Success rarely comes overnight. And for Bechara Sleiman, founder and CEO of Dubai-based Luxuria Trading, it's been the culmination of years of hard work.
Unlike many other cosmetics distributors, Luxuria is painstakingly selective of whom it represents in the Middle East, choosing companies with a strong heritage and favouring niche brands over mass market.
"What we seek is a relationship with the brand's founder or family. We look for history, know-how and continuity," said Sleiman.
Today, Luxuria Trading collaborates with prominent names within fragrances and skincare, such as Penhaligon's, L'Artisan Parfumeur, diptyque and Elemis.
With 17 international fragrance brands in its portfolio, the company was named the Middle East's Best Luxury Perfume Distributor at the 2017 UAE Business Awards.
"Our performance is always growing. In 2016, we grew 24 percent year on year and have decided to strengthen our operations by reinvesting that growth into the company."
Sleiman first started working in the beauty industry about 25 years ago, when he led Middle and Near East operations for French cosmetics house Guerlain. He subsequently served as commercial manager for UAE-based luxury goods retailer Chalhoub Group.
These positions gave him priceless experience in his field and insights into the regional market. "From the beginning, I knew I would establish my businesses," said Sleiman, who holds a PhD in organic chemistry.
"Working with Guerlain meant that I was in contact with major retailers in the region including Al Tayer and Alshaya group, whereas my position with Chalhoub helped me build my network," he added.
By 2002, he had set up his first company distributing high-end brands, before expanding in 2013 to support niche brands.
"When I established my business it was much easier than today. I started with the spa sector, which was underserved at the time, then I went into high-end skincare and perfumes, bringing in luxury brands that weren't available in the region," he recalled.
"I said to myself, I won't spend my savings to acquire a widely available brand. It will be difficult and I will lose money. Let me focus on a brand that does not have the right distribution in the region."
Sleiman admits that he was never fond of being an employee. "I thought one day, I have to learn. And I had two ways - either to go to school, but that won't teach me about the market, or to work with big groups and learn from them. I did that."
Timing was one of the biggest factors in his success. It was long before the 2007-09 recession and opportunities were plentiful.
"It was a totally different time. The market was hungry for a greater variety of product choices and the travelling consumer wanted these choices available to them in their home market," explained Sleiman.
"Payment terms that allowed us to control our cash flow placed less pressure on our operation. That, with proper due diligence and financial guarantees from new clients, allowed us to reduce our exposure without unnecessarily restricting operations."
Sleiman believes that the niche luxury cosmetics segment will continue to grow as people are increasingly looking for something different from mass luxury brands.
Having recently introduced Byredo's hair perfume to the Middle East, which proved to be a huge success, the company is now preparing to open the first House of Elemis in the Middle East and to launch its own collection of fragrances.
"In late 2017 we will be opening Elemis Spa at Dubai Mall, which we will manage and operate. We're also finetuning our first perfume range with French fragrance manufacturer Mane. It will be released in October 2017."
His advice for entrepreneurs? "Hold your ground and say no when you have to say no. People will respect that. Don't say yes only to take the business."
"We've been working with some brands for over 20 years and they're renewing contracts with us because they know we're straightforward. I know many newcomers who are desperate and just want to collect brands."
On a personal level, hard work is what ultimately marks Sleiman's success.
"Sometimes my team is amazed to see me working in the middle of the night. At the end of the day, if I'm not demanding, my team will not follow. They will say, if the owner doesn't care, why should we?"
© Accelerate SME 2017