For the serial entrepreneurs Natalie Humphrey and Catherine McEvoy, tapping into UAE’s new mummy scene provided the perfect business break.
Seven months after her son was born in 2012, Ms Humphrey, who also ran the Dubai moving company Easytruck with her husband Chris, decided to set up a new venture.
A charity shop shopping spree on a trip back to the UK set the then-30 year old to thinking why secondhand baby gear was so hard to get hold of in the UAE.
“Babies grow so quickly that certainly in their first year or two they really don’t get much wear out of their clothes,” says the British businesswoman, who has lived in Dubai for the last 12 years. “I was looking at beautiful baby things, always in good condition and being sold at a fraction of the prices you have to pay for them new. And I got to thinking I know so many families in Dubai who really need something like this.”
And so, Baby Bazaar, Dubai’s answer to a flea market for pre-worn baby and toddler items, was born.
As a veteran Dubai entrepreneur, Ms Humphrey already knew the ropes for getting a trade licence and was able to use the same local sponsor she had already used for Easytruck. Nevertheless, she still has to purchase a new event permit for every show she holds.
“With Baby Bazaar, setting up the company and all that stuff really just happened. We were very lucky,” she says. “But then again we had learnt the hard way with Easytruck when we set that up. We learnt then by doing everything the wrong way and that was quite hard.”
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With the company set up and a trade licence in her pocket, it was her husband Chris who suggested holding the event in Times Square, the shopping centre opposite Easytruck’s warehouse. While getting a coffee one day he bumped into the centre’s marketing manager and asked for his business card. Ms Humphrey got in touch and he agreed to stage the event for free on the understanding that it would drive up footfall.
A first market was held in October 2012 and was immediately a hit with Dubai parents, with sellers taking more than 26 tables at the first show alone.
“We thought we would give it a try and it turned out to be so successful. We were really taken aback. And from then on it has snowballed,” she says. “Baby Bazaar really is a social event. Everybody there is on a high. The buyers are pleased that they are getting a bargain, the sellers are making money and generally there’s a bit of a party feeling because they’ve got half a day away from the kids.”
“I wanted to create a community for mums in Dubai,” Ms Humphrey says. “I know it can be really lonely sitting there day after day with a newborn. I wanted to say, ‘you’re not the only one’.”
And as Baby Bazaar took off, Ms Humphrey started to realise that the business had potential to expand.
A first attempt at bringing the show to Abu Dhabi, first in Fotouh Al Khair Mall, where Marks & Spencer is located, and then at Yas Marina failed to bring enough sellers to make an Abu Dhabi show viable. However, it did bring Ms Humphrey into contact with her friend, and later business partner, Ms McEvoy.
Ms McEvoy, a former hotel manager from England, moved to Abu Dhabi in 2012 for her husband’s job just eight months after having a baby.
The pair became firm friends and decided first of all to work together to bring Baby Bazaar to Abu Dhabi with Ms McEvoy taking charge of the Abu Dhabi operation. When that failed to return a profit however, the pair had a rethink and decided to expand in a different direction – as a nursery exhibition.
“As mothers in the UAE, both Nathalie and I used to get so many people asking us where we sent our children to nursery,” says Ms McEvoy. “Soon we realised there was a gap in the market for a show where parents could come and meet lots of different nurseries face-to-face rather than spend their time going around lots of different sites.”
A first Dubai Nursery Show, took place in April 2014 and immediately proved a success. The show has now become a standalone, two-day, twice-yearly event.
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