Relationships. Relationships. Relationships are the key to ensuring a more consistent supply of the trees that you need to meet customer demand. This is equally true for Christmas trees.
The popularity of Christmas trees continues to be so high that nurseries and garden centers have not been able to satisfy the demand over the past few years, as observed by many Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association members.
“The Christmas tree shortage seems to have happened for the past three years now,” said Levi Heidrich, a co-owner at Heidrich’s Colorado Tree Farm Nursery LLC in Colorado Springs. “It takes five to eight years to grow an eight-foot Christmas tree. Coming out of the recession, when people were not planting their fields, we still haven’t caught up with the increasing sales demand.”
Heidrich’s doesn’t grow Christmas tree varieties, so orders from other growers to sell to its retail customers. The supply is so tight that the nursery can’t get the inventory to supply wholesale customers.
Heidrich said his father found his Christmas tree grower on a road trip 20 years ago, and has been doing business with that same supplier ever since. He recommends other retailers develop strong relationships with tree vendors to secure sufficient Christmas tree inventory, and order early. Suppliers can be found through organizations like national and regional nursery associations and the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA).
One reason for the high demand for Christmas trees, as described by ACTA Executive Director Jami Warner in December 2019, is “The number of U.S. households displaying more than one Christmas tree has increased by 10 percent over the last five years. Overall, 16 percent of all American households display more than one Christmas tree.”
Even with its long-established vendor relationship, Heidrich’s has been selling out in 10 days in each of the last six years, and increasing their order by large quantities has not been possible.
“We always try to find the magic number that we can sell over two weekends. Last Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), we sold 600 trees in six hours – that’s one tree every 36 seconds,” he explained. “We sell Christmas trees to keep our staff busy toward the end of the year. We’ve created a holiday experience for customers with a fire, music, Christmas lights, and all. We used to be out in the countryside, but now we are surrounded by development and our holiday events are not as intimate as they once were because of the number of people who come.”
The nursery may open earlier in the day during this holiday season to spread out the purchases over more hours and make the rush more manageable.
They start getting calls from customers looking to buy Christmas trees in October. Other than organic consumer demand growth, some early decorators may be driven by industry promotion. A 2018 article in First Coast News cited Dr. Marcus De Carvalho of HPR Treatment Centers as saying that studies show decorating early for the holidays has mental health benefits. Heidrich points out that cut trees may not last the entire season if put up too early (and who wants a brown, wilting tree on Christmas Day?).
Ten years ago, Heidrich’s started taking pre-orders for Christmas trees at the beginning of November to take some of the pressure off Thanksgiving weekend. In the first few years, 20 to 30 orders were received before Black Friday, and staff called each customer to give them buying information. In recent years, 200 to 300 orders have been received so the staff now sends an automated email with information to the customer list.
Some customers call and want to pick out a tree over the phone, but it’s not possible due to the staff time it would take. The orders are just a guarantee of getting a tree by getting their names on the purchase list, but payments are only made at the time of pickup when they can choose the tree type and size.
“People can’t be as picky because there’s not as many options as there once was,” Heidrich said. “Frazier and Balsam firs were hardest to get a couple years ago. We try to sell more Frazier and native white firs, but we also get Balsam, Douglas and noble fir and white pine. Taller trees, 10 to 14 feet high, are also harder to get.”
To meet more demand, in addition to the cut trees, he sells live, potted trees that can be planted or kept in containers. He doesn’t sell artificial Christmas trees because it’s just not part of their Christmas tradition and reputation.
Whether customers come away with a tree or not, Heidrich’s offers lots of other plants and products to purchase during the holidays. Tree stands are always popular, even with the same customers buying a new stand each year. Garlands, tree preservative and tree disposal bags are also big sellers, and this year, instead of purchasing pre-made wreaths, the staff will be making their own wreaths to sell.