Q&A with Urban Retreat’s Reena Hammer

In January you were appointed managing director of The Urban Retreat Group. Why did you decide to take over from your father (George Hammer)?
A lot of people assumed this was going to happen but it wasn’t like that. It was something I had hoped for but knew wasn’t guaranteed. Anyone who knows my dad knows he’s about performance and ability so, for me, it was a surprise. It’s really boosted my confidence that he thinks I can do it.

In the day-to-day running of things not much has changed because I was doing part of this role already, it has been more of an evolution. It was about solidifying in the business that the beauty side is mine essentially, especially because I’ve helped build our reputation with other companies, suppliers and businesses as well as our own team.

What projects have you got lined up this year?
This summer we will open our first ever international site in Beirut, Lebanon. It’s our first big expansion project and it has been massive. Our site is situated within a beautiful department store in the city and we have a pool on the roof, a gym, salon rooms, treatments, medi-spa, café and more – basically everything that makes Urban Retreat Urban Retreat. It’s a store on the scale of Harrods, so it’s a big, super store as we like to say, and it has every major fashion brand in it.

Beirut is an amazing country and it has got a sexy, classy, European vibe. The women there are very stylish and take their hair and beauty seriously. When people ask why Beirut the truth is it wasn’t our first option when thinking about internationals, but the opportunity came up and it made absolute sense. We get approached about this sort of thing a lot but it normally doesn’t pan out – either the country isn’t right or the deal’s not quite right.

Will you be launching any other international sites in the future?
We’re starting to look out into the wider world, ideally somewhere in Asia or America, but opening international sites is quite a challenge because people approach beauty differently on every continent. For example, in America there’s a nail and blow dry bar on every corner. So, if we did go out there would our concept work?

There’s all these slightly scary questions to answer but I think our concept could work. However, American and Asian interpretation of beauty is different so we would have to adapt our service offer a bit. At the moment we are in talks but nothing is set in stone. Beirut is a good trial for us before we expand into another market.

What developments will be happening at your UK site in Harrods?
Now that the multimillion-pound refurbishment is done we want to capitalise on it as we’ve had so much disruption. We’re going to do a little bit of work on our reception and retail journey, as well as increasing our product range, putting a greater focus on our school and looking at corporate business. This year’s goal is about getting everything in the UK at the level we want it to be.

What beauty trends are you seeing emerge and how do you think they will affect the industry?
Health is becoming increasingly important and it’s no fad. At Urban Retreat we’re starting to look into treatments for cancer patients. We’ve already got stuff for someone going through this process who is losing their hair, for example lash extensions, but it’s actually that we want to offer specific treatments and a range of products clients can use without facing contraindications.

Another big trend is make-up. People are just obsessed with it. We look at the skincare and hair markets and everyone is investing in it, and I see why. I see it in the figures but also in the customers and what they are after, so we’re currently looking at some interesting new players. We want to have the core brands like Laura Mercier but we also want new, fun and younger brands to balance out our offering. We’ve got some exciting things happening at Christmas time to give our make-up offering a kick – watch this space.

Would you ever follow in your mother’s footsteps (Ruby Hammer) and launch your own make-up brand?
I don’t think so,I’m not as creative as her. If we did develop our own Urban Retreat make-up range, then mum is the person to do it. She’s just got this whole affinity with it. Mum, dad and I work together very closely – she has just come on board as our creative director of make-up.

You’ve launched luxury skincare brand Immunocologie exclusively at Urban Retreat this month. Why did you want to work with this American brand?
We get sent a million things to look at all the time and it’s not often that there’s something different. Traditionally, organic and natural products weren’t so popular but that’s changed. Customers are much more educated and want fast results using natural ingredients. The Immunocologie range bridges the gap being natural and scientific. I also liked that they are a family business with a similar heritage to ours.

We’re also working with founder Karen Ballou on a facial treatment that uses the Immunocologie products, which we will launch later this year. We have facilities like The Limited Edition Suite – which offers exclusive experiences to clients that don’t appear on the regular treatment menu – which could be a good fit for this.