A Personal Touch

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As a self proclaimed ‘mompreneur’, Samar Nabulsi made sure she never forgot an important lesson she learnt from her time at Boston University and it was that innovation is what sets businesses apart in any industry. She took this teaching and infused it into her idea that brought unique products for children that were previously unavailable in this region. Sharon Carvalho speaks to the mother of two daughters about the challenges and success to running her own business

How did the idea for ‘Big on Children’ come about?
My husband was keen on expanding his ‘Big On Group’ and I believed that we could, I just never thought it was be with a children’s concept. It was while we were on our honeymoon that we came across a kiosk that sold personalised products for children. As a newly-wed, I wasn’t thinking about this for myself but more for my nieces and nephews so I picked up a bunch of stuff. Their reaction when they heard their name repeated over 90 times while playing a CD was indescribable. I couldn’t get their beautiful smiles out of my head! Fast-forward three years to my daughter’s first birthday and I played a personalised CD during the party and got tons of great feedback from the parents because the birthday song that played on the surround system was in her name. It was then that it really hit me that these products were not available here or anywhere else in the Middle East and so Big On Children was born.

Why do you believe the concept succeeded in this region?
The personalisation business is worth over US $3Billion annually. The demand in personalising products is what initially started the business in the USA over 10 years ago. The industry in general and more specifically the children’s business is now competing to personalise their baby pillows, blankets and even wooden toys. The best thing about our line of business is we don’t really have direct competitors because no one offers what we have. We took personalisation to the next level by singing the child’s name in CDs, clocks and toys and adding their faces in their own movies and soft toys. We look for products that are not already available in the market and we become the exclusive distributors for those products. The response from Dubai residents was slow in the beginning since our first and flagship store opened in The Dubai Mall, a mall known for attracting more tourists than residents. We raised awareness through our marketing and PR campaigns; added more locations around town, were present at nursery and school events; as well as our first international key location; then Hamleys, and a few more pop-up kiosks around town, most recently, in KidsHQ in Al Barsha. We went from one location at The Dubai Mall to now having four locations. Our products are our USP and the fact that we are the sole distributors for these ground-breaking products contributed to the success of Big On Children.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Support: I often hear stories where someone is literally the ‘one man-show’ in the company. I really don’t think this is fair to the business or the person running it. Support means having a good team that you can depend on to get the job done and done right. I cannot be everywhere all the time, so I consider myself very lucky to have a wonderful support team in both the office and at home.

Knowledge is power: If you know what you are up against or you understand the dynamics of your business, life and family, then you hold the key to success in your own hands. Part of the reason as to why I am always reading and researching because it puts me in a much powerful position to make any decision in my life, especially in business.

Have fun: If you are not having fun doing what you are doing then find something that inspires you. You only live once, so why not make it count from every angle. Work is a major part of life but you have to be passionate about it. Enjoy life and laugh as much as you can.

What challenges did you have to overcome while pursuing this? How did you do so?
As an SME the challenge was where do we start. The initial concept was born in the US and was based on a kiosk-type business. The challenge was if we were to open the business as a kiosk, it would be very hard for us to branch out, sell franchises and expand to add more products because the Middle Eastern mentality towards kiosk concepts is not as the US perceives it. We had a huge undertaking when we agreed to open a shop in The Dubai Mall. However, we began with ‘the end in mind’. We saw the opportunity, we had a clear vision of where we would like the company to go and, most importantly, we powered through the tough times and enjoyed the busy seasons. We worked with the tools we had, and became very creative with how we offer our products. We started with a store-instore concept in FAO Schwarz in New York City, and soon after we secured a location with Hamleys. We then utilised our distribution business where we placed most of our products at play areas, other department stores and of course online portals like Mumzworld, Mini Exchange etc.

What have you learnt about yourself since launching the business?
Patience is a ‘skill’ I learnt while working on the business. I am usually the not so patient type. I am fast paced and I multi-task a lot because I think 24 hours in a day is not enough. But I learnt that when you are patient you will get what you deserve. This stands true when we won the ‘SME of the Year’ in 2014. The awards made me realise just how important it is to sometimes sit back and simply enjoy the ride.

What are your 2016 plans for the business?
When it comes to growing the business and expanding our products and services, the sky is the limit. Children will never stop being curious and their likes and dislikes are ever-changing. We stay on top of industry and academic trends; we research healthcare initiatives and above all, we love a good story. All of the products we carry were borne from a parent’s desire to solve a problem or spread happiness and make a child smile. We love that our products were made from love so that’s a tradition we were founded on and wish to continue to follow and believe in. We are looking to expand the business through individual distributors, exclusive regional masters and grow our own locations. We have several store-in-store concepts that work very well for us and we are actively planning on growing this particular business model. We also observed, researched and studied our products, our market and everything in between. We listened to what our customers want and we are now finalising a new concept that will be revealed very soon.