This is the year that leading beauty and medical cosmetics business HC MedSpa goes global, following a period of sustained growth in the UK. In addition to its six MedSpas in London – which employ around 100 members of staff – the company hopes to launch its first international operations in 2014, with two MedSpas due to open in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “The biggest advantage for any UK business opening overseas is scale and exposure,” says CEO Saad Aslam. “This promotes success, which has a positive effect on revenue and forces growth in the business.”
HC MedSpa is a family business, founded in 1993 under the name Hena Salons. Saad was appointed Director of the company in 2005 and has since overseen year-on-year continuous, self-funded growth, with annual profits in 2013 up by 22.4% from the previous year.
Saad believes that any company considering international trading must first immerse themselves in the culture of their target country, and that means getting out from behind your desk and spending some time abroad. “Identify your main competition and place your business head-to-head,” he says. “Do you understand the culture of the country? Is there a gap in the market that your brand can fill? Will it have a negative effect on your existing business?”
A promising market
For HC MedSpa, the decision to launch in Dubai was based on an intimate knowledge of the luxury beauty market in the region. According to a survey by DMG Events Middle East, one in every 10 consumers in the UAE spends 60,000 dirham (€12,500) a year on cosmetics, and the market is set to be worth approximately $140 (€107) million in 2014. HC MedSpa plans to expand further within the UAE in 2015, and is currently developing relations in China, New York and parts of Africa. “We’re responding to international demand for a luxury business model, which is resulting in more aggressive growth in the beauty and cosmetics industry overseas than in the UK,” Saad says.
Applying operational standards established at home to a new and foreign territory is a key issue for companies expanding overseas. For Saad, this means recruiting an executive team who know the area like a native and can provide appropriate leadership in every region. “Ultimately, you’re looking for a version of yourself but in another country or city,” he explains. “Richard Branson says the first thing he does when he starts another company is hire a CEO. I followed this rule.” Saad has also put in place reporting systems that give him quick access to information, so he is constantly up to date with group financial performance.
As well as recruiting locally, HC MedSpa sends UK team members abroad, as they are familiar with the brand and the process offers career progression. “For the treatment side of our business, HC MedSpa has an in-house education system, so if we can’t always find talent, we have the power to create it,” he says. “It means the standards I set in the UK can be maintained abroad.”
Sourcing local partners and suppliers is just as important as sourcing local talent. HC MedSpa has chosen to work with a prestigious five-star hotel chain as a location for one of its new Dubai Medspas. This will give the fledgling international brand first-hand insight into how a larger corporate body operates, both generally and specifically in the Dubai market. “As a brand that had never worked outside of its founding team, it was always going to be a challenge to work with new partners,” explains Saad. “The most important factor was to find partners that were larger than us and had experience in international markets. This would give the support we need to globalise the HC MedSpa brand.”
Overcoming cultural barriers also means learning lessons that can be applied at home. Saad’s exposure to the wider market with its different perspective on the industry can help drive innovation. “We’ve introduced a dermatology department, which has raised the credibility of our brand,” says Saad. “We have also developed new systems internally that increase efficiency in operations.”
Benefitting from a new perspective
Exposure to a global beauty and cosmetics industry means HC MedSpa now has access to skin ranges and technology it had not seen before. “This benefits us for two reasons,” explains Saad. “Firstly, we can see our global competitors and ensure we are ahead of the market. Secondly, we now have a greater selection of cosmetic options to offer our clients.”
Each country will have a different culture and legal system, which may mean a UK business model has to be adapted to work in that territory. For HC MedSpa, that has meant employing specialist dermatologists in Dubai who are present at Medspas full-time to oversee treatments. This is not a requirement in the UK. “The first thing to learn are the trading laws of the country,” says Saad. “As for your business culture, it will come from the team – that’s why it's always a good idea to recruit at least a minimum of 40% of employees from within the city you're located. With time, every business adapts to its local culture. Thirteen years ago, I would never have thought I would be developing a global brand. But if you know your business and believe there is demand in another country, start your research and prove it. Anything is possible.”
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