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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Money & Me: 'I was taught to be wise with money as a child'

Retail entrepreneur Carol Sukkar says her lifestyle store Home & Soul is her best investment

Carol Sukkar set up Home & Soul on Al Wasl Road in November 2017.  Antonie Robertson / The National
Carol Sukkar set up Home & Soul on Al Wasl Road in November 2017.  Antonie Robertson / The National

Carol Sukkar owns Home & Soul, a Dubai-based lifestyle retail store selling furniture, fashion and accessories, which she runs with her husband Wael. From a Jordanian retail family, Ms Sukkar, 38, moved to Dubai 13 years ago and now lives in Al Barsha with her husband and their two sons, aged seven and five.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was born in Amman and have one younger brother. My parents divorced and we were brought up with my mum. She worked a few years, did marketing, but was more at home supporting us. It was a comfortable life. My grandfather - my mother’s father - took the role of my father. He was the chief executive of a trade and manufacturing company. When I was 12 or 13, he’d give me Dh100 for the month. Food and drink was provided at home, but anything I wanted - a toy or a gift - I had to use that money. He showed me how to write a ledger. I showed at the end of the month where money was spent and what I didn’t spend I’d roll over to next month; save and buy a bigger toy. I’m happy I was brought up that way. I learned how to spend within a budget which is great because these days you should be doing that; learn you can’t have everything when you want it.

What is your best investment?

The store; you invest in the business - in the brand and the space - and with your time. On a smaller scale, every vacation we've taken was a great investment, particularly our family vacation to Marbella in 2014.

Are you wise with money?

I consider myself very wise. I was taught in childhood how to be careful with money, to be wise. We need to think, where should this money go to, why and when. When is very important. Also wise when to discount an item. We become wiser, with time.

What were you paid in your first job?

I went to Montreal Concordia University in 1999. I still had to submit a budget. I wouldn't get the money if I didn’t. My budget could be approved, or not. The allowance I received was good but I wanted to start my professional life. I studied operations management, so I found a part-time job in 2001 I could combine with university, doing sales in an office at a tech company and factory for Dh18 an hour. Whatever I earned was mine - I felt freedom.

What brought you to Dubai?

I moved in 2005. I was 25 and wanted to continue my career. I’d worked in Jordan for three years, in a local business. Jordan is a nice country but you don’t have the option of working with a multinational, which is what I wanted. I got a job with Cisco, until I had my second child. When I came back the department had closed.

Did that prompt your move into retail?

My father had a store; I was brought up in that environment and loved retail. During a break from Cisco from October 2009 until December 2010, I started helping. I was going back to Jordan, travelling to buy pieces. Dad did tableware - plates, glasses and decorations - and was the authorised distributor for Royal Doulton and Wedgwood in Jordan. A few years later he’s like, ‘OK, I’m not going to do this anymore’. My mother had recently furnished her home with nice furniture from Paris. She said ‘you’re going to do your own thing’. We started off in 2015 as Blanc D’Ivoire Home Interiors. We loved the (French) brand. It was different and not here. In November 2017 we re-branded as Home & Soul; we became a concept store and started diversifying. The ledger I learned when I was young, it’s the basis of any business.

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Are you a spender or a saver?

Saver. When we were both working, me with Cisco, Wael with Kraft (food group) at the end of every month, once we received our salaries, we'd put money into savings accounts. We knew exactly what we had to save for and would put money aside to make sure we hit that target; for schooling, retirement and a downpayment for the house. When we were salaried it was all about saving.

Where do you save?

It’s split into bonds; locked mutual funds, diversifying or changing depending on the market situation.

Do you have a philosophy towards money?

Spending in the right way is important. Not over-spending also. It’s a tool to keep your business running; cashflow oils the machine. How you manage it is important; when to use it, when to save, how much to spend. Being entrepreneurs we have to spend in order to get money. It’s not the goal, more a tool to grow the business. What to invest in is important; buying furniture that’s not trendy or the right product is not the right investment. You learn with time what clients want.

Ms Sukkar says travelling with her family is her another investment she values.  Antonie Robertson / The National
Ms Sukkar says travelling with her family is her another investment she values.  Antonie Robertson / The National

What is your key financial milestone?

Purchasing our three-bedroom townhouse in Jumeirah Village Triangle, in 2008. It’s what we were working for, pretty much. We poured our savings into that, the downpayment. It’s turning out to be a really good investment (now rented out). The only reason we moved from there to Al Barsha was to be closer to school.

Do you prefer paying by cash or credit card?

Credit card, because we get Skywards points, free tickets home. We pay it off every month.

What do you drive?

An Audi Q7. German cars are sturdy and it was the best deal back then, during Ramadan. The idea was to get it for 10 years. We’ve had it five.

What do you enjoy spending on?

When we holiday together. My best time spent is with my husband and two boys; it’s my therapy. I love to travel; I’m always inspired - I like to see new places, new styles. Every time I try to explore another place, see what’s out there. When I source stock I travel; we went to Bali in March and I did some sourcing. I enjoy the process of going there and choosing lights, cushions. My art teacher taught me, your eyes are a camera, use it where you go. It’s hard to take time off, the both of us, because the business is running. I travel every three to four months without the kids, to trade shows to go sourcing. I try to make it short.

Do you plan for the future?

The goal is to expand Home & Soul, possibly into Europe, the US, Australia, and make sure our kids have the best education we can offer them.

What would you raid your savings for?

Retirement and adding something to the business, be it a new location or a new line or category.

If you won Dh1 million what would you spend it on?

Some on new items for the shop, some as savings and to go on a vacation with my family, to celebrate. We keep saying we’d like to explore South America; that requires a lot of cash and time off.