The Environmental Choice - Real Christmas Trees

Guide to Successful Retailing of Christmas Trees from your business' present location

As a service to our customers, the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario have published retail sales information. This is the usefull CTFO Guide to Successful Retailing of Christmas Trees from your fixed business location:


From the first day of sales, the little things will be in order at a profitable Christmas tree retail site. Preparation is needed to fit a bulky shipment of trees into your regular retail operation and have your staff knowledgeable, enthusiastic and ready to sell trees almost immediately. Use this Guide as a pre-season checklist, even if you have sold Christmas trees in previous years. The season for selling Christmas trees is short. Planning will give you the advantage you need to make the most of it.


For Christmas tree retailing to be successful, it is not sufficient that tree sales turn a profit. Christmas trees must also help build sales of your other merchandise, to existing and new customers alike. Christmas trees are THE symbol of the festive season. A REAL tree is a tradition and a "must" for 40% of all North American families. That is a lot of built-in demand! Customers visiting your Christmas tree display will be in a festive mood and willing to spend accordingly. Encourage them to buy with a festive atmosphere, enthusiastic staff and a carefully planned merchandising and pricing strategy.


Your business already projects a public image and has the advantage of an established clientele. That is the starting point for your approach to successfully adding Christmas trees to your merchandise selection. Christmas trees are also a bulky and perishable product, whose "shelf life" will definitely expire on December 24. Some basic extra attention is required, even if your business has a no-frills, low-price philosophy. The large outlet manager who leaves his trees baled and leaning against a wall, allowing shoppers to toss them around, is not apt to reach his profit target in Christmas merchandise. Your competitive advantage resides in your ability to differentiate your Christmas tree merchandising. Tree selection, quality, staff knowledge, service, pricing and promotion, are all variable in degrees. The manager of a large chain store outlet, working within head office policy, practices and staffing constraints, cannot possibly match your agility.


You need the right mix of tree size, varieties, quality, price ranges and accessory products. Why? Because only that mix will produce the highest per customer sale , to the largest number of consumers and thus maximize profit. Unluckily this optimum mix is a moving target, which one can only hope to approximate. Check last year's numbers and competitors' advertisements, ask questions of wholesale sources, check catalogues and make an informed estimate. Plan on having about 10% of the trees left over, but do not over buy and see profit disappear in unsold tree inventory. Better to locate and purchase some additional trees in mid-December, if sales are very good. Shop early. Narrow your choice of possible suppliers by telephone, with the aid of the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario website - wholesale section. Large tree farms, as well as a growing number of smaller operations, will make timely Christmas tree shipments to almost any location. If at all possible, arrange to visit the farm where your trees will be harvested. Ask the grower to sell you tagged trees. The attractive tags "brand" each tree as an environmentally friendly farm grown product and can be used to price trees individually. Typical payment terms are a good-size deposit with your order and the balance in cash on delivery or pick-up. Check that the invoice, or agreement, details what you have agreed to buy. Be sure that you and the seller have the same interpretation, if tree grades are specified. There is no official Christmas tree grading system in Ontario. Consider carrying items associated with Christmas trees, if your business' seasonal merchandise does not already include such products. Tree stands are a good example. With some coaching from your staff and a display in the right spot, many customers can be convinced to purchase a new stand with their tree.

Taking delivery

Agree with the grower on a firm date for pick-up or delivery. Confirm the time the day before shipment. To ensure the freshest trees, the Christmas tree shipping season is very compressed. Be certain that you, or your staff, are on time to help load, or unload, count and check the trees. Make written note on the bill of lading or the invoice of any shortages or damage. Ask the trucker to initial the note with you. The trucker will have no authority to make adjustments. Be safe and call the grower, if there is a possibility of a substantial disagreement over your purchase.

Storing trees

Spruce trees are harvested last in Ontario, usually from the end of November onward. After harvest, proper tree storage is crucial for all varieties. Premature needle drop, normally caused by loss of moisture, is the most frequent complaint about a real tree. Please make sure your handling does not contribute to consumers switching to plastic trees. Unheated indoor storage will best preserve moisture, while protecting Christmas trees from ice or sleet damage. Alternatively, leave trees baled, storing them in the shade and out of the wind, until you are ready to display them. Trees grown in a warm climate will not tolerate freezing temperatures, in storage or transit. For this reason they are generally not brought into the colder regions.


