Sales of real Christmas trees off to good start
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
“We like the smell,” Barney and Darla Chenault said almost in unison about their reason for buying a real tree while hauling off an 8-foot Fraser fir from Severt's Christmas Trees tent in Butler Plaza.
Americans are buying fewer real trees in recent history as artificial trees and more recently the economy have cut into sales, but for holdouts like the Chenault family of Gainesville, family tradition, nostalgia and, of course, the smell of a real tree keep them coming back every year.
The Chenault family has been purchasing real trees for about 10 years now at the behest of their son, now 24.
“It just feels more like Christmas versus the artificial. There's too much artificial right now,” Barney Chenault said.
The big push for Christmas tree sales starts now, with the first two weekends of December typically the biggest sales days, but dealers at local lots say that so far sales are as good as or better than they were a year ago.
“It looks like a good season, slightly ahead of last year,” said Sam Parker of Gainesville, who runs tree stands at St. Michael's Episcopal Church and Littlewood Elementary in northwest Gainesville, plus eight other locations over six counties.
He said his sales are down more than 30 percent over the last 10 years with fewer people buying trees and price competition from chain stores. To compete on price, his offerings include field-cut trees that do not receive as much care and cost $5 to $10 less than his premium trees.
“I always sell out, because I buy less than I sell the year before because of the economy,” Parker said.
Bill Petronella, manager of one of Severt's two tree stands in Gainesville, said sales have been good with more than 300 sales even with the early start this year with the earlier Thanksgiving. They are hoping for about 2,000 sales from the Butler Plaza tent.
Severt's sells trees from its farm in North Carolina and Virginia at more than 30 stands in North and Central Florida.
“We've had a lot of people come here saying it's their first Christmas with a real tree again,” he said.
This is his first year in Gainesville and he said he has noticed that the college crowd buys a lot of small, tabletop trees. He has also had to split some bills among three or four different people who are sharing costs.
Aaron Pigue of Pam's Trees said their sales peaked around 2,000 in 2006 or 2007 and subsequently dropped to 1,500.
“All in all, there's still money to be made in this business, but the golden age has come and gone and I think the trend will continue,” he said.
After losing their longtime location in the Millhopper area, Pam's was invited to Tioga Town Center and was only able to secure a partial delivery of about 300 trees this year.
Pigue said a lot of their longtime regulars tracked them down early this year and they were left with less than 100 trees heading into the weekend.
He said he has noticed that more people are going to local you-cut farms to cut their own trees.
Cathryn Gregory will vouch for that. She and husband, John, sell more than 400 you-cut trees a year at their Unicorn Hill Farm in Gainesville.
She said business has grown steadily since they started in 1984 and took off two years ago after they put up a web page.
“Two years ago, we sold out in 11 days, last year in nine days,” Gregory said.
Over the last three or four years, they have heard from a lot of people who want to buy local.
“They like the farmer-to-product connection, supporting local agriculture,” she said.
At the same time, she said the number of you-cut farms in a 30-mile radius is down from four or five since they started to three.
Stephanie Jurgess, 29, of Gainesville said her family switched from real to artificial trees when she was a kid. She picked out a 6-foot tree at Severt's with her husband, Todd, on Thursday, their fourth year of getting a real tree.
“I love the smell of a real tree and I don't have to worry about storing it after the season is over,” she said.
“A real tree is never as perfect as artificial trees, but I think that's kind of the charm of them.”