Founder & CEO of Db Babies Trading LLC
This is the first article in our new series talking to UAE women who have turned their business dreams into reality during an expatriate posting. You can see the full series here
From humble beginnings selling gift baskets online from home, to now running five concept shops and an online business in the GCC, Db Babies has fast become a household name for Middle East parents looking for unique and hard to find baby and children’s products.
Winding the clock back eight years, the UAE was quite a different place for new parents. The selection of available brands was tiny and mostly involved shop and ship, not allowing you to feel and touch the products you wanted to buy.
After the birth of her first child in 2007, Jenny Haddad started her business as an online ordering service for buying baby gift baskets. She would source items from overseas like lotions, and teddies, bundle them and deliver them to hospitals or people’s homes in Dubai.
It didn’t take long for her products to gain popularity with a fast-growing family population.
Jenny explains how things expanded from these humble beginnings.
“About 8 months after I started my business I was approached by Mercato Mall to open a kiosk. This was the stage where it was important to be a legal entity. I was fortunate that my husband had a local friend who was willing to support me in setting up an LLC. All retail businesses must be set up through an LLC structure. After opening our first kiosk, we have now expanded to a further four concept shops, two in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Oman.”
Did you set out with a deliberate plan for expansion of your business?
“I never set out with a plan, it has always evolved. Moving to Abu Dhabi was much more difficult than dealing with the authorities in Dubai, then once we had the store, we didn’t have the stock to fill it straight away! We opened a kiosk in Dubai Mall shortly after it opened and it didn’t take off, we eventually closed this down.
The brand is constantly evolving, we’re listening to what the client wants. I need to respond to what is working and what is selling, not necessarily what I would buy myself. I’m trying my best to bring in unique products to the UAE but the baby goods market is growing, distributors will sell to more than one purchaser. Our point of difference remains in the services we offer, next day delivery, and sometimes even same-day delivery, gift wrapping and only stocking high-quality brands”
Could you explain more about working with a local partner?
“There are many ways you can do it, and many who are willing to help you but it’s important to agree boundaries with them at the outset what the expected involvement will be. Think to yourself, what are the best-case and worst-case scenarios. If it doesn’t work out and we need to close up shop, what would the outcome be?
Similarly, if things go well and the business expands, how will the partner be compensated? I round recommend going with a fixed fee not a percentage of sales or profit. Although people frequently refer to them as a “silent partner”, there is still work for them to do. They may not want to take an active role in business management but you will need them to regularly sign documentation.
If the business expands you will want to re-negotiate your annual fee with them to compensate them for the extra time involved.”
Is it always necessary to have part Emirati ownership in the UAE?
“Not at all, people running online only businesses without a store front can look to set up a business through a free zone, either under a shared license or on their own.
You are limited though in terms of what you can do from a retail point of view if you want floor space, you need an LLC license and a local partner – there a minimum square footage rules if you do this. Importing has grey area, but if you are importing items in any quantity then get an import license it will make things so much easier and open up your options.”
What advice do you have for expats sitting at home with a good idea but not sure where to start?
“Don’t listen to everything you are told. Get out there yourself and go to the Municipality, go to the Department of Economics and ask questions. Yes, it’s difficult but people are really helpful if you just get to the right person, speak to someone face to face.
There is more information available on the internet these days but you can end up going around in circles. If you have a home business and you don’t have a license, it’s not legal. If you really want to make a go of something, invest the time and the cash; it can be frustrating but you can do it, it’s not always a no!
Also, don’t look at Dubai and Abu Dhabi as your only options; there are free zones you can operate from in the other Emirates, which are also cheaper. You can either set up a business umbrella company or have a lawyer help you set up your own business. You can still work from home, not your office address.”
So where to next for Db Babies?
“We have just opened our first store in Oman. A big learning experience as we’ve really had to start everything from scratch again with a new local partner. There might be free trade throughout the GCC but there are entirely different systems in each country.
We would really like to increase our regional presence, either through our own stores or franchises. Most important to us is continuing to listen to our customers. We will continue to look at different brands as trends change, and people expect to see different things every time they come into our shops.”
I had a wonderful time catching up with Jenny – and playing around with their amazing range of unique brands in store (OK, I may have been slightly indulging my stroller fetish!)
Jenny clearly has a passion for her business and I most admired her can-do attitude, finding something that was missing and bringing it to the UAE market, evolving and looking at the next best opportunity. Thanks so much to Jenny for spending the time with Our Globetrotters.
I hope you enjoy the Expat Entrepreneurs series over the coming months where we will introduce to like-minded mums who have taken a step out of the comfort zone to pursue their business dreams abroad.
You may also like to read further interviews from this series:
- Lisa Irwin – Founder of Music Monkeys
- Jane Barraclough & Tasmsin Anderson – Yalla!
- Kimberley Sheedy – Starfish Lane Nursery
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© Our Globetrotters | Images © Db Babies Trading LLC