Trying to figure out why Christmas tree sales are good this year is like trying to find the last loose needle on a white pine.
Beth Westbrook, owner of Fall Branch Christmas Tree Farm, says many factors may have contributed to a record-setting year during their sixth season of operation. A strong 200-tree weekend following Thanksgiving set the bar high and customers have continued to drive away from the cut-it-yourself farm with some form of evergreen tied to the top of their vehicle.
“The only thing I can say is, we’ve heard some young people say they are enjoying getting back into a tradition to start with their new families,” Westbrook said.
The Peak family may be a part of that trend. This is the third year they’ve driven to 216 Kincheloe Road from Bristol, Va., to find their perfect live tree after retiring the artificial in hopes of starting a new holiday tradition for their son Dominic.
“We wouldn’t do it any other way,” said Scott Peak. “We come back here every year and we love it. It’s a part of our celebration.”
Missy Peak said she drives by four locations selling pre-cut Christmas trees when taking her 9-year-old to school, but they would rather go straight to the source and enjoy the experience of a hay/sleigh ride, depending on the weather, and using Scout skills to find and cut down the best looking leyland cypress on the farm.
The “starting a new tradition theory” is a potential cause of increased sales, but there are other factors, too.
Beth and husband Bobby are running a $25 special on all sizes of their white pines and leyland cypresses this year, which has a lot of people straying from the customary fraser fir.
“A lot of people are strapped financially, so that $25 made it look good,” Beth said. “We’ve managed to keep prices down because we know of all the good times we had getting the family together to get a tree and that’s what we’re wanting people to get back into.”
Because of consistent rain in spring and summer, about 1,000 trees on the Fall Branch farm measured 6 feet or higher at the beginning of the season. Beth Westbrook knows they won’t sell that many, but having a good selection has been another possible reason for increased purchases.
“We’ve had a lot of compliments on the trees from the customers,” she said.
Maybe patrons are happy because they haven’t been bringing dry trees back to their homes. One buyer told Beth that their tree drank a few inches of water in the first day, compared to a gallon last year.
Word of mouth is another way people have discovered the Westbrooks’ home and their multiple tree offerings including other firs like Canadian and concolor, plus spruces of the white, blue and Norway variety.
“We have a lot of repeat customers now,” Beth Westbrook said. “When they’ve been here five and six years, we’ve got to feel like we’re doing something right. We tell them as long as they leave here with a smile on their face and having a good time, I don’t care if they buy a tree or not, they’ve got their family out together.”
Nationally, real tree sales have been down slightly, with 27 million purchased last year and 28.2 million bought in 2009, according to the National Chrstmas Tree Association. Of those who chose live trees in 2010, 33 percent got them from choose and harvest farms like the one in Fall Branch, while 21 percent of customers bought from chain stores.
Selling an experience rather than a product is something Beth and Bobby pride themselves on. It could also be one of the most reasonable explanations for a successful year.
“That’s been our main priority,” Beth said. “We sell an experience just as much as we sell a tree.”