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Brandi Cowen Top Shops: Deanís Grows Over Decades

Deanís Flowers has deep roots in Halifax

Written by Brandi Cowen
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Dean’s Flowers may have more than 90 years of selling flowers under its belt, but things at Halifax’s oldest flower shop are far from business as usual.

Holly Winchester and her husband, Peter, in the 4,000-square-foot shop that has housed Dean’s Flowers for 93 years.

Arthur Dean founded Dean’s Nursery, a retail shop and glass greenhouse, in 1919. The shop ran the length of one full block on Stanley Street in Halifax’s north end. Back then it wasn’t feasible to import fresh cut flowers, so the Dean family built a name for themselves by growing, cutting and selling their own flowers. As transportation technology evolved, they began purchasing flowers from far-off places and the business was rechristened Dean’s Flowers.
The shop stayed in the family until 1989, when the Deans sold the business to a new owner. The shop changed hands several times after that, before transferring to Lois and Rex Burton in 1994. When the Burtons decided to retire in 2009, they handed the reins over to their general manager, Holly Winchester, who had been with Dean’s for four years.

“When I came to Dean’s Flowers it was flowers and only flowers, so we’ve expanded what we carry to try and find different clientele,” says Winchester. At the time, the store had a reputation for being “stuck in the ’70s.” To help update the shop’s style, they renovated the space and modernized their way of doing business – today all fresh cut flowers are presented in a hand-tied bouquet, rather than wrapped in paper.

Diversifying the products and services on offer has also helped rejuvenate the shop’s reputation. With 4,000 square feet of space and two floors to play with inside Arthur Dean’s greenhouse, there’s been plenty of opportunity to introduce new product lines. Approximately one-quarter of the shop is dedicated to Goody Baskets, a gourmet food basket business. Many of the containers on display are used in both the food and flowers operations, giving the space a unified feel. A variety of giftware items, including fine gem, silver jewelry, are displayed throughout the store.
“When people come into the shop, of course they always comment on the smell, but they also comment on the size of the shop because of course it’s unusually big for a flower shop, and they’re surprised by how much we have to
offer,” Winchester says.

At a Glance
Company name:
Dean’s Flowers
Halifax, N.S.
Holly Winchester
Years in business:
When she came on board in 2005, Winchester introduced a commercial and residential landscaping service into Dean’s Flowers’ service mix. To complement that aspect of the business while further diversifying the retail operation, the shop launched a garden centre last year. Plants are raised in a 16 by 16 foot greenhouse. The garden centre opens in May and runs straight through the fall. The garden centre is really key for Dean’s Flowers to be able to maintain its high level of staffing year-round – the staff count ranges from a low of seven to a high of 35 or 40 during rush times.

“We’re really just trying to develop the gardening business. The flower business and the gourmet basket business fluctuate so much. If you find good people and you want to keep them, you have to find ways to justify keeping your staff size throughout the seasons.”

Good staff can be hard to find, especially for a shop like Dean’s Flowers, where so many seasonal staff are needed to keep the business running smoothly. Although she used to advertise job openings, Winchester has found that she has more success relying on word of mouth and her personal network to find new staff for the shop.

“One way that I found a lot of these people is my cleaning lady at home [who] has a huge family. She’s got lots of daughters and nieces and nephews. She’s always bringing them along during busy times and of course they have friends,” she explains. “In the early years it was tricky, but now we have a great group of people who know what they’re doing. When it’s slow they can come in and get the training, and then when it’s busy they can hit the ground running.”

What customers see on the main shop floor is only a fraction of the space Dean’s Flowers actually occupies. The downstairs is a workspace where staff can spread out to assemble orders during busy periods.

“Particularly at Christmastime with Goody Baskets we’re so incredibly busy that we hire an extra 20 people, so the place is kind of like an anthill,” Winchester says with a laugh. “There’s the upper level where there’s lots of floral designers cranking out product and downstairs where there are 20 elves making gourmet baskets. It’s a busy spot.”

For two weeks at the end of January and beginning of February, the downstairs workspace also served as a classroom for students enrolled in Eastern College’s interior design program. Students received hands-on training from Dean’s designers and got to experience first-hand what it’s like to work in a busy flower shop.

“What they were asking for was to have somebody go down there and teach for two weeks, but we thought it would be a much richer experience for the students if they came here to an actual flower shop,” Winchester explains. “Because we have the luxury of having so much space, there were 18 students but we could very comfortably accommodate them in our design room.”

Because Dean’s Flowers is located off the beaten path in a residential neighbourhood, Winchester works hard to maintain a strong presence for the shop both online and in the community. She devotes roughly eight hours of her own time each week to maintaining and updating the website, and frequently gets involved in school fundraisers and
other charitable initiatives.

After being so long in operation, it’s not uncommon to learn that a bride is ordering her wedding flowers from Dean’s because it’s the same shop that did her parents’ wedding arrangements. The challenge isn’t so much building awareness that the shop exists, but rather reminding customers that it’s still there, providing top quality product just as it has for the past 93 years.

“It’s really just a matter of staying on people’s minds – getting out there as much as we can and making sure people know what we do and what the level of quality is,” Winchester says. “We’d love to get more people in the shop. That’s the big thing: creating a destination.”
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