Bella Sei Finds Quality Products, Quality Service a Recipe for Success

Each week Braintree Patch speaks to a small business owner.

Bella Sei Facebook page.
Bella Sei Facebook page.
When Florrie Gurnon's father Anthony Tantillo walked in a room, the place lit up with his happiness. He would talk with everyone like an old friend, stranger or not.

Tantillo was the quintessential entrepreneur. Raised in the Bronx and a veteran of World War II, he developed a home building company, started the Velvet Touch Beauty Salon in Connecticut in 1966 and was the inspiration for many more businesses owned and operated by his five children.

Gurnon was 14 years old when her father opened his first hair salon. He eventually opened additional salons, and as an adult Gurnon bought-in and carried on the family business. She fondly remembers growing up at her father's salons, and the way he treated everyone with care and respect.

"It was a testament to how he lived his life," Gurnon said. "People matter to him."

Last year, Gurnon came out of temporary retirement to open Bella Sei, a gift shop in Braintree Square, a place where she carries on her father's way of making everyone know they matter.

Patch features questions with business owners every Monday. See the Bella Sei interview below.

What did you do before?

Gurnon grew up in Tolland, CT. She bought the salon from her father in 1995 and sold it six years ago, after moving to the area to live with her husband Ron Gurnan, who has owned Braintree Lumber for 29 years.

When did you open and what was the biggest challenge?

Bella Sei opened on May 30, 2012 and that weekend Gurnon's husband was diagnosed with cancer. 

Before the opening, Ron Gurnon had given his wife a hard time for opening a business after she had found joy in early retirement, in volunteering and spending time with her children and grandchildren. 

But after he got sick, Ron told Florrie it was meant to be. The business was now not just a passion, but also a diversion from his diagnoses and subsequent successful treatment.

What are the similarities, or differences, between running a gift shop and a salon?

The businesses are the same when it comes to interacting with people, Gurnon said. She and her staff give customers their full attention, help them find the just-right product and listen to them. People typically come in looking for something for someone else, so they usually have a story to tell.

The main difference, Gurnon said, is that when running a hair salon you can purchase supplies and then wait until they run low to buy more. The nature of the gift shop business is that she's buying product all the time, whether going to gift shop shows to find new merchandise or ordering online or over the phone for a customer seeking something not in stock.

"There really isn't any 'done' here," she said.

How many employees do you have?

Bella Sei employs three people – Sherry Bennett, who Gurnon met through BHS's All-Night Grad Party fundraising and through volunteering at the Cottage Shop at South Shore Hospital; Eva Luciani, who teaches at Magic Years, and Karen Dowd, who Gurnon met while talking about the shop at Kristin's over breakfast.

She also employs a college-age girl part-time, who does a lot of computer work and whose parents Florrie has known since before she was born.

Is your business seasonal?

No, not particularly, Gurnon said. She was nervous at first opening in May of 2012, knowing there were several months before the holiday season. Instead of leaning on advertising, Bella Sei built up a steady customer base through quality customer service and by only offering hand-selected products.

"I've grown from word of mouth," she said.

That said, January and February are the toughest months, and Gurnon said she is working on some new marketing techniques to bolster traffic, such as in-store events for women.

Where do your customers come from?

People come from all over, Gurnon said. She has customers from Scituate and Marshfield, and even has a loyal friend from Maryland who vows to return.

How do you select the merchandise in you store?

Bella Sei sells custom gift baskets, plates, vases, clothing, signs with quotes like, "I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food," and much more.

"I have to like it," Gurnon said of her products. "There isn't anything in here I wouldn't buy for myself."

Gurnon said she has dozens of suppliers, and some sales reps who sell for multiple companies. Recent additions to her store include products from the North American Bear Co. and treats and aprons from Ginger Betty's Bakery in Quincy.

What is your favorite item at Bella Sei?

One of her favorite product lines is Lysse, a clothing company that began with the idea of eliminating the "muffin top" factor from women's leggings and has since expanded to include tops, tanks and wraps. It was once featured on The Today Show.

What is your favorite part of the day?

The first hour in the morning when Gurnon is alone in the store and tweaking displays, re-arranging items to bring a fresh look to Bella Sei.

If you could change one thing in town to make it easier for small businesses, what would that be?

Gurnon said improving parking in Braintree Square would be her first order of business. The municipal lot, like those in South Braintree Square, has recently been the focus of increased time-limit enforcement, meant to be a boon for area customers but a problem for employees, who either have to move their cars during the day or park in the Archbishop Williams lot off Storrs Avenue.

Gurnon also said she'd like to see a better mix of businesses in the square, including a much-needed restaurant.

If you would like to be featured in our weekly Business Conversations article, email joseph.markman@patch.com.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »