Sections Supplements

Perennial Growth

Graziano Gardens Cultivates a Retail-centric Model to Meet Growing Demand
Chris, Mark, and David Graziano

From left, Chris, Mark, and David Graziano, in their garden center, say the retail arm of their operation is blooming.

Chris, David, and Mark Graziano, owners of Graziano Gardens in East Longmeadow, have the prerequisite drive and determination that all business owners need to succeed.

But they also have a knack for expansion, in terms of service, style, and sometimes that intangible something extra that makes one company stand apart from the rest.

“We want our place to have the ‘wow’ factor,” said David Graziano, vice president. “I think it already does now, but there’s always room for more.”

The Graziano brothers took their first steps toward the elusive ‘wow’ factor 10 years ago, adding a distinctive, red-roofed building to the front of their expansive garden center. With pointed towers, massive double doors, and green trim that combine to give the cream-colored façade a holiday feel, the Christmas Castle, as it’s known, was inspired by a ceramic miniature that is part of a Christmas village made by Department 56, a leading retailer and designer of giftware and seasonal décor.

Graziano said the Christmas shop, which carries Department 56 collectibles and a wide array of ornaments and gifts from well-known companies such as Byers Choice and Yankee Candle, helps to differentiate the company from other garden centers, and also helps what is normally a very seasonal business extend its reach into the winter months.

But behind those medieval doors, the business also includes a greenhouse and nursery, as well as a garden and gift shop that are all growing with demand and an increasingly diverse product list.

“We’ve done some expansions over the years, all geared toward improving quality and serving the true gardener,” he said.

The trio incorporated Graziano Gardens and opened their garden center on Elm Street in East Longmeadow in 1986, and since then have steadily grown the business to cater to both serious gardeners and casual practitioners.

Plants, shrubs, trees, and both annual and perennial flowers are grown and cultivated on site year-round, on the center’s primary five-acre location as well as on an additional 24 acres on Elm Street.

Peak times for business are in the spring and summer, but the fall months are also brisk, and the holiday season is becoming increasingly popular at Graziano Gardens thanks to its constantly expanding Christmas shop.

The business typically closes its doors for just two months out of the year, January and February, during which time spring and summer flowers, plants, and trees are readied for the coming season. It’s also during that time that the ever-changing suite of products, both alive and otherwise, is revisited.

“In the garden center, heating costs and other utilities are a challenge to keep up with, especially in recent years,” explained Graziano. “We try to offset those costs by offering products that stand out, or that people can’t find anywhere else.

“Another great thing about our greenhouses is that we grow and retail from the same area,” he continued, “and people love to browse and shop in the greenhouse atmosphere and environment.”

The Winner’s Circle

Just this month, Graziano Gardens completed the necessary training to become a ‘Proven Winners’ certified garden center.

Proven Winners is an international marketing cooperative comprised of several international propagators, which develops new hybrid and floral varieties that perform better for both the grower and consumer.

As a certified garden center, Graziano Gardens employees successfully complete a training program and test, which evaluates their gardening knowledge and ability to assist customers with questions about plant performance, characteristics, and care.

Chris Graziano, president and the center’s lead grower, said the Proven Winners certification and other proactive moves have helped keep gardening and landscaping relevant in customer’s minds, especially in a climate that has nearly everyone increasingly pressed for time.

“Things have changed a lot,” he said. “Gardening in general has changed — people don’t have the time to garden, but still like the atmosphere plants and flowers create. We offer everything from plant products for the serious grower to landscaping to gifts, and that has been a very good mix for us.”

It also allows the business to stay on top of a wide array of trends, from home décor to landscape construction, and everything in between. Graziano said container gardening — creating mini-gardens of flowers, plants, or herbs in decorative pots, generally — is one area where the center is able to draw from its various modes of expertise to offer a service for which there is growing demand.

“They’re easier to take care of, and we can even create one and deliver it right to someone’s patio,” he said, “and on top of that, flowers themselves are being cultivated to be more hardy, and to flower more.”

Down and Dirty

The retail focus has also helped to foster a pipeline of regular customers, added company treasurer Mark Graziano. They often visit the center’s gift shop for the first time and later realize the breadth of gardening accoutrements that are available, he said.

A 10-person staff that receives regular training in gardening and landscaping helps to answer questions, and the various gardening and landscaping options homeowners and business owners can take advantage of are explained.

“The coolest thing about our setup is it attracts a lot of walk-ins,” he said, noting that, while Graziano Gardens still strives to serve ‘serious gardeners,’ the business is also prepared to introduce newcomers to the various ways in which gardening and landscaping can add value to home or business. “People see this whimsical Christmas castle, and they wonder what’s inside. That attracts new customers, and that leads to landscaping consultations.”

Indeed, the company’s landscape design and installation component, which gave the Graziano brothers their start in 1982, is still a large part of the business.
Most of the company’s landscape construction jobs are residential, but it handles about a half-dozen commercial projects each year, for clients such as Big Y, Springfield College, and Rocky’s Hardware. Graziano Gardens also recently completed the landscape design and construction for East Longmeadow Center Village, the town’s newest development.

However, David said the retail aspects of the company now represent about 70% of its total book of business, and it’s in this area that he and his co-owners hope to continue to evolve.

“We are farmers-turned-businessmen,” he joked, explaining that landscaping was first introduced to the brothers during their high school and college years, and later, the three decided to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in the industry together. Chris attended the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass-Amherst, and can generally be found among the flats and hanging baskets (nearly 3,500 of them) in the garden center’s 10,000-square-foot greenhouse.

Mark has cemented a role for himself within the center’s sales and outside operations, handling planning and consultation with clients concerning landscape installations, and discussing options for plantings and plant material choices with customers. After receiving a Business degree from Western New England College, David signed on to focus largely on administration of the business, including financial, staff, and customer services.

It’s Ornamental

“But we all wear different hats,” said David, “and we’re all still getting our hands dirty. There’s a real passion for what we do here, and we wouldn’t get dirt under our fingernails without absolutely loving it.

“But here,” he said, with a wave of his hand around the large garden center, “here is where we really want to be. Here is the future of our business.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]