The history of our store actually has two tracks: that of our actual company, Gull Group; and the chain of stores that used to own us; Seasonal Specialty Stores®.
Gull Group, Inc. is a New Hampshire corporation owned by Dennis DiPaolo. Gull Group currently operates two subsidiaries: Seasonal Specialty Stores® and Gull Group Advertising. Gull also provides some management services to a separate real estate development company; CSO Realty, LLC. The name Seasonal Specialty Stores® is a federally registered trademark owned by Robelle Industries, our former parent company. Gull Group owns a permanent license to use that trademark.
Gull Group began as a sole proprietorship, owned by Dennis, in 1976. At that time Dennis was the General Manager of Palaro Pools and Sunline Ltd., in Danvers, MA. Dennis also operated Gull as a part-time, one-man retail consultancy; mostly doing freelance work for people in the swimming pool industry.
At that time Sunline was an inground and above ground pool builder, pool accessory retailer, real Christmas tree retailer and wholesaler, Christmas decoration retailer, and one of the largest retailers of concrete lawn ornaments in the United States. Dennis was hired as Store Manager in 1974 and became General Manager and buyer in every category in 1976.
In 1981 Dennis was hired to open Robelle Advertising as a wholly owned subsidiary of Robelle Industries. That same week Dennis met Jeanne. Dennis became Vice President of Marketing of Robelle, with primary responsibilities in Robelle Pool Chemicals and a chain of factory outlet pool and patio stores. Jeanne worked for Robelle on special projects from installing pool tables to managing temporary Christmas stores to decorating and designing.
Our Nashua store was opened by Robelle in 1980, as Factory Pools and Game Tables. Kip, who is our current Store Manager, was Assistant Manager then. Tod came to us as a high school student in 1981. From then through 1989 our stores underwent a slow but important change in their direction. We outgrew our parent company, who did not generate enough returns and overstocks, to supply fourteen stores. At the same time, those of us in management and merchandising of the stores aspired to provide better service and products than what would normally be in a factory outlet. We upgraded our focus to higher quality, brand names, service and prices. We moved from a factory-outlet model to a specialty store model. In 1984 we changed the name of the stores to Seasonal Specialty Stores®. We developed the best and most exclusive brand names in each of our industries. It is rare throughout the country for any store to have all of the best names: Tropitone, Telescope, Lloyd Flanders, Gloster, California House, Woodard, Olhausen, Baquacil, BioGuard, Sharkline, Pentair, and Marquis.
In the summer of 1989 the Nashua lease at the Simoneau Plaza (now called Main Street Market Place) came up for renewal. If a business is ever to be sold, lease renewal time is a convenient time to do so. Robelle agreed to sell to Dennis and Jeanne.
Our goals that first year were to rebuild a reputation for friendly service that had deteriorated slightly during the late 1980’s, create a more professional and knowledgeable staff, and build a much better patio furniture department. Taking on BioGuard products, training, and water lab equipment helped improve our professionalism. Putting Jeanne in the patio department (along with a nicer atmosphere) raised patio furniture sales by 380% in one year. Dennis retired from almost all work in Gull Group Advertising.
The ten years from 1990 to 1999 brought a 30% increase in sales the first year, followed by a fairly consistent 10% to 15% increase each year thereafter. We have been honored with the Aqua 100 Award (100 best pool and spa stores in North America). We are known throughout the United States within the pool, spa, billiard, and patio industries as a leading innovator and a clean, well-run and honest organization. Dennis has served on the Baquacil Dealer Advisory council and our regional Board of Directors for the National Spa and Pool Institute. Jeanne has consulted with Telescope Casual Furniture in choosing their fabric selection each year. In 2004, Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire even named us as the state’s Retail Store of the Year.
In October of 1999 we moved to our current location in Amherst, NH. This state-of-the-art building is 32,000 square feet and was designed by Dennis at a cost of 2.6 million dollars. The erection of this new facility included a much bigger area in which to display product to customers, and much more warehousing on-site. It is one of the largest and most efficient pool and patio stores in the country. People who visit pool stores throughout North American say that only Watson’s in Cincinnati, OH have a store anything like it. Someday we’ll have to visit Cincinnati to see for ourselves.
We pay all of our bills early or on time. Despite the apparently high volume, profits are not yet huge. Fortunately for the company, Dennis and Jeanne did not have children to put through college. Their four dogs are very small, and do not eat much. Jeanne passed in 2015; leaving Dennis as our only owner.
Compared to most smaller stores, we have a major advantage in buying and merchandising. We are members of the Target™ Buying Group, Inc. Target™ is an association of New England’s larger seasonal stores. As members, we have agreed to help each other when possible by selling each other products at cost, helping each other to level out inventories, and advising each other of special deals and prices. The group meets to review and discuss proposals from our vendors. We agree to combine our orders for the benefit of all, even when an individual member may not agree with the majority. Most of the prices that we pay for those products are much lower than we would pay as a completely independent store: the same as the giant national chains. Dennis has been President of Target™ since 1993.
Our goals for our first ten years of business were to:
- Solidify with our customers our reputation for providing the best in style, service, and selection.
- Retain enough profit to finance growth.
- Decide if we wish to grow by making the one store more profitable, or open a second or even a third store.
- Develop staff that can handle a larger operation.
- Move from being an advertising-and-price based company to a reputation-based company.
- Build a store that we control without having to worry about a landlord raising rent, reducing quality, or even refusing to renew a lease.
Our goals for our second ten years were much more simple:
- Don’t screw it up.
- Stay on top of new ideas, products, and services. Don’t rest on our laurels, but earn our customers’ trust daily.
- Continue steady growth.
- Develop a staff of honest, ethical team members who help each other to grow.
- Give back to the community around us.
Our goals for our third decade are:
A. Continue to develop a staff of honest, ethical, and well-trained members.
B. Prepare the staff for self-management, as Dennis and Jeanne prepare to reduce their time here.
C. Stay on top of new ideas, and allow our younger members to influence our future.
D. Give back to the community around us.
“Seasonal came across as more concerned with our satisfaction than our money – it’s refreshing.”
“Everyone was courteous and helpful from the cashier to the stock room guys”