VOL. 114 | NO. 235 | Thursday, December 7, 2000
Christmas tree vendors sell an experience, not just a tree
Evergreen vendors sell more than trees
By SUE PEASE
The Daily News
With two weeks until Christmas, shoppers still are filling the malls to make sure they have just the right gifts under the tree. But before the presents go under those trimmed limbs, shoppers have to make sure theyve purchased the perfect tree.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, loads of cut trees will be sold this year. A national survey conducted for the association found that 36 million U.S. families plan to buy a real tree in the time span between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In Memphis, many vendors have set up shop to help find that tree.Business owners say there is more to the sale than simply exchanging dollars for an evergreen.
Sheilagh and Chris Kaiser, owners of Christmas Tree Corner, sell trees along with holiday wreaths and garland from the lot at the Center City shopping plaza located at the corner of Avalon Street and Poplar Avenue.
Selling a tree to a customer is often part of a holiday event, Sheilagh Kaiser said.
"The business is interesting for me because Ive learned so much, not about trees, but about peoples attitudes toward Christmas trees. Ive learned how important it is for people, because it is all related to family tradition and customs, far more than the price," Kaiser said.
The tree venture began three years ago for the Kaisers, but a previous owner had set up the business at that corner for 30 years.
They sell seven varieties of evergreens with prices ranging from $10 to $125 depending on height and type. Kaiser said most five-foot or six-foot trees average $30.
The stock of more than 1,000 trees is shipped from Nova Scotia, Michigan, South Carolina and Oregon. Since they were cut only a few weeks before Thanksgiving, Kaiser said they are very fresh.
Kaisers husband owns a floor maintenance business and they enjoy the seasonal business theyve taken on, but the work can be tough.
"Its a lot of hard work. Not everyone can stand the hours. We are open everyday in the cold," Kaiser said.
Kaiser, who is originally from South Africa, said she had to learn the ins and outs of the business because she didnt experience real Christmas trees at home.
"Its been intriguing to me as a South African to see how particular people are when they come. I enjoy people and observing them some people are very traditional and a lot of them know exactly what they want," she said.
Can a tree selling operation be big business?
Kaiser thinks for some it can be.
"It is lucrative, yes. I dont know about doing it on a small scale if that is lucrative I dont think you can do it on a small scale and profit. Your risks are high. There is rent, and labor costs are high. It has to be done properly. We are here for the long haul it matters if people are happy, because we want them to be back," she said.
Sherie Battey, owner of Carrousel of Trees, operates seven lots in Memphis and the surrounding area and agrees it can be a lucrative business.
"When you add it all together, yes, it can be lucrative overall. It is worth it," she said.
She ordered 5,000 trees from Michigan, all Scotch Pines, ranging in price from $25 to $40.
Battey moved to Memphis in April so this is her first time selling in the area, but she sold Christmas trees in Florida for nine years.
"My husband and I just enjoy doing it. We meet a lot of people," she said.
She also sells flowers in the spring and roses for Valentines Day.
"I like working with everything but because everybody is a kid at heart, Christmas trees are special."
Cutting down your own tree is an option for area residents, too.
Bill and Louise Lawson, owners of the Fite Road Christmas Tree Farm near Millington, think the holiday traditions are heightened when the shopper cuts down the tree to take home.
"We really think we are selling an experience, not a tree," Louise Lawson said.
Her husbands parents, Bill and Willie Mae Lawson, operate the business year round. They sell trees from Thanksgiving until Christmas.
Tree shoppers are issued a saw from a log cabin and then can peruse the farm until they find the right tree to cut. Some trees are located in a distant field, so purchasers often ride a hay wagon to their destination. Many families even enjoy a picnic lunch under their tree before they cut it down.
The cost is $23 for any type or size of tree.
The 40-acre farm was planted 17 years ago. Currently, two fields are open with 8,000 to 10,000 trees in various stages of growth.
It takes four to five years for a tree to grow eight to 10 feet tall, Lawson said, and there is constant planting after the trees are cut to have a crop four years later. The farm sells an average of 1,500 to 2,000 trees during the holidays and even though the selling business is only a few weeks, there is still a lot of work to do throughout the year.
Work includes spraying for pests and shearing trees twice a year, since they dont naturally grow in the shape of a Christmas tree, plus mowing between trees.
"They have to be maintained. You dont just sit there and watch them grow."
Lawson is the associate minister at Germantown Presbyterian Church and her husband works at Dobbs Management. She calls the business "not really lucrative," but says they enjoy sharing in the customers experience.
"Its a fun thing we like to provide. It is an experience that you dont get when you go to the lot to buy a tree," she said.
"We have fun with it."