When Bellaire first opened its doors in 2009, it quickly became Belfast’s premiere destination for all things hair and beauty.

Thirteen years on and the business has continued to go from strength to strength and has recently enjoyed a makeover of its own, thanks to an extensive refurbishment.

Explaining why it was time for a change, owner Carly Bell Hoey says: “When we first opened, we were very much unisex-orientated but throughout the years I feel like our client base has become predominantly more female. We wanted to get that balance back and reintroduce our male menu.

“The time was right to do an entire rebrand and refurb so we’ve stripped it all back, introduced an extensive drinks menu aimed at both men and women and upgraded our amenities.”

The salon has always offered a full repertoire of services, from holistic therapies to blow-dries and colour treatments, as well as eyelashes and nails and Carly believes this is one of the things that sets it apart.

Carly Bell Hoey, owner of Bellaire

“Before I opened Bellaire, I would have to go to one place to get my nails done, another for my hair and somewhere else for waxing,” she comments.

“I could see there was a gap in the market for a city centre salon that could offer it all.”

It has been a difficult few years for the beauty industry in the wake of Covid pandemic and government lockdowns and while many city centre businesses have struggled, Bellaire has bounced back and is thriving.

So, what does Carly think is the secret to its success?

“It’s all about people,” she states.

“We pride ourselves on our service and listening to our clients’ needs. All of the Bellaire team are really well educated on customer care and we’re always asking for feedback, be it positive or ways we can improve, so we can tailor our services to suit.

“We are also so grateful to our loyal clients, they are our bread and butter and without them we wouldn’t have a business.”

While Carly (32) may be the face of the business, she refers to her staff as “my girls”, making it very clear this is a team effort.

She continues: “I couldn’t do this without them. I’ve had most of my team since we first opened and I’m as focused on keeping them happy as I am our customers. A happy team means a successful business.”

As mum to Arabella, aged six, and Zaine, aged three, Carly’s home life is just as busy as her work life but she credits her children for driving her ambitions.

She says: “I wake up every day with a fire in my belly thinking ‘how can I be better for my kids and my team?’ It’s never easy being a working mum but I’m lucky in that we have a lot of family help and my husband Ryan has been working from home recently which makes it easier for me to nip in and nip out of the salon.

“It can be challenging some days but you just figure it out. When Arabella was little, I brought her to work with me but then when Zaine was born, he was nine weeks premature and in NICU for a little while. That was really tough because I had to go back to work when he was still in hospital.”

Carly is a staunch advocate for mental health after losing her best friend to suicide five years ago and believes Bellaire and businesses like it are about so much more than just helping people to look good.

“My best friend took her own life when we were away on holiday for my birthday,” she says.

“It was a really awful time and it taught me just how fragile and complex mental health can be. I think sometimes we think people are okay because they look okay but quite often that’s not the case.

Carly’s gorgeous children Zaine and Arabella

“The beauty and hair industry is about so much more than just the products and the treatments you receive – it’s about the warmth, the chat and everything else that comes with it. It can be more like a counselling session sometimes.

“It’s not just about being a money-making system, it’s about looking after people. My girls are really good at navigating that because they’re down to earth and they’re real.

“I would always tend to employ someone who is a really good person first and foremost because I think everything else can be taught and learnt, but if that heart isn’t there then there’s nothing you can do.”

While Carly is quick to count her own blessings, she’s also keen to point out that it’s not all glamour or smooth sailing.

“Having your own company comes with its ups and downs and it’s definitely not always all rosy,” she says.

“There’s a lot of stress and truth be told you can never fully switch off. At the end of the day business isn’t easy and life isn’t easy.

“Quite often people don’t have the life that they think you have and it’s very easy to judge it from the outside looking in. Just because people don’t plaster their problems all over social media doesn’t mean they don’t have any.

“Due to his prematurity, Zaine has faced loads of difficulties and has a speech and language delay. From he was two years old we noticed there were a few issues and he was taken in to see a paediatrician and an ear doctor and has been undergoing speech and language therapy (SLT) ever since with Joanna Cushley. 

“Joanna is an amazing SLT therapist and has been an absolute godsend to our family. At the start we were very shocked and I feel like this is an issue that’s really common and probably not talked about enough but there’s a lot of support out there.”

Carly’s positive outlook on life is matched by an unwavering work ethic – something that was instilled at a young age.

“I grew up in a council estate in Belfast, my dad was away to work and my mum was on her own with three kids,” she explains.

“We didn’t have anything growing up but I did two jobs from the age of 13 – a paper run with my uncle and then I went and sold DVDs at the Sunday market.

“My dad always taught me that anything worth having never comes easy. At the start I would work 12 hours shifts in Bellaire and then as a hostess in the club. I was maybe having three hours sleep a night but that graft got me here.”

Carly with husband Ryan and their two children

When it comes to plans for the future Carly’s ambitions show no sign of wavering and she has one big dream she’d still love to fulfil.

“Not many people know this but I have a business plan for a bar/nightclub. I’m really musical and want to open somewhere we can showcase local musicians. 

“I want a cosy bar downstairs and then somewhere cool upstairs where people can go to dance. That’s a few years down the line but it’s definitely on the agenda.

“Right now I’m focusing on the kids and Bellaire – on growing the brand, creating more job opportunities and better services.”