Unless you already have a seasonal merchandising area, your Christmas tree display will need protection. Good lighting and fencing around all displays (and inventory) will be necessary. Snow fencing makes the most practical temporary fence and also aids in directing customer traffic patterns. Displaying a "Guard Dog" sign will help. If tree sales will be handled by a separate cashier, arrange for cash to be removed to a safe location on a regular basis.

When to sell

Plan to start selling trees no later than the first Saturday in December. Keep a basic selection of trees on display until closing on Christmas eve. Last minute shoppers will remember you and your business for it.

Staff training

Make up a staffing schedule specifically for your Christmas tree sales area, planning for extra help during peak hours each day. Assign enthusiastic persons, who can radiate the festive season's atmosphere, no matter what the weather is like. Hold training sessions with the staff. Have a checklist of the features and benefits of each tree you carry. Require your staff to be able to easily discuss these with customers and to "suggestive sell" better trees (i.e." more profitable") and accessories, to each and every customer.


Shake all long needled trees and any short needled trees containing debris, using a mechanical tree shaker, before handing it to the customer. Invest in a baling "cone", so your staff can wrap a customer's bulky tree in netting. Instruct staff to see that each tree is secured to the customer's vehicle before it leaves the site. Have twine available and see that help is offered as needed. Hand out a tree-care brochure with every sale.


Merchandise your trees and other products with care. Display your trees individually. Placing trees in stands, hanging trees from an overhead structure, leaning trees against racks, or tying trees to a T-bar post , can all work. See that empty display spaces are filled from inventory as soon as they occur. Decorating several trees, if protection is available, can be very effective. Tree stands, wreaths and other products should be attractively and strategically displayed. Give your entire business a festive season ambiance, adding outdoor evening lighting, signage and banners as needed. Look through the "Wholesale Guide" for suppliers of products and ask your grower.


The two basic approaches to pricing Christmas trees are to have one price for every tree of a given variety and size, or to pre-price trees individually on tags. Mass merchandisers mostly opt for the first approach. It is the easiest to handle, but after the best trees are sold first, the one price may not look so attractive to the customer. With pre-pricing , shoppers can browse and find a tree within their budget, which better complements the individual attention customers receive at your location. With either approach, make sure that you achieve your overall target mark-up for the season. Don't forget to include an extra percentage to cover the trees expected to remain unsold on Christmas eve (these will be the least attractive trees). Do not reduce tree prices at the end of the season, unless absolutely forced to by operations similar to your own. Lowering prices will encourage customers to delay their purchase next year. It is difficult to compete with chain stores in the low-price segment of the Christmas tree retail market. The mass merchandisers' buying power allows them to purchase at very low prices. Fortunately, many people do not want to buy the lowest-price, no-frills Christmas tree to decorate their family or living room. Unless your tree source allows you to compete on price, your most profitable strategy will be to offer a clear alternative of quality trees, service, a wide choice and a traditional festive atmosphere. Some operators include low priced trees in their advertising, then try to up-sell price shoppers, once they arrive. Price individual trees to achieve your overall mark-up target. Add 30-50%, or your customary mark-up on non-perishable seasonal merchandise.


Studies have shown that within a town or city, most people who buy a Christmas tree at a retail location, do so within a short radius from their home. Money spent on advertising and promoting Christmas trees will give you a maximum return, if it is aimed at people living in your local area. All material and advertising should clearly identify your business, to take advantage of your established reputation and image. Also ask your grower for suggestions and ask what support he can offer. The grower will have access to material which promotes real trees and emphasizes their benefits to the environment. Christmas tree grower associations conduct promotional campaigns and your location can likely be included, at little or no cost to you. You will need to ask early in the season.

Keeping track for next year

Keep track of your tree sales. Tree types, varieties, sizes, who buys what, quantities of each "accessory" sold and to whom, and so on. Develop a list of customer names and addresses (for a future mail-out ). All this information can be used and analyzed. It will allow you to do more things right next season. The successful Christmas tree retailers are the ones who take advantage of their prior years' experiences.


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