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September 2017

Historic Flower Business Blooms

Dean's Flowers Celebrates New Growth with Holly Winchester at the Helm

By Natalie Pellerin

After 98 years, Dean’s Flowers still stands on Stanley Street in Halifax’s North End, on the very site where it was established by Arthur Dean in 1919. Originally a plant nursery where the Dean family grew and sold their flowers, today’s Dean’s Flowers is so much more. Of course they still deliver beautiful flowers and provide exemplary service, but owner Holly Winchester says she realized early on that in order to drive success, she needed to diversify, and diversify she has.

Holly’s journey to Dean’s Flowers began in 2004, when she was hired to manage Goody Baskets Limited. In 2005, Goody Baskets was acquired by Dean’s Flowers, and Holly was part of the package. She was General Manager of what became Dean’s Flowers Group until owner Rex Burton announced his retirement in 2009.

Holly likes to say that because she had acted like she owned the business for years, it was an easy transition to actual ownership. Although taking over a business can present challenges, Holly did not doubt herself, or her staff, for a moment.

“I just believed," she recalls. "I knew that there would be bumps in the road, but I had faith that we were going to come out okay.”  

Both the flower and the gourmet basket industries have high and low seasons, which can impact employment. One of Holly’s priorities from the start was to figure out how to fill the revenue gaps between those seasons so that her employees wouldn’t face seasonal layoffs. She also felt strongly that Dean's should remain at the original Stanley Street site, so she needed to get creative. With 2,500 square feet of retail space, an attic, a garage, a full basement and dormant office space, there was a lot of potential.

Over the next few years, Holly introduced a Gourmet Grocery section as an extension of Goody Baskets, a greatly expanded giftware and home decor selection, and the SulaMar clothing line. The shop is full of plants, including everything from large trees, to small succulents and air plants, to terrariums and bonsai trees.

HollyW 017Holly also introduced her own line of gemstone jewelry, Holly Winchester Designs, available exclusively at her shop. Her earrings, necklaces and bracelets are designed and made on location. She got hooked on designing jewelry when her daughter was young. “I used to buy beads for Kiara when she was little, but eventually it became apparent to me that I was really buying them for myself.”

An additional introduction, Gallery Nineteen Nineteen, in August 2016, has been very exciting.

“There is clearly a need for more places for artists to show their work,” Holly says. “We have been astonished with the enthusiasm that our art gallery has received.” The 450 square foot gallery space features Atlantic Canadian artists in five-week solo shows. The gallery also doubles as community space where groups can meet, and host workshops surrounded by beautiful art.

Of course, there were a few missteps along the way. A small garden centre in the backyard of the shop was a non-starter; Holly also says Dean’s had a “stuck in the 70s reputation that took a few years to shake off."

But little by little, the shop on Stanley Street became a flower shop with a twist.

“It’s still a flower shop,” says Holly. “But it is more than that. The nice thing about owning a business is you can turn it into whatever you want.”

Dean’s Flowers Group continues to grow and thrive, this year receiving its first nomination for The Coast's 'Best of Award' in the flower shop category. Dean’s Flowers Group’s 100th anniversary is also fast approaching in 2019, and Holly is preparing to celebrate proudly with some ideas already in the works.

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“We’re really going to celebrate it, so we’re very excited,” she says.

Holly has one piece of advice for other women contemplating business ownership: “Make sure it’s something you love," she stresses. "Put a sign with your intentions on your wall, and don’t give up.”

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