Dubai has been a hub and melting pot for several start ups and designers to build their brands, and it’s been no different for Lucy Gibson, founder of beloved beach-wear brand ‘Sand Dollar.’ The brand, which now has seven brick-and-mortar stores as well as an online store that offers three hour delivery in Dubai and expedited shipping throughout the GCC, started as a humble pop-up store. To learn more about how the mother of two and entrepreneur built her brand from scratch, and has adapted to the needs of her clientele and the fast-paced market environment in Dubai, we sat down with the brains behind the brand.
You founded Sand Dollar back in 2010, when the industry was fairly different than it is today. How have you managed to adapt your business model to today’s climate and customer?
Sand Dollar Dubai started as a pop-up shop with a limited selection of beach necessities in Le Royal Meridien. It was a one-woman show but it was an important proof of concept for us.
Creating and launching a proper e-commerce website was really the turning point for the business. I could hardly imagine when I was pulling my hair out with a clumsy drag-and-drop website builder a few years later we would have an international, multi-channel e-commerce store with real-time inventory sync of over 5,000 active products between our warehouse and physical stores.
Our model still relies heavily on our physical locations, but the pandemic accelerated our development into digital channels. Today’s customers want the convenience of shopping online with the confidence of an in-store experience. Our digital fashion stylists do a terrific job of providing that. Tailoring outfits to our customers’ personal shapes and styles with tremendous accuracy, whether that’s through WhatsApp, Messenger or our web chat.
What was the reason you decided to open Sand Dollar?
I’ve lived in the Middle East since I was a small child, some of my oldest memories are of collecting Sand Dollars along UAE beaches. I still spend the majority of my free time outdoors, recreating those memories with my daughters now. In 2008, when a financial crisis hit the region, it left me feeling vulnerable and nervous about my future with the government organisation I was working with. Having been so familiar with the sun, sand and cabana lifestyle from that of a consumer, I felt there was a gap in the market and I thought I could fill it.
It’s no secret that you’ve become a staple for beachwear in the UAE. What is your secret to success?
Perseverance and people. I always think of that Edison quote, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” I’d like to think we embody that pretty well at Sand Dollar. We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way but more importantly, we’ve learned from them.
I’ve always aimed to deliver the same level of quality and service that I would want. It’s one of the few times being super picky has been a benefit! But our people are really what make us special, both our staff and our customers.
Is it difficult to manage running your business whilst also raising your children?
My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me from a young age. It’s always come naturally to work hard, study hard and play hard (though that last bit I added myself). So I was accustomed to juggling a lot at once but having two active young girls certainly tested my limits!
As I’ve grown as a mum and a business owner, I’ve learned to delegate more to my staff so I’m able to spend more time with the girls. It’s one of the blessings of having an experienced staff that have been with me for the long haul. Helping them develop, grow and advance in the company has provided its own sense of satisfaction.
So no, it’s not difficult, just busy!
Out of all the places in the world, why did you think Dubai would be the ideal place for you to start your business?
It was fate! I was born in the UAE, my childhood was spent frolicking on the pristine beaches of Abu Dhabi and wadi bashing in Saudi deserts. I’ve witnessed the growth and prosperity of Dubai firsthand, it’s been inspiring to watch Dubai blossom into the preeminent luxury destination for lovers of sun and style. All of these factors resulted in Dubai being the ideal place for Sand Dollar to call home. It’s hard to imagine a better fit for a retailer of designer swimwear and luxury resort wear than a place where opulence is second to none and there are 365 days of beach season.
What are your hopes for the future? Where do you see yourself and your brand in 10 years time?
There are so many exciting things happening at the moment, all of which are centred around our customer-first approach. We’re launching our first store in Abu Dhabi with Jumeirah Saadiyat in 2023. The latest in our partnership with the Jumeirah Group, home to two of our Dubai locations. Our Abu Dhabi customers have been wanting a physical store for a long time so we’re excited that we can finally deliver that and we’re looking forward to the challenges a new market brings.
In early 2023, we’ll launch our first concept store in Arjan with a blow-dry bar and café. Everything about this location will be focused on residents. Sit, sip, shop – relax. It’s the latest chapter in Sand Dollar being more accessible to residents; the first was opening our Mercato mall location in 2021. Before that, we had partnered exclusively with 5-star resorts which presented challenges for our local customers.
In ten years, I’d love to expand into some horizontal markets, specifically housewares and accessories. Without giving away our playbook, we’re going to be doing some exciting things in the men’s summer wear space in the near future!
use discount code “grazia20” for 20% off and shop Sand Dollar’s latest collections here.