Big On Children's Samar Nabulsi on Big Business, Motherhood and Life in Dubai | My Baba

Samar Nabulsi, co-founder and managing director of Big On Children has taken the company from a two-person start up to overseeing 2000 global outlets in the space of three years. Winner of ‘Best SME’ at Arabian Business’ Start Up Awards 2014, and finalist  of the GREAT Business Award 2015, Big On Children has carved its success by  bringing products into the UAE that didn’t preciously exist here, and as well as offering affordable distribution packages, that encourage and enable others to become  entrepreneurs themselves.

Tell us about Big On Children, what inspired you to set it up?

My father is an entrepreneur so I always knew that I would start my own business one day. Then, marrying an entrepreneur made that dream come true a lot faster than I thought. My then fiancée, Ramzy, had said to me eight years ago that we should grow his company “Big On Group” together. Fast-forward five years, and Big On Children was born. Big On Children is part of Ramzy’s corporate group, but with a fun twist!

Having a background in hospitality and marketing profoundly helped me identify the need for a new business in the market. Raising two young children also enabled me to tap into a virgin market of personalised products for kids. My experiences, both theoretical and practical, have also enabled me to start the business with the right foundation. Living in Dubai for almost 11 years has definitely helped me elevate the business to where it is today. The various networking, marketing and social events available to us here have certainly helped intensify the business’ growth. We started with just one exclusive brand in our flagship store in The Dubai Mall to then having six exclusive brands secured for the Middle East region. Our first international store-in-store concept, at the top five most visited locations in New York City, opened at FAO Schwarz in 2013. From there we opened two more locations in Dubai in just 2 years. Going international and opening locations in world-renowned retailers such as FAO Schwarz and Hamleys, raised our company profile and helped us secure exclusive master distributors for Big On Children in the Middle East.

When will Big On Children be coming to the UK, and what do you have planned for the launch?

Our plans now are purely to rebrand one of our existing and core products that we currently own globally known as Sing Your Name. We expect the entire rebranding to be completed by the end of this year and hope to land in the UK beginning of 2016 with a big bang! Our launch plans are still underway; however, we plan to make our products accessible everywhere in the UK starting in London by January 2016.

Tell us a bit about the Make a Wish Foundation and Fighting Cancer for Children, how Big On Children is involved with these charities, and why they’re so important to you?

Big On Children is still looking for ways to support these foundations however, I have personally worked with them in the past through my previous jobs and I fully support great foundations like these. As far as charity and Big On Children is concerned, every year we dedicate a day where we spend time with children in need or children with special needs at certain centres in the UAE. Our most recent work was during the fasting month we came up with an initiative called “Love 2 Give” which was purely to teach children the importance of giving. Through our fantastic relationship with a popular play area in Dubai, we designed a summer camp and dedicated an hour of that camp to the children designing their boxes and then putting in their pre-loved toys, books, clothes…etc. At the end of the two-week camp, our team was very proud to have filled up our trunks with the boxes and drove straight to an orphanage that had over 1000 orphans. The success of that camp and the support by parents was so amazing that we are now planning on our 2nd camp during the Christmas holidays “Love 2 Give too”.

You saw a gap on the market for ‘edutainment’ – how do you go about sourcing the innovative products you sell, and what sets you apart from other toy companies?

We are forever sourcing new products and travel across continents to do so! Edutainment exists in many forms but we feel Big On Children takes it that step further with the personalisation of our products. Personalisation helps build a child’s self confidence through hearing their names on a CD or seeing themselves in a movie DVD, for example. How do we set ourselves apart from other toy companies? By bringing products into the UAE that previously didn’t exist here. Big On Children is the go-to store for something really, really different!

Big On Children has been recognised as a means of helping mothers with a flexible work option – why is this an important part of your business?

Currently, there are very few flexible work options for women going back to work in the UAE. Part time work is generally only really possible when you are self-employed.   With being self-employed comes many costs, which means it is not a realistic option for many women.  Big On Children offers distribution and product packages which enable people to become their own boss and at a one-off start up cost of just $3000. This has proved as popular with the mother’s seeking a flexible role as it has the graduates wanting to be entrepreneurs. The packages extend further than the UAE too, they have been purchased by people across the Gulf, the States and the UK, all wanting to be their own boss. This business model has worked very well for both the business and our distributors who are mainly stay-at-home mums, especially in the U.S and Europe simply because working from home is far more popular there than in the Middle East. Our products became available across the region much faster and our customers love the fact that our products are now conveniently accessible to them.

You’re a mother of two, what are your three pieces of advice for busy working mothers on the balance of working and family life?

Be Patient. You know the saying “good things come to those who wait”? 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! I am always waiting to hear the outcome of a meeting, an award or a new distributor, but I learnt that when you are patient you will get what you deserve. Remember it is important to sometimes sit back and simply enjoy the ride.

Get the right 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 properly. 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. My husband’s support in both the business and the family plays a major role in what I consider one of the keys to my success.

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’s family life like in Dubai?  

Well let’s start by describing what life is like in Dubai in general. To sum it up according to Wikipedia, “Dubai was rated as one of the best places to live in the Middle East by American global consulting firm Mercer.” Living in Dubai may have spoiled me in many ways, but it has certainly made it a lot easier for me to start this small business and take it global. What is it like for my children? It’s like living in Disney Land! Every day there is a new activity for children, or a new play centre, a new park and the number of indoor activities are amazing! Just because it is 40 degrees outside doesn’t mean you cannot ski or ice skate indoor! Dubai has made all these attractions possible for both the residents and the tourists! It is quite normal for us to spend the morning skiing inside the Mall of the Emirates and then head to Riva beach or as my children call it “the happy beach”! In terms of family life it is awesome, the key is to find the time to do it all as a family.

What’s your favourite family recipe?

We have this family recipe that we inherited from my great-great grand-mother. When we don’t feel like cooking over the weekend but we want something really quick to make, we turn to ‘zucchini with minced meat and eggs’. I know sounds horrific haha… but it has all the right nutrients and proteins and it is yum!

Dice the zucchini and chop some onions, fry them with a little olive oil and then add the minced meat. Then make a few spaces between the mixture in the pan to crack open a few eggs and cook them sunny side up. Add salt, pepper, paprika, and any other spice you like, and enjoy it with some sliced tomatoes or any type of bread. Cooking time? Depends on how long it takes you to dice the zucchini J but really no more than 20 minutes!

What’s the one baby product you couldn’t have live without?

I should really say the Personalised CDs for my children but I wouldn’t be telling you the whole truth ha ha! It is definitely, the Cocoon-a-baby by Red Castle. It is a special carry-on mattress that is specifically designed for new born up to 6 months. It was my best product investment that lasted 2 children, a friend’s child and ready to be used for the 4th time… just waiting on my best friend to deliver.

How would you sum yourself up in one sentence?

I am no Cinderella but I would say that I am both courageous and kind.

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