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Covering 9 acres, including 21,000 square feet of greenhouses and a 3,000-square foot retail store, Gullo’s Garden Center is a powerhouse garden center serving Western New York. Offering a full line of flowers, plants, trees and shrubs — plus mulch and pavers, yard décor, outdoor furniture and more — Gullo’s has established itself as a go-to destination for the region’s gardening and landscaping needs.
Opened in Hamburg, New York, in 1994 by Russell Gullo — who’s still actively involved in day-to-day operations — the family-run garden center’s leadership team also now includes Gullo’s three children: Russell M. Gullo, COO, Elizabeth Gullo-Larson, director of marketing and customer service, and Tony Gullo, who works in Gullo’s landscape services division as a 3D designer.
“We’re a very strong family business,” says the younger Russell Gullo. “I’ve worked here my whole life and my brother has as well. My sister started in 2010 and her husband also works for us. I think one of our main assets with our business is that we all kind of have our different strengths, and we have put each person in a position to succeed. We play to the different skill sets that each of us have.”
A season of expansion
In the next year or so, Gullo’s Garden Center will add an additional 10,000 square foot greenhouse to its garden center headquarters on roadside acreage it recently acquired.
The planned expansion is part of Gullo’s years-long pivot toward growing more of their own inventory, a focus they implemented roughly eight years ago in order to have greater say in quality control and product availability. “We were also able to have a higher profit margin on the items that we grow, versus buying from vendors,” Gullo says.
Early on, as the garden center began focusing on expanding its nursery division, it utilized a small, leased property for growing. But in spring 2019, its operations had grown to the point that Gullo’s was able to build its own dedicated growing facility. “We outgrew the smaller leased location and decided to build our own place,” Gullo says.
The recently completed 14-acre growing facility in nearby Derby, New York, includes a 30,000 square-foot main greenhouse, as well as multiple outhouses for growing perennials. “We have lots of room where we can start growing mums, shrubs and possibly trees as well,” Gullo says. “We’ve been very happy with it.”
Going online to drive in-store traffic
Gullo’s online presence has also undergone redesign and expansion in recent months.
“We upgraded our website last spring to include online inventory,” Gullo says. “It’s been an ongoing project because everything is entered manually at this point. But the website has grown tremendously. In 2017, we had 14,000 visitors. In 2018, we had 33,000. This year, we’re going to be right around 100,000 visitors.”
Staff efforts to enhance the visual appeal of the website by uploading individual product descriptions and photos of all the garden center’s inventory is one factor that’s helped boost Gullo’s website traffic — and, in turn, physical foot traffic at its garden center.
While online purchases are not currently available, Gullo’s has redesigned its website with that future possibility in mind.
“One of our philosophies is that we never want to be stale,” Gullo says. “We want to always keep evolving and try to respond to trends. Obviously, e-commerce is the future. Whether we’ll be able to sell shrubs online one day, who knows. But we’d like to be in a good position where, if the trends continue that way, we’ll be prepared for it.”
Another key feature behind the web visit boom has been Gullo’s popular garden blog, which Russell Gullo Jr. tries to update weekly during spring and summer peak sales months.
Recent topics include posts on flowering shrubs, understanding fertilizer and how to get rid of mosquitoes naturally.
Gullo feels the time spent on building the blog and its readership base has helped build not only higher website visits for the garden center, but also physical foot traffic for the store. Moreover, the blog posts have helped underscore Gullo’s reputation as an expert in the field and as a resource for those with lawn and garden questions.
“One blog post I wrote last spring is the top-rated result in our area if you type in ‘low-maintenance shrubs,’ so we got a ton of traffic just out of that one post,” Gullo says.
While its online presence has been instrumental in helping Gullo’s expand its customer base, the garden center is also proactive about planning special events to drive foot traffic to their Hamburg facility.
For the past 11 years, for example, Gullo’s has hosted an annual fall festival featuring local craft vendors, live music, activities for children and more. “It’s gotten bigger every year,” Gullo says. “This year, we actually ran out of parking.”
In addition, Gullo’s often hosts school field trip visits — another means of establishing a connection with the broader Hamburg community.
“We have a preschool group coming in December. We’ll show them different types of Christmas trees and teach them a little bit about the trees and poinsettias,” Gullo says. “Then we’ll have a story time and serve cookies and hot chocolate, and they’ll get to make and take home their own small ornament.”
At Gullo’s, most of the signage, traditional and social media advertising and general brand management is overseen by Elizabeth Gullo-Larson, who has a degree in interior design and experience in graphic design.
Her training comes in handy daily, she says, since part of the psychology of design includes “how you can set up your retail space to influence customers to purchase in a way you’re looking for them to.”
Additionally, by working to achieve a cohesive look and clear, easy-to-understand messaging for departmental signage, Gullo-Larson hopes to, “help customers move easily through the [garden center’s] space,” she says.
When shoppers arrive at Gullo’s, they’re greeted near the door by a monthly flyer Gullo-Larson designs, which outlines items on sale and always includes messaging about services available through the garden center’s professional landscape division.
“It includes photographs of the sale items and their sale price. I always also include a picture of a landscape we’ve recently done and say, ‘Call us to have a landscape proposal done,’” she says.
Gullo-Larson shares the same monthly sales info on all of Gullo’s social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. “That way, customers are finding our current sale information, even if they’re just Googling our name,” she says.
While Gullo’s proactive marketing — both on site and online — has undoubtedly helped spur its recent business growth, one of its strongest assets has been part of its model since day one: its staff of dedicated, knowledgeable professionals.
Many non-family staff members have been with the garden center for years.
“Everyone is very hands-on here,” says Phil Avino, Gullo’s vice president of operations and supply, who has worked at the garden center for 20 years. “Everyone works together to get whatever needs to be done accomplished.”
As a team, the staff at Gullo’s works to anticipate and address customer questions and needs — sometimes even before they realize they have them.
“We have a strong core of very knowledgeable employees,” Gullo says. “I think seeing that helps our customers recognize us as experts in the field.”