Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2022: Abbey Dean, Co-Founder, Bliss Flower Boutique The New Zealand native has been running the homegrown UAE brand Bliss since 2008, when Dean's decision to become an entrepreneur was sparked by her love and passion for all things floral.
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"You have to believe me when I tell you that I wouldn't be half the woman I am if I lived anywhere else but here." Abbey Dean, co-founder of UAE-based luxury floral boutique Bliss Flower Boutique, is of the staunch belief that she was able to cultivate her entrepreneurial spirit largely due to the country she made home over a decade ago. "I have felt empowered as a creative and as an entrepreneur here," Dean says. "I think the ecosystem here is so encouraging of women in the workplace."
The New Zealand native has been running the homegrown UAE brand Bliss since 2008, when Dean's decision to become an entrepreneur was sparked by her love and passion for all things floral. Her journey in the Emirates first started with a tenure as head florist at the Dubai-based luxury beach resort Jumeirah Beach Hotel in 2006. Soon after, she met Michael Lennon, with whom she co-founded Bliss. "It was a passion for florals and an eye for design that led me to start Bliss," Dean says. "Michael, my business partner, and I understood that there was a void in the market for luxury floral design. I was at an age where taking risks was a possibility. In hindsight, it was an entrepreneurial mindset, an intrinsic motivation, and drive, coupled with a lot of hard work."
In addition to floral arrangements, Bliss' offerings also include event installations for corporate companies, arranging private parties and events, chic and sophisticated concepts for weddings, as well as weekly deliveries of flowers. Since its inception, the firm has opened 11 branches across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ras Al Khaimah. And in all her years at the helm of this passion project, Dean says the business achievement she's most proud of is the opening of a Bliss branch at Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Road. "I always dreamed of a street-facing boutique!" she exclaims. While Dean's leadership has certainly steered her enterprise towards success over the past 14 years, the co-founder says the results thus far have taken her by surprise. "Truth is, our growth has left me in awe of all we have accomplished," Dean says. "Our values haven't changed; we still want to source the freshest florals, provide superior service, and keep up with design trends, while staying true to our signature aesthetic. We always had a plan, of course! But a dynamic foresight is key to growth through different life cycles of the business."
Source: Bliss Flower Boutique
And it is precisely with that foresight that Dean ensured the expansion of her brand into Saudi Arabia and Qatar during 2022. The move into the Saudi market, which happened during the initial half of the year, saw the opening of a boutique in Riyadh, marking Bliss' first foray into the wider Gulf region. That decision was followed up with the opening of another branch in Doha in November this year. "Our current strategy of expansion is franchising; we're growing here in the GCC with boutiques in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Sharjah, Riyadh, Doha and beyond," she says. "We also have a Singapore boutique opening soon, which has been a real milestone! I truly believe the secret behind Bliss' success are two words: 'Never fail!'"
But such a statement shouldn't divert from the fact that Dean too has tasted her fair share of hurdles and hiccups along the way of building Bliss. Perhaps the biggest test of her leadership so far came during the lockdowns and social restrictions imposed during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. "The pandemic created short-term disruptions for us, but my perception on business leadership remained the same then, as it does during any crisis," Dean says. "And that is to be visible and responsible, getting creative about demands and communication, as well as looking out for the wellness and safety of all our talent. We spent this time recalibrating and consolidating our processes and ideas, coming out stronger than ever before." But how does one fare through difficult times, I ask Dean. "Well, you just simply keep going!" she replies. "I've learnt so much by doing; I really believe that experience is your best teacher. I also think the key to success is having a team who shares your vision and values, who are honest with their work, day in and day out. In a business like ours, service is of utmost priority. Bliss is a luxury floral boutique, and so I see myself as someone who has a say in current industry and design trends, and who sets the bar higher in floristry in the region."
Abbey Dean, Co-Founder, Bliss Flower Boutique. Source: Bliss Flower Boutique
But amid her many ambitions, Dean says she remains wary of not getting sucked into an abyss of "workaholic" traits at any given time. There is, of course, a certain timeliness in bringing up this topic: as per the American Psychological Association, burnout and work-related exhaustion is currently at an all time high. Dean says the key to avoiding such a situation is to set boundaries. "I never forget to take time out for myself," she says. "I have learnt the importance of a work-life balance over these years. A massage, weekend travel, or a summer away with the family is how I reset and rejuvenate. It feeds one's creativity and passion so being kind to yourself, and to know when to disconnect inadvertently increases productivity in the long run."
But the key to maintaining such self-discipline must always stem from a place of self-love, Dean adds. "I acknowledge my feelings, build strong connections, challenge my doubts, and avoid comparing my brand to others," she says. "I don't look at other floral design companies' flowers for inspiration, or as competition. Unless my gut says yes, I never go with what someone else is doing. The bottom line is success does not require perfection. Failing doesn't make you a fraud, it makes you a human!"
Source: Bliss Flower Boutique
It comes to me as no surprise then -having gotten an insight into Dean's way of going about things- that three words she uses to describe her leadership are "open, welcoming, and approachable." "I want to motivate people to do their best," she says. That might also explain the route she takes when I ask her for advice she'd like to share with other female entrepreneurs. "Keep smiling, even when the going gets tough," Dean shares. "I smile even when I'm having a bad day, and when I get a smile back from a stranger, it just changes my mood. Believe in yourself; we're all meant to achieve greatness. Make a plan, and then make it work, no matter what. Resilience is everything!"