A passion for creating holiday memories is what drives many Christmas tree sellers, like Donald Chance.
“What motivates most of us to grow Christmas trees ... is the enjoyment we get watching families with small children, or couples getting their first tree together, or the elderly couple in their 80s who still love their tree and the decades of bittersweet memories that each decoration represents for them when they put it up,” said Chance, who runs the Badger Pocket Christmas Tree Farm in Ellensburg, Washington, with his wife.
“It motivates most of us to engage in something that rationally makes little sense in a business context.”
Helping people pick out a Christmas tree can be physically and mentally taxing, with long hours and the need for encyclopedic knowledge of different evergreen varieties. HuffPost asked Chance and two other Christmas tree sellers with decades of experiences for their take on common customer mistakes and etiquette snafus. Here are their responses, lightly edted for clarity.
1. Don’t Assume A Particular Christmas Tree Will Fit In Your Home
“Christmas trees look smaller than they are in a Christmas tree field. It took some personal experiences over the years to finally appreciate that optical illusion effect. If you have a 9-foot ceiling, you don’t want a 9-foot tree; 8 feet will be just right when you put the top ornament on, and it will save you from poking a nasty hole in your ceiling when you tip the tree up in its stand.
“The average front door is 3 feet wide. You can get a 5-foot or even 5-foot-6-inch tree through that door without much effort. But that big, wide-body 12-footer has to go through a double door. We have measuring poles for people and jokingly encourage people to walk around with them.” — Chance.
“For some reason, the trees look shorter on the lot than they do when they [buyers] get them home. We occasionally have people say, ‘I have to have that tree.’ And we’re like: ‘OK, it’s a 9- to 10-foot-tall tree. That’s fine.’ And then they get it to their house, and they call up and they say, ‘It’s too big for my house.’ ...
“When you get into the really big trees, every foot costs you like $50 to $60 more. The thing I think people should do is to know how tall their ceiling is. Our trees are all sold by height. ... But if they have any questions, we’ll be happy to pull out a measuring stick.” — Wendy Davis, a tree seller for the Optimist Club of Austin in Texas.
2. Never, Ever Let Your Tree Go Without Water
“What we tell customers is that the most important thing is to keep water in the base of the trees at all times, to not ever let the tree go without water. They can also absorb moisture through the needles. They should not be in direct sun or near a heating fan. And, if possible, you can run a humidifier in the room with them or squirt them with a mister. ...
″[Customers ask us whether] there is some kind of tree food that you can put in the water that makes the tree last longer, or if they [should] put 7Up in the water. My standard response: ‘Have you ever seen a tree in the woods drinking 7Up?’ Basically they just need water to keep them fresh. Trees like nobles and Frasers should last easily through Jan. 6 without any trouble, as long as they are kept hydrated.” — Davis.
3. Make Sure Your Car Can Handle The Tree You Want
“Please don’t show up in a Mini Cooper without any type of roof racks and then cut down a whopping-big 10-foot Scots pine that weighs over 100 pounds.
“Somehow, working together, we can make it fit — but your roof won’t like it. And despite tying ropes every which way through the windows of your car, it’s anyone’s guess if you will make it home safely. Your wife isn’t going to be none too happy either, since your windows are open. There is a reason why we have that sign that says ‘owner’s responsibility to secure your load,’ and we make it a point of pointing it out to you. Pickups and SUVs with racks are much preferred for any large tree.” — Chance.
“We don’t bag the trees after [you buy them] — we just tie them on fully opened onto a car unless you buy a bundled-up tree. ... If you are going to tie it on the roof of your car and you are worried about the finish of your car, bring a blanket with you so you can put it underneath so that your roof would not get scratched.” — Davis.
4. Don’t Forget To Tip
“I won’t ever neglect tipping because [of] the amount of work we as a team have to go through — especially if it’s raining or snowing and it’s so hard, and customers come and they’re like: ‘Can you open this tree for me? I want to see this tree. I want to see this tree.’ We go up and beyond helping customers to ensure that they get the tree that they want. But then sometimes you go through all that work and it’s just like, ‘Thank you.’ On my end, I won’t ever neglect tipping when it comes to somebody providing physical work. ...
“There’s no hard feelings [otherwise]. But if a customer does have us open 10 trees and it’s a blizzard outside and pouring, and [the person] gives us a twenty or gives one of the guys a twenty, that’s like, ‘Wow, thanks.’ It goes a long way to show the appreciation.” — Arthur, the founder of AA Christmas Trees in New York City’s Brooklyn borough.
5. Don’t Show Up After Closing Time
“There is ... a reason why U-cut farms in the northern states close around 4 p.m. But being nice folks, we go ahead and humor people who show up late just as the sun is setting. Seems like it happens nearly every single weekend closing day, but the mischief that a dark forest with a tired seller can create defies imagination.
“At that hour in our place, you are dealing with a retired forestry couple well into their 70s who, without help, have just put in a long day helping 50 or 60 families cut, drag and load trees in the snow and cold while keeping the home fires burning and the hot chocolate and cookies flowing.
“We keep a sense of humor about it because we know it’s coming, but it’s a wee bit of a push. Last week, it was little 3-year-old J.D. who slipped his large family on his solo run with a saw in hand to find his own tree in the dark. After a frantic all-hands search party, we found the little guy busily selecting a tree. ... I had to admire his gumption — he had ‘future forester’ written all over him.
“Please don’t come late. Who knows what nuttiness is likely?” — Chance.
6. Don’t Buy An Artificial Tree
“I won’t buy an artificial Christmas tree. The misconception to that is people think that ‘oh, the trees are cut down in the forest, and it’s so bad for the environment. I’ll do the right thing and buy an artificial Christmas tree.’ ... Farmers plant millions of Christmas trees every single year, and without the business there wouldn’t be all these trees planted. As soon as the tree is cut, a new one gets planted.
“It’s all of that oxygen that is being generated for the planet — whereas artificial Christmas trees, they are made out of plastic and they are not recyclable. And the amount of carbon it takes to generate that plastic is not good for the environment.” — Arthur.