6/29/2013 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
Ontario Orchards has changed a lot since its founding as a small, lakeside tree fruit business in 1952. Today, it boasts multiple streams of revenue and web-based sales as a full-service farm market, you-pick operation, agricultural event center and supply vendor, nursery and year-round tourist destination.
When Dennis Oullette’s parents started the business, he was a youngster helping out at the family business in Sterling, N.Y., along with his siblings. In 1966, Oullette and his wife, June, purchased the business from his parents and established the farm market in Southwest Oswego and a larger farm there, too. Altogether, the Oullettes farm 90 acres in both locations.
Ontario Orchards remains one of the few farm markets in the Northeast that offers fruit, vegetables, nursery stock and Christmas trees at the commercial level.
Up to 60 employees during the peak season (25 off-peak) help keep the business going, along with family members. The business is open every day of the week year-round. The business’ many revenue streams need plenty of help.
The revenue streams include online sales of produce and gift baskets; nursery stock and garden center supplies and equipment; a limited supply of agricultural goods such as maple syrup equipment; fresh-picked tree fruits, vegetables and other produce; cider pressed onsite; Christmas trees; fresh baked goods made onsite,
How the business expands “depends upon the demand by the public,” Oullette said. “It’s what the public is requesting. You need concepts. We test products over a period of time, find out how much movement there is and figure out if we should expand into it.”
The nursery started after Oullette sold a few apple trees and strawberry plants. More and more customers wanted nursery stock, so the business grew. That’s also how the bakery started.
“We started baking pies in the house and the next thing we knew, the demand was so strong we had to build a bakery and then we got into bread rolls and other things,” Oullette recalled.
The same scenario played out for adding a cider press onsite, and it looks like a deli and meat market may be a future step. Presently, Ontario Orchards stocks a few deli meats and frozen meat and seafood items.
“The movement is getting stronger so we’ll have to expand into that with fresh cut and fresh packaged,” Oullette said.
Oullette also has the vision to see how he can expand upon an initial idea. Ontario Orchard’s memorial trees grew from a request from the City of Oswego’s designation as a “City of Trees.” After supplying memorial trees along with plaques from a local company for veterans, Oullette developed the idea for general consumers who want a living memorial. He still partners with the engraving company to supply plaques.
Ontario Orchards also sells New York-sourced food items that are distributed only regionally, such as Grandma Brown’s Beans, Hoffman Hotdogs, Dinosaur BBQ sauces, and seasonal produce so that Central New Yorkers transplanted elsewhere can get a taste of home mailed to them. And those still in the area can ship the area’s finest to out-of-state foodies who have yet to sample CNY cuisine.
So far, his strategy has been working great.
“I have not tried any ventures that have not worked,” Oullette said. “Absolutely zero.”
Keeping the many aspects of the business humming isn’t easy. Oullette credits hiring dedicated staff and relying upon family.
“We have a number of employees where this has been their life,” he said. “They have become part of the family experience and have helped develop Ontario Orchards through the years.”
He hopes to expand the business’ appeal to tourists, both local and visitors, as a destination, not just a shopping venue.