They say great ideas often come out of a crisis. After losing her job at the beginning of the year, Melanie Beese turned her hobby into a business. You may have heard of her innovative concept — the Dubai Flea Market.
Beese was still working as an exhibition manager for a German event company when she launched the Al Safa market at the beginning of last year, not without a few hitches. After making a business plan, she applied to the Dubai Municipality for permission in November 2007, but didn't actually get it until the following March.
"The first market was on the first Saturday of April and I had only four weeks to advertise. But it was pretty good with 70 exhibitors and 1,500 visitors," said the 32-year-old German expat.
Borne out of love
Beese sees herself as an entrepreneur, a fair description given that she transformed her love for flea markets into a successful venture. "When I started, it was just a hobby and not about the money," she said. "I was just tired of going to the shopping malls. When I was a child, we always went to flea markets in Germany. It's common in Europe".
She studied business at a German university for five years and after graduating in 2007, went to Miami where she had previously done an internship. She couldn't find a job there so a friend of hers told her to come to Dubai. After just ten days in the emirate, she signed a contract with an exhibition company and worked with them for two years. "I then started thinking about creating a flea market," Beese reminisces.
"In Dubai, sometimes, people are at a loss to do something that won't cost loads of money. Going to flea markets is a fun community event and is an alternative to visiting the mall during weekends because it's outdoors in a park with lots of fresh air. You can do everything that you can do in a mall but in a more relaxed atmosphere," she said. At the Al Safa Park market, children can get their face painted and indulge in other fun activities.
A hit with the public
Since losing her previous job, making the flea market concept a source of revenue has become an imperative for Beese. "I decided to take this opportunity to build my own company. My hobby turned into my job," she said. But the challenges have been many as she had to invest a lot of effort and money to launch the markets and make them successful.
The Al Safa Park flea market has grown since its inception and welcomes between 2,000 and 5,000 people on the first Saturday of every month at 8am. People can buy all kinds of used items including: household items, home appliances, furniture, textile, ceramics, electrical equipment, toys, games, books, DVDs, clothes, antiques, accessories — everything except home-made food.
Beese is enthusiastic when she talks about the treasures you can find and the bargains you can snap up at a flea market: "I love it because every time you go it's different. You never know what you can buy and you always see people from different nationalities selling items from their country, things you never get in the malls." Among the coolest things for sale, according to her, was dog apparel displayed on a palm tree. Since people were hit hard by the financial crisis this summer, many left the country and even sold their belongings at the Al Safa Park flea market in May. "It turned out to be the biggest, with 250 vendors and 5,000 visitors," Beese said.
More on the way
The Al Safa flea market turned out to be the start of a successful franchise with Beese recently launching the Al Mamzar Park flea market, which will welcome visitors on the second Saturday of every month. "It has the same concept as the Al Safa flea market where people can buy and sell used items. It's still a small market but it has huge potential to grow even bigger and faster than the Al Safa flea market," she explained. She chose Al Mamzar Park because it is easily accessible to the residents of Sharjah, Ajman, Al Qusais and Mirdiff.
She also started the Al Qasba Luxury Flea Market in Sharjah this month. This market is upscale in comparison to others, as vendors can only sell original, used, luxury brands such as Gucci handbags, Prada shoes, Cavalli dresses, Armani watches and Dior sunglasses, besides antiques, ceramics, arts and handicrafts.
"I really believe in this concept. The problem is that some people hit a mental block when they hear ‘Sharjah'," Beese said. She added that this market has a unique concept because it gives residents an opportunity to sell their used luxury brands besides providing a platform for craftsmen and artists to showcase their items.
As if this wasn't enough, the ambitious entrepreneur is planning on launching flea markets in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, besides a luxury flea market in Dubai.