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Noella Gabriel worked on Elemis behind the scenes in London for a year before it launched in 1990. Jaime Puebla / The National
Noella Gabriel worked on Elemis behind the scenes in London for a year before it launched in 1990. Jaime Puebla / The National

Employment leap of faith taken with care

The Life: Elemis started out as a small British luxury skincare brand in 1990 and has grown a global footprint. How? With a lot of work and some clever strategizing.

Noella Gabriel would probably never have left her previous job if her new employer had not come knocking one day in 1989.

But the challenge to establish a new luxury skincare brand was enough to persuade the manager of the Harvey Nichols beauty spa in London to make the leap.

"They said they heard I would be the girl who would help them launch [Elemis, a British luxury spa and skincare brand]," adds Ms Gabriel. "I went to meet them in a hotel [in the UK capital] that night and I just smelled and looked at what they had. It was a small brand but I thought the quality was exceptional."

Ms Gabriel, who started out by running two healthcare shops in her hometown in County Cork, Ireland, handed in her notice at Harvey Nichols and worked on Elemis behind the scenes in London for a year before it launched in 1990.

The first five years were tough. The American skincare company Estée Lauder had the industry "locked up" at the time.

But Elemis managed to gain a foothold in the market and today it is a global brand with a presence in more than 30 countries, including the UAE.

So what is the company's secret of success? Hard work and clever strategising, says Ms Gabriel, who visited Dubai earlier this summer.

"I took a gamble and it really was because I was in the creative seat," says Ms Gabriel, the director of product and treatment development for Elemis. She did everything, from developing the products and treatments, to merchandising them and selling them. "I wore one hat for everything," she says.

Elemis started out aiming to crack its own market, the United Kingdom, developing 25 treatments. After three years, Ms Gabriel and the rest of the team felt the brand was ready to take abroad.

The company started out with cruise ships - partly because they offered a captive audience. But the liners were operated by Elemis' parent company, Steiner Leisure, minimising the risk involved.

Hong Kong was next.

"We had a mass expat audience, they knew the brand and they travelled, so the transition from there to there was quite easy," she says.

From Hong Kong the brand launched in Australia, again because of the large, well-travelled British expat population.

Elemis launched at Cleopatra's Spa, in Wafi Mall in Dubai, 14 years ago, bringing British journalists out to see a model of a "proper" spa. The company is now in a number of stores in five-star hotels in the emirate.

"Right now we're into consolidation, which is why I'm back here in Dubai now because I'd like to get growth in our existing markets and really support them," says Ms Gabriel.

"We have had loads of opportunity in Dubai. I really want to get prime location because we can turn over those kinds of figures and compete very strongly."

In addition to having a presence in 33 countries and on 133 cruise ships, Elemis also has several travel spas in Heathrow's Terminal 5, which it opened four years ago, to target business travellers.

About 80 per cent of the visitors to the Terminal 5 spas, which offer complimentary treatments to selected British Airways passengers, are men. The spas offer a range of treatments, including massages and facials. "The highest sought-after treatment [among men] was skincare," says Ms Gabriel.

"They're not as sophisticated as women and never will be but there are three areas of growth: they are buying a better moisturiser; they're shaving with a better product; and they're all looking for an eye product."


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