March 2011

A Little Dirt Under the Fingernails and Loving It! BRUNO LANDSCAPE AND NURSERY

Author: David Tobias | Photographer: Photography by Anne

What better place to be in the business of landscaping than Hilton Head Island, a place that puts a premium on the design, creation and maintenance of all things natural and green? That’s not to say that creating or maintaining a landscaping company on Hilton Head Island is easy, but Gary and Mary Ann Bruno have been in business as Bruno’s Landscaping since 1989; both agree that there’s no place they’d rather be.

We had an opportunity to speak with Mary Ann Bruno and managed to discover a few insights into the business—and the business of building a business. It seems the work is hard and long, but the rewards are considerable.

CH2: How did you get into the business and how long have you been in it?
Mary Ann Bruno: Gary and I grew up together. Throughout high school and college, Gary worked for a large landscape company in Connecticut. After college, he worked in New York City for a year. He hated the commute, but most of all he hated being inside. He and I came to visit his parents on Hilton Head Island and decided this was where we wanted to live. We moved here in 1988. Gary worked for another landscape company for a year before opening his own company. With his business management degree, his love of landscaping and, of course, his partner (me) he believed he could do great things.

CH2: What do you like best about the landscaping business?
MAB: Gary and I both love the fact that we are in charge of our own destiny. Both of our fathers were corporate and traveled a lot; that was something neither of us wanted to do. The most rewarding part of our business comes when we drive around the island and see all the work we have done. There are roads in Hilton Head where we have landscaped every house and common area. To see your work become literally part of the permanent “landscape” and know that you helped beautify and shape the island is amazing.

CH2: What’s the busiest time of year?
MAB: Spring and fall are the busiest, but we’re very fortunate to have work year round. After this cold winter, we will be very busy and we can’t wait!

CH2: How many people work with or for Bruno and what is the range of services?
MAB: We have 35 employees, and we’ll be adding a few more in the spring. Our maintenance division handles more than 400 properties, and our landscape construction division does everything from installing sod, plants, and trees to paver walkways, patios and driveways. The nursery opened in 2001.

CH2: Has the business of landscaping become more technical?
MAB: Like anything, you have to stay up with trends, conditions and, yes, technology. Although Gary has tried some CAD programs, he prefers to draw his own plans. He says if it works, why change it, and I guess that’s good because he hasn’t traded me in yet. We have incorporated more technology in the office. (This might be a good time to apologize to my maintenance customers for the multiple e-bills they received when I was learning how to save on postage and e-mail statements).

Mike Nizolek, Mary Ann and Gary Bruno

CH2: What does Bruno’s do best?
MAB: Gary prides himself on his drainage knowledge and how he is able to solve water issues. Most of our construction crews have been with Gary for 10 years plus. They are like a machine. Every job offers a different challenge and reward, which is another great thing about our business: It’s the same, but different every day. Mark Nizolek, my brother-in-law, runs our maintenance department. We are predominately a residential maintenance company. Mark’s yard is beautiful, and he has trained his crews to maintain the yards we take care of like his own. Maintenance is a process, and there are ways to do things and times to do them. Mark’s strength is training our guys to know how and when.

CH2: As owners of the company, how does your job and Gary’s job differ?
MAB: Gary is the business on the outside and I run the inside. Everyone jokes when they see me in the nursery that I’m allowed to load cars but not give advice. Gary is the visionary, and I am the strategist. That’s what makes us a good team. We know each other’s strengths, and we have complete faith in one another. Gary will say he’s boss (and I let him think so). I guess it works. We will have been married 25 years this summer—together over 30.

CH2: How do people find out about your landscaping services?
MAB: Word of mouth mostly. We have the best customers any business could ask for. Not only have we received letters and calls thanking us for a great job, but they tell their friends.

CH2: If you have three pieces of advice for someone who wanted a landscaping job done, what would they be?
MAB: We start by asking questions: First, “Do you spend a lot of time outside?” Second, “Do you plan on maintaining your home yourself?” Third, “How much time do you want to put into it each week?” Gary always asks questions about lifestyle and if they have children. That sometimes indicates the time they’ll have to spend on their landscaping. We live in a beautiful part of the country, but what works up north does not work down here. I cannot tell you how many times customers have asked Mark why is it so hard to grow and maintain grass down here. Living on Hilton Head and the surrounding areas is a lifestyle, and your landscaping reflects it.

CH2: How do you measure the success of your business?
MAB: Our business is a success because everyone who works here takes pride in their work. We love what we do, and we know what we are good at. We never wanted to be the biggest, only the best. Over the years we’ve been nominated for and earned various awards, but nothing compares to customers saying they love what we’ve done or how happy they are with the maintenance of their home. The relationships we have because of this business are amazing. We have a business that has stood the test of time, and along the way we have made lifelong friends.

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