For some local merchants money does grow on trees

Published 1:57 pm Saturday, December 15, 2007

NATCHEZ — Not many people think of a Christmas tree as a hard selling seasonal gold mine, but for some it is.

Selling the trees is the last step in a long process that takes months to complete. Despite that fact, area sellers are dedicated to supplying the Miss-Lou area with Christmas décor.

“We love selling the Christmas trees and we get to meet a lot of people doing it,” said Ann Wells of Wells Produce.

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The weekend after Thanksgiving has proven to be one of the most lucrative days in the year when it comes to selling trees. Each business reported a huge jump in sales following the holiday.

“This year we had about a 30 percent increase in business the weekend following Thanksgiving, and it has continued to be pretty steady throughout the month,” Stine Manager Cheri Dunn said.

Wells agreed.

“Christmas is definitely the busiest revenue maker of the entire year,” owner Dan Wells said.

Most of the trees sold in the area are freighted from North Carolina or other parts of the North. This year, due to inflation and gas prices the freight bill and cost of trees have increased slightly.

“We paid about $5 extra per tree this year, but our trees stayed around the same price they were last year, there are certain trees you make more money off of because they are less expensive,” Dunn said.

Weather also effects sales and pricing from season to season. The warmer temperatures this December have taken a toll on the trees.

“The hot weather has dried the trees out and caused them to turn brown a lot quicker,” Live Oak Nursery owner Dick Thompson said.

The time and labor included in the maintenance of the tree also proves to cost money. Labor to unload the trees, watering, cutting and clipping the trees each take manpower and services to complete.

“Our trees are so large it takes three people to set it up and each day we prune them and water them,” owner of Mr. Whiskers Winston May said. “We also have to cut the trunks in order for the tree to take in water; the upkeep of the trees is a daily occurrence.”

May makes an annual journey to pick his trees, costing money but proving vital to his business.

“At the beginning of the summer I travel to North Carolina for a few days and walk the fields picking the trees I want delivered at Thanksgiving,” Winston May said.

Other businesses have theirs shipped directly from the fields.

“It’s understood you will get some five foot trees you can’t sell for how much you would like, and some trees arrive dead but we just adjust the prices in order to sell them,” Dunn said.

The sale of Christmas trees stems from the loyal clientele.

“Live Oak is 70 years old and we still have many of our original customers,” Thompson said. “It’s always nice to see that smile on people’s faces when they see that perfect tree.”

The sale of Christmas trees also draws revenue from the influx of customers shopping in the store.

“We don’t necessarily make money off the trees themselves, but they are a draw,” Dunn said. “We probably make more money off of the things, like Christmas lights, they buy when they come in to get the tree.”

Wells Produce reaps the benefit of shoppers as well.

“We sell a lot of pecans when people are looking through the store for their tree,” Dan Wells said.

Stine and Wells order about 400 trees and each business has nearly all of them sold by Christmas.

“People seem to be buying more live trees than fake ones,” Dan Wells said. “Business this year has been really great.”

The businesses go further to extend their profits by putting new “twists” on the use of the trees.

“This year we began ‘flocking’ our trees, which gives them a frosted look,” Cindy May said.

And Live Oak Nursery delivers and decorates the tree, but they use the old trees to make mulch.

Mr. Whiskers focuses on the tradition of selling the trees rather than the profit they reap from it.

“Selling these trees has become a Natchez tradition,” Cindy May said. “We have loyal customers that contact us, and when they do we know Christmas has officially begun.”