Many lots open the first weekend after Thanksgiving. However, if you wait until the first weekend in December, you will need less labor and your customers will have fresher trees. Advertise early and often, emphasizing your trees are the FRESHEST.
Put the fence up early and put advertising on it. This is a good place for your organization's sign and logo. Create a single entrance/exit for your lot past the cash register.
Trees standing in a rack without water dry out more quickly than you may realize. Therefore, it is better to display as few trees as possible but in an interesting arrangement,restocking the area frequently. If possible, stand the trees in water while on display. Maybe you can add a sideline business — selling stands with adequate water reservoirs. Leave the major portion of the trees in a protected area out of the sun and wind. Propercare of your trees can make a big difference in repeat customer satisfaction and should not be taken lightly.
You can direct traffic on the lot by organizing it carefully. Giving the lot the atmosphere of a "forest" might be a good play. Islands of trees, rather than long rows, could be amore interesting display. The islands could be staggered so the customer winds through the trees. Keep areas facing the street full of trees as the season progresses. Make it look as if you have lots of variety. Place a few lower quality trees near the entrance so your customers have something for comparison.
If the area will become muddy with trampling feet, provide some kind of ground cover. It is much more pleasant to walk on bark chips, sawdust, or gravel (get owner approval before adding material to the site).
Make the lighting attractive as well as useful. You need general area light to see and several spotlights in appropriate places high enough not to shine in customers' eyes or be disruptive to traffic or neighbors. Christmas tree lights can be strung overhead along the display aisles to add to the Christmas spirit. You may need several heavy-duty extension cords. Be sure to keep all cords away from walkways to prevent accidents. Also, clean up baling twine and limbs immediately.
SHELTER FOR PEOPLE
It will be cold and often wet on the lot. You might provide coffee, snacks, and a place to get out of the weather for the workers (a camper, trailer, or small building might be used). In some areas you may need someone to stay all night for security reasons.
SHELTER FOR TREES
Some kind of shelter from the wind and sun will protect your trees from drying out. Cover the trees with a light colored tarp, shade cloth, or place them under a roof. Keep them damp, sprinkling at least once a day with water in warmer climates. Good tree care makes for happy customers.
Provide large identification signs for your lot indicating the sponsoring organization. These will need to be waterproofed. Prominent signs denoting species and price prevent customers from being disappointed after they have selected their tree. Signs placed where extra trees are stocked is helpful to uninitiated sales people.
You will need a saw, pruning shears, or loppers for trimming branches or cutting off trunks of trees for customers. Choose a small chainsaw for quick work (electric chainsaws provide instant cutting power). Carry a pocketknife for cutting twine. Include the following in your supplies: pens, markers, cards, stapler, tape, scotch tape, tags, receipts book, and measuring stick for sizing and pricing trees, as well as a cord or rope to tie trees to customers' cars.
You will need a cashbox. Have adequate change for customers, but don't leave a large amount of cash in the box. Arrange for cash pickup each day to protect your hard earned sales. You may also want to consider electronic payment options such as Visa. Arrange to have trash barrels available. People tend to use the barrels if they are convenient. It's easier to keep the area clean than to get it clean. The first year you will have a high overhead for equipment and supplies so it's wise to think through the project with an eye toward continuing for several years.
Essentially you should double your costs if you are going to make any money. If the tree costs you $3/ft, you should charge $6/ft. That should cover the entire overhead as well as provide you with some profit. Specialty trees of large sizes will be more expensive. Generally, people are more willing to pay higher prices for trees when the proceeds will benefit a non-profit service organization. Each tree should be tagged with the price to make it easier for the sales people. Have tags attached tightly as some customers may switch the tags. Have some inexpensive trees at the front of the lot and the nicer trees near the back for the customer to use for comparison. Some people prefer the less expensive trees.
Various sales promotions can go a long way toward boosting tree sales. Some ideas are:
• Well placed gift certificates in the hands of the Community Action Center or charities, to give to those families who cannot afford a tree. (Advertise that fact.)
• "Care for your tree" tags/brochures
• Refreshments — free or for sale
• Flashing Christmas tree light strings
• Stands & ornaments to buy
• Wreaths & Garlands
• Place the tree in the stand, especially for older folks and apartment dwellers
• Tree Delivery
• Pick up after Christmas
• Chipping trees
• Fireproofing (some cities require this)
Most sales will occur after school during the week, and after 10:00 a.m. on the weekends. Plan your sales times with that in mind. Arrange to have enough sales people around, but not so many that they overwhelm your customers. Overlap the work schedules to allow new sales staff to learn the important business of the day from those going off duty.
POST SEASON CLOSE DOWN
Plan to clean up immediately. Return the lot to original condition or better. There is an advantage to returning to the same lot year after year, and leaving the lot in excellent condition will help ensure you get the space again for the next season. • Pay your bills and count your money.