and support we need to succeed. The first service we offer is on a one-on-one basis whereby we work with a client individually and see the process as an investment in themselves. This is done in the areas of Salon Start-up, Business Turnaround, Business Growth (Franchise Model) and Business Coaching. The next service is one-to-many where we work with a group of people to develop skills or shift internal dynamics. This allows for multiple opportunities to succeed and create growth for a client and are focused on areas such as group training sessions on selling skills, customer service and complaint handling, delivering seminars or keynote speaker for the industry. Then comes zero-to-many; creating trailing revenue is a key opportunity for any business as it generates an income without additional effort. At VR Beauty Consulting this is done through our online store, which offers salon owners everything from interview questions to job descriptions and employment contracts.
How did you fund your start-up?
It was funded with my own capital.
You achieved success very quickly and even managed to break even after just 4 months, how did you do this?
Building solid foundations for your business and making sure those foundations are there upon opening your salon is key. Building solid foundations includes all things from knowing what your business represents, your target market, the best location to cater to your target market, the pricing of your products and services, and, lastly, the work environment that you create for your employees.
One of the most important things that must be completed before opening any sort of business is creating your financial plan. The key is not to just open and see what the business will bring or wait until there is a financial problem within the business; it’s important to be prepared and look so far forward that you eliminate any risk altogether.
To prepare your financial plan, you need to know what your business stands for, its key message and positioning. Where will your salon be located? Once you have figured out who your target audience is, and where they are located, only then can you decide where your salon is best situated.
It is crucial to have your social media pages set up well in advance of opening your salon, particularly Instagram and TikTok for the Middle East region. Creating buzz, awareness and excitement for your impending opening is key to driving footfall to your salon.
And, finally, an inspiring work environment and impeccable customer service are fundamental when running a successful and profitable business as essentially this is what keeps your clients coming back.
Your business strategy is focused on sustainability, why is this so important right now?
Over the past decade sustainability has increasingly become part of our lives, our shopping behaviour, our home lives and our conversations. Without a second thought we now sort our recycled items from our garbage, drink our coffee from recycled paper cups and take our own shopping bags to the grocery store. We wear clothes made of recycled plastic bottles and ask if the salad is organic at our local restaurant.
As consumers, our behaviour shifted when we became aware of the impact of plastic in our oceans and the environmental benefits of reusing materials such as paper and plastic bottles. Personally, I was made especially aware of this when I volunteered at an ocean conservation programme in Mexico, where the impact of plastic and waste in our beautiful oceans brought me to tears.
Globally, the coffee, fashion and jewellery industries have been focusing on sustainability for over a decade. The beauty industry, however, has been slow to adopt sustainable practices. I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for salons to connect with their clients and, in doing so, can even provide a growth opportunity for salons who incorporate sustainable practices into their offering.
What advice do you give females in the region who are ready to launch their start-up?
For those aspiring entrepreneurs who feel they are ready to start their own business and begin this challenging yet very rewarding journey, before starting any business, I always encourage my clients to ask themselves five simple questions. The first is ‘Why do I want to start a salon business?’ Every business owner needs to have a mission: what is the purpose of you starting your company and what problem are you solving for people. The second is ‘What is my USP?’ Knowing your unique selling point is imperative, especially with the level of competition in the GCC. Always knowing what makes you different, special and what sets you apart from the rest is key. The third question is ‘Who is my target audience?’ Your target demographic needs to be established right from the start. In the salon industry, most of your income, if not all, will be generated from women. After this comes a tough one: ‘Do I have the funds to start this business?’ This question is probably the scariest of them all but one that requires much research and forward planning. Creating a Feasibility Study is key to knowing what the initial required capital is to set up your business, and what cashflow and profit/loss to expect in the first year. And, finally, ‘How will I market my business?’ Marketing your business is obviously so important. Once the target market is determined, it then becomes a lot easier to decide which channel of marketing would best suit your business.
What has been your biggest challenge in establishing your business in the region?
VR Beauty Consulting was started right at the start of the pandemic, so our core offering was developed within the market dynamics that the pandemic presented at the time. As an organisation, we have learned to be agile and flexible, to accommodate the rapidly changing environment our clients operate in and to listen very closely to what the industry needs, and to move quickly to address that need. This approach has led to the development of several services, solutions and now even platforms created by VR Beauty Consulting to support the beauty industry as they navigated the pandemic and beyond. We have fully embraced technology in our service offering, from regular client meetings on Zoom to launching our online store for all our clients’ salon administrative needs, as well as developing an entire training programme consisting of animated short videos that can be viewed on mobile devices by trainees. This technology focus is continuing with the imminent launch of an online talent gateway platform, to help salons attract the talent they need to be successful. The agility and focus that the pandemic created in us has allowed us to provide assistance to our clients that is not only cost-effective but is easier to incorporate into their own operations with measurable impact being delivered.
What has been your biggest success so far?
As I look at my plans for VR Beauty Consulting and for its future, there is so much more I want to achieve. However, looking back I can appreciate how far I have personally come through drive, tenacity and a wonderful network. Arriving in Dubai as a beauty therapist in 2003, to the point where I now devote my time to working with inspirational women in the Middle East, using my skills to help them achieve their entrepreneurial goals and dreams, I am filled with gratitude and truly believe the work I do changes lives and changes futures.
You have a strong belief that women should represent women in beauty, can you tell us more about this.
Throughout my entire career I have mainly been reporting to men and mainly worked for male-led businesses. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some fantastic role models over the years. But I always wondered why there were not more female-owned beauty businesses, as at the end of the day, our main clientele are women. Over the years, I realised that the main reason was that many women wanted to do just that, but needed the empowerment, encouragement and support to take that leap of faith. And that’s one of the reasons why I founded VR Beauty Consulting.
What makes a great company culture?
Create an environment where your staff feel included, heard and empowered. Know that the younger generation of salon employees are looking for inclusion, empathy and empowerment, and do not accept a micro-management leadership style.
As the industry lacks sufficient talent, staff poaching has increased as a result. This has a major impact on businesses when you consider the investment required to recruit and train staff. My advice is do all you can to retain the staff you have; and the best way is to become an employer of choice. An employer of choice is one who values the individuals in their employ and one who is invested in offering ongoing professional and personal development. Attractive salaries and strong, achievable commission schemes are also as important as looking after the individual.
Furthermore, keeping your staff motivated is a wonderful way to create employee loyalty. You can do this through motivational and engaging weekly meetings, team building, and quick and effective conflict resolution. All of these go a long way towards having happy employees and being known as an employer of choice.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
Our plans are audacious, and we are not apologetic about that at all! We have several exciting plans for our own expansion and top line revenue growth, but also to support the beauty industry in its expansion in the years ahead. First, from a revenue point of view, our targets are set to achieve a seven-figure turnover in 2023/2024 with the view of sustaining that for the next three years. We believe this will be achieved through the aggressive development of the online talent gateway platform across the region, which currently faces significant struggles in securing suitable talent for salons. Another channel for that growth will be the launching of our online training platform, which will provide training at all levels for the salon business and will work as a programme in consultation with salon owners.
Furthermore, our service delivery expansion across the GCC is set to continue with the opening of key markets such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We see a huge opportunity for the beauty industry in these countries as well as for our services in those markets. Further to that, we are proud to support the industry through keynote speaker opportunities, as well as the impending launch of our industry podcast. The future is bright, and we are excited for what it holds for VR Beauty Consulting.
How can our readers find out more about yourself and VR Beauty Consulting?