October is a month of celebration for me, both personally and professionally.
It’s the month I celebrate arriving in Dubai 20 years ago! It is also a celebration of the 20 years of working in the beauty industry in the region which culminated in the realisation of my biggest dream – starting VR Beauty Consulting. Join me as I go down memory lane and look back on the journey that brought me here.
When I first arrived in Dubai, I was fresh-faced and ready for a new adventure.
Back then we only had Deira City Centre and Mazaya Center to do our shopping from. There was no Ski Dubai or Burj Khalifa and they were just building the first apartment buildings in Dubai Marina. The majority of Western expats were living in Mirdif, which then shifted to the other side of Dubai when all the communities such as Springs and Arabian Ranches were built.
We worked Saturday to Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday being the ‘weekend’. That was when the small expat community, where everyone knew each other (especially if you were Belgian like me) would get together. Looking back at pictures from that time and comparing them to today, the city is unrecognisable.
When I first got to Dubai, I had high hopes for a career working as a beauty therapist in a beautiful salon in the city, with fellow beauty professionals like me, passionate about delivering exceptional service. Then I went for my first interview at a salon and it immediately became apparent to me that the way a beauty therapist was perceived, needed to improve.
The salon industry in the UAE 20 years ago was vastly different.
The majority of the salons were small businesses, with no proper branding, no vision, and limited financial understanding and planning. They had limited brands, tools and equipment to choose from. They focused on offering a large range of services but not on customer experience or service. It was all the wrong way round.
Never one to sit in a corner and cry, I chose to explore ways to grow my expertise and soon other exciting opportunities presented themselves, and I grabbed each one with both hands.
Twenty years later, I am proud to say that I have a thriving beauty consulting business that I built from scratch and I believe, having come from a family of entrepreneurs, the idea of starting a business has always been somewhere inside of me.
However, the catalyst for taking the leap to start my own business was brought on by some devastating personal challenges, including a near fatal car accident that left me with a disability for life, an abusive marriage, a tough divorce, an unbuilt property due to the real estate crisis, and ultimately a physical and mental burnout.
The realisation that I was building someone else’s dream, and not my own, was the push I needed to start VR Beauty Consulting.
Without a doubt, living in the UAE has made it possible for me to achieve this dream, and it has shaped who I am today.
Let me explain. When you live your entire life in the town or city you were born in, there are many obligations when it comes to people who have been part of your entire life and your parents’ life. Living in Dubai, you can build your circle of friends from around the world, and surround yourself with people who inspire you.
After my burnout I decided it was time to surround myself with positive people and to eliminate those who took the positive energy out of my life. In that time I grew closer to those friends who are more spiritual and who have shown me the true meaning of life, but also to those entrepreneurial friends who encouraged me in my professional growth. Surrounding yourself with positivity, makes for a much happier you and a happier life.
I believe that moving to Dubai was the best decision I ever took in my life. I truly believe that anything you want to do, Dubai gives you the opportunity to do. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t do it much differently, because overall I have lived a very blessed and happy life here in Dubai and this city has brought me many opportunities and life lessons.
The only thing I would tell young Valerie is to start saving from the moment I started to earn money, not blindly trust people because you believe everyone is as trustworthy as you, and to only surround myself with positive, good people.
As I take a moment to celebrate and appreciate this twenty year milestone, I am filled with excitement for the next twenty!
I believe we haven’t seen half of what changes and evolution is yet to come! With the salon industry in the GCC continuing to show such rapid growth, the sky even isn’t the limit.
In the UAE, we see that many international brands want to enter the marketplace now. We also see more beauty exhibitions being staged, training academies popping up, showing that the industry now also better understands the importance of training. As our industry is growing, higher standards are being set.
If the UAE brought many opportunities in the past, even more opportunities are ahead of us. I am truly excited for the future. You will see me and VR Beauty Consulting around for many more years to come!