Mulhall’s: From garage to garden center

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Mulhall’s has grown throughout its history, and it’s now dialing in a plan to sustain sales throughout the off-season.

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September 23, 2015
Brooke N. Bates

Mulhall’s roots in Omaha actually began with a love story inside the Irish Embassy. In the 1950s, John Mulhall became the grounds superintendent for the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, where he met Maureen, the U.S. Ambassador’s head cook. They married, and soon after, the ambassador coordinated their emigration to his hometown in Nebraska. Mulhall worked as groundskeeper for Creighton University, then started selling flowers from his garage, launching his side business in 1957.

Expanding through the years, Mulhall’s moved out of the family garage, and, in 1974, into its present 25-acre location. Since then, the company — which sells retail and wholesale, in addition to offering landscaping services — has added more than 100 acres of production space around town.

“With a lot of hard work, my grandfather and grandma grew this from nothing into something,” says Mick Mulhall. “My dad and uncle grew it further and started to think of it more as a business.”

Second-generation owners Sean and Dan manage Mulhall’s today — focusing on the landscaping operation, which runs out of a separate location with a separate team. Mick came aboard a couple of years ago to oversee retail, becoming the third generation to work in the family business.

“We all do this because we really enjoy plants, and we see a lot of value reincorporating the natural world into the built environment,” Mick says. “Now, we’re learning how to better take care of the business side of what we do so we can continue doing it.”

For example, they’re focusing more on inventory control and data management as they figure out how to “edit the product assortment” to draw in customers all year long.

“We have every kind of hydrangea anyone could ever want,” Mick says, “but when is the best time to have what size of ‘Limelight’? By dialing in that receiving plan, there’s a definite sales growth opportunity.”

Mick sees opportunity, not just to grow sales, but to sustain sales during the off-season, when shopping typically slows.

“I don’t know why we should expect people to come here in June if we aren’t receiving fresh product in June,” he says. “We don’t get much product in June and July because we don’t have people in June and July — so it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re trying to find out what people are looking for in June that they might not have been looking for in May; what they’re looking for in January that they might not have been looking for in December. Because we’ve traditionally focused so hard on December and May, we’ve just never really dug into that.”

Besides evaluating its seasonal product mix, Mulhall’s also draws people into the greenhouse throughout the year with creative seminars and events that engage all the senses. The “Bees in the City” event was a big hit, combining insights from an entomologist and an urban beekeeping expert, paired with a local honey tasting that included honey from Mulhall’s own hives.

Other recent workshops have covered topics from canning to cacti to calligraphy, as well as the 7th annual salsa contest and a dog behavior workshop so popular they held two sessions. Mulhall’s events draw between 20 and 100 people, with more than 1,000 attending bigger bashes — such as the holiday shopping extravaganza and Earth Week festivities, which bring in local vendors, food trucks and bands.

“The events have been good for us, and a lot of fun,” Mick says. “We’re fortunate to have people who can put them together, from our education and outreach manager to the associates who give her suggestions. We’ve got a great group of people here who are passionate about what we’re doing, and it shows.”