Well, I promised to explain what and how we do what we do. First of all, we’re our own company, although we work for the grower to take care of their trees after they’re shipped from the farm to the stores. We service 70 Home Depot stores in the South Florida market from Titusville down to Key West on the East coast, including the greater Miami area and from Venice down to Naples on the West coast, including a store in Okeechobee right in the middle.
It actually starts sometime near the middle of the summer. We know about how many trees of each size are wanted. All it takes is for knowledgeable people to trek up and down the rows of trees in each field at each farm to tag the trees. After the trees are tagged in the field, a crew goes through and attaches either store tags with bar codes on them, or garden center tags for sale to what we call “Mom and Pop” operations. These are the tree tents you see set up on empty lots and at high schools and churches.
In late Summer and Early Fall, the selected trees are sheared to shape them up. This involves crews walking through the fields with pruning knives,( machetes), slashing and cutting to shape the trees. The trees are also sprayed to kill the bugs and weeds.
Around the first week or so of November, the cutting and baling crews start their work. After the trees are cut and carried to the tree baler, they are stacked on trucks to be hauled to the distribution farm where they are loaded into 53 foot refrigerated tractor trailers for transport to their final destination. Back in the day, we used to do all the loading by hand. There would be a couple of guys on the truck stacking and about four or five guys on the ground handing the trees up to them. Now they use conveyors to get the trees up into the trucks.
Our company gets started about a week before Thanksgiving when we occupy the house we rented for the month,( this year, it cost 10 grand for five weeks), and get our warehouse ready. This year, we had a 50,000 sq ft building. We figure out how many trucks we need to rent. We use 26 foot box trucks for short hauling from our warehouse to the stores. Usually only about ten percent of the trees go through the warehouse, but this year was unusual in that we probably had about fifteen percent go through us.
Our job also entails going to the store periodically to pick up the trees deemed unsaleable. We load them up and haul them back to the warehouse where we make them presentable again, retag and rebale them for size and ship them back out to the stores. We are the only service company that does this. This year, we had an inordinately high number of trees deemed unsaleable. There was nothing wrong with the trees, it was just laziness on the part of a few stores who didn’t want to take the trouble to rotate their stock, instead, just clearing out their bins every time they got a new load of trees and throwing the “old” trees out back. Fortunately, our company has the final say so on the saleability of any tree. I don’t even have to argue with the tent manager, it’s part of the contract.
After Christmas, after we’ve cajoled the tent managers to keep pushing the trees until the final day, we find out how many trees we’ve managed to sell. Then we have to go by the stores who have more than a few trees left and pick them up and haul them off. Fortunately, a couple of years ago, we made a deal with the city to come by and periodically clean up our waste yard. Then after we’ve finished up for the season, they come by and pick up the rest of the trees and make them into mulch. It’s a win-win for them as well as us.
This year, as far as I can tell, we had 127,000 trees shipped to our market and we sold over 120,000 for a 95 percent sell through. Not as good a percentage as last year’s 98%, but still pretty good. Home Depot’s comparable sales were ten percent more than last year, so we got a pretty good “attaboy”.
So there you go. That, in a nutshell, is how your fresh Frazier Fir Christmas tree gets to market.