Cullens Nurseries

Rural Enterprise branches out for business opportunity

Cullen Nurseries: A Carlow Local Enterprise Office ‘Making It Happen’ story

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Cullen Nurseries’ roots run old and deep. In 1994, owner Robert Cullen, fresh from Multyfarnham Agricultural College in Co Westmeath, began his own small-scale landscaping business with his father Peter. Soon the pair branched out into
forestry and hedging.

“We initially started growing trees and hedging for our own business, then over time we started selling to the public,” says Robert.

In 2009, the business expanded to its present 11-acre site in Hacketstown; Cullen Nurseries was born, and Robert began focusing on large-scale forestry. Today, the Department of Agriculture-approved nursery sells and delivers plants directly to homeowners, farmers, equestrian centres, and community groups across the country.

“As a business, we bring the plant through the full life cycle, from propagation to lining out, to the management

of the crop as long as we have it,” says Robert. “We lift the crop fresh to order and we deliver it straight to your door.”

The business was growing so fast that in 2019 Robert’s wife, Catriona, left her career as a site quality manager to help run the business. “Our business has developed into a much larger market. It has grown exponentially over the last couple of years,” says Catriona.

Success, the Cullens say, is repeat business. The new and old customers ringing up to order plants year after year show Robert and Catriona that they’re doing something right.

“We encountered the Local Enterprise Office late last year,” says Catriona. “We met Pauline Hoctor, we had a meeting with her, and we discussed with her what we felt we needed to help our business expand and grow. She came back to us with a plan of training and mentoring to take our business to the next level.”

NEW GROWTH

“Robert and Catriona approached us to get a meeting with myself and chat about the supports available from the Local Enterprise Office in Carlow,” says Pauline Hoctor, Senior Enterprise Development Officer at the LEO.

“We had a chat about the business, where they’ve come from, and where they want it to go. Then I tried to match the want with the need, so we assessed what supports they’d potentially be eligible for.”

Like many businesses in 2020, Covid-19 and the national lockdown was the spur Cullen Nurseries needed to build an e-commerce-enabled website, where they could sell products directly to their customers via the internet.

“We had always intended to have one”, says Catriona. “This year, throughout Covid, we worked tirelessly to create a digital strategy to get us online and selling to as many people as we possibly could.”

The Trading Online Voucher Scheme, one of the many supports offered by the Local Enterprise Office, provides micro- enterprises (businesses with fewer than ten employees and a turnover of less than €2 million a year) with funding for the development of an e-commerce- enabled online presence.

“For us, the Trading Online Voucher was instrumental in us being able to expand our business, open up to new markets, and reach new customers who wouldn’t have known us otherwise,” says Catriona. “We did an awful lot of work on digital media strategy and social media to help us drive traffic to our e-commerce website.”

Pauline says that the Trading Online Voucher Scheme has gone from a 50% grant to a 90% grant as a result of the Government’s response to Covid: “Hundreds of businesses around Carlow have availed of the Trading Online Voucher over the last number of months.”

The Carlow Local Enterprise Office offers mentoring supports across various disciplines, as well as training supports for start-ups and expanding businesses, and grants. Cullen Nurseries took part in the Profit Academy, a financial development programme for non-financial managers in businesses older than 18 months.

“The Local Enterprise Office in Carlow is all about making it happen. We’re the first-stop shop for those who are thinking about starting a business, have just started a business, or are looking at expanding their business. We help businesses grow, develop, and thrive,” says Pauline.

For the Cullens, the benefits have been clear. “The Local Enterprise has helped us to push our vision forward,” says Catriona.

“We’ve been able to drill down into our numbers and understand our sales, where our costs are going, and how to correlate the sales with the costs.

It’s also encouraged us to look at lean properties and principles to make sure we’re running our business in the most cost- and time-effective way.

“At the end of the day, this business is to enable us to have a balance with our young family, and we’ve learnt so much from the Local Enterprise Office to help us do that.”