Alissar: A Blooming Business

Founded in Amman over three decades ago as a small family-run florist, Alissar’s distinctive flower arrangements can now be found in homes and businesses across the region, including some of the Gulf’s most luxurious hotels.

By Dina al Wakeel

The small flower business that Hadi and Melvina Mzayek established in 1979 in Amman’s First Circle has grown a great deal down the years, but its commitment to the art of floristry has remained the same.

Recently marking their thirty-fifth anniversary, Alissar has many reasons to celebrate. It has two branches in the affluent Amman neighborhoods of Abdoun and Um Uthaynah, as well as a branch in Dubai and a corporate flower arrangement business that covers most of the Gulf. The company recently signed in Doha their single largest account in the history of the company with Sheraton Hotel, and they only just penetrated the Bahraini market. They have also been the recipient of the King Abdullah II Award for Excellence, twice.

“We have it down to a science,” said Ghassan Mzayek, Alissar’s director of sales, weddings, and events and the founders’ son. “The margins, the number of flowers we use in each arrangement, how much room you leave for surprises. We give our guests the system of how everything is done, down to every little detail.”

A Family Business    

Hadi and Melvina Mzayek, who fled Lebanon during its civil war and came to Jordan with a few dinars in their pockets in the mid seventies, established the first store after he bought his wife a plant for their wedding anniversary. Following some research they decided to start a flower shop.

Having secured a suitable location, the couple placed a great importance on quality and customer service. “From the very beginning, my parents had very high standards for customer service and the product they provide, with music playing in the background. It was a very small flower shop, and from there on we started expanding,” said the son, who remembers helping in the shop with his two siblings.

The work started developing after the siblings finished universities, and one by one started coming back and getting more involved in the business. The sister, Alissar, who has always been the one who decorated the house before a dinner party, studied interior design and is now in charge of the design department. As for the brothers, both studied in the United States and specialized in motion pictures and sound engineering, and advertising and marketing management.

“Eventually when all of us graduated, the Alissar flower shop brought us all back together. We grew up with it and we came back to it,” said Mzayek. “We were all involved. We developed a few concepts and the family business started scaling.”

They soon established their second shop in the mid eighties on al Khalidi Street, where al Khalidi private hospital is located, then they started another shop in Um Uthayna, which is still present to date. Their Abdoun shop, which was the last to be created, is a four-storey building that is dedicated to flowers, plants, containers, accessories, dried flowers, weddings and events.

“We always worked with high-end products, importing our plants and flowers from Holland. But I don’t think my parents foresaw just how big the Alissar brand would become,” he said.

Heading South

In 2002, Alissar joined EJADA, a program that helps Jordanian SMEs develop their products to improve their competitiveness. They connected them with two experts from the UK and Belgium to help them develop their marketing skills and their business plan to grow the company. The experts stayed with the family for a month, sitting with every member individually to make sure that their thoughts and vision aligned.

“That was the turning point. A year later we went to the Gulf,” said Mzayek. Their first expansion was in Doha in 2005, they then moved to Lebanon, the UAE, and, most recently, Bahrain.

Today, the biggest part of their business lies in B2B. The five-star hotels of the Gulf are particularly big clients. “We have a complete understanding of what each hotel needs and how much money they are willing to pay,” he explained, adding that the packages they provide to each hotel range from $5,000 a month to $300,000 a month, based on each facility’s needs.

To further organize their work and create more focus on each segment, last year they divided the business in Dubai to four different verticals: B2B, which involves hotels and corporations; B2C, which includes retail, weddings and events, as well as e-commerce; the agri-business, as they are the agents for a German company that’s the second largest in the world in producing rose plants; and finally production, which is the farms that they have. Each of these verticals has its own team and targeted business. However, their back-office support, which is includes HR, accounting, logistics, and purchasing, handle the four businesses combined to help them get better deals when buying in bulk.

Since separating their business a year ago, the B2B, which makes up over 50 percent of the overall income of the group, grew by 100 percent, and Mzayek expects another 100 percent growth for 2015. “We are the leading company in hotels and corporate in the Middle East. We now have 30 hotels but we only work with high-end hotels; the Four Seasons, St. Regis, W, and we don’t go for the low-end five star hotels,” Mzayek explained.

They also recently joined Endeavor, which helps high-impact entrepreneurs by providing them with a network of mentors who provide them with advice. “We thought that just by going through the process of being selected will teach us even more about our business because sometimes you think that you know best because you’ve been running the business for a very long time,” explained Mzayek.

Seasoned entrepreneurs from Endeavor helped the family change a lot in their business and even take some major decisions, one of which was shutting down all the farms that make the smallest income with 2 percent of the turnover, to focus more on the business that’s making more profit to grow the B2B by 15 percent.

Besides the low income, due to the frost this winter, most of their flower crops were damaged, even those in greenhouses.

Overcoming Challenges

Despite their successful business model, their biggest problem growing is finding qualified people to help them with the business. Mzayek even believes that having talented people would most probably help their B2B double again in a shorter time frame.

Mzayek said the company is forced to look abroad for experienced employees, and currently recruits master florists from Germany, where they go through an intensive two-year training program. “Despite the potential for job growth, people in Jordan are not committed, which is the problem … They don’t consider it a profession,” explained Mzayek. To counter this issue, Alissar is entertaining the thought of creating a center where they can provide courses to help Jordanians build and hone their skills.

Custom charges in Jordan remain another big issue for florists like Alissar, and make them favor Gulf countries to do business due to their low or non-existent import charges. “In Dubai, which is our second hub, we have four shipments a week, sometimes even six or eight. It is not feasible to pay a lot of customs and it’s not cost effective that we produce all of our flowers here, particularly that prices also vary from one season to another,” he noted.

Looking ahead, Mzayek believes Alissar is still too small for an IPO, but the future lies in maximizing each of their verticals. They will soon host a wedding show in Dubai with the InterContinental to launch Alissar weddings and events there.

“We see huge potential for our business everywhere, where ever there’s a concentration of hotels. We see potential in Qatar’s world cup and Dubai’s expo where the number of rooms is doubling,” said Mzayek. “I think in the coming three years we will be able to grow the size of the company in hotels and corporate by at least 50 percent year on year.”