Christ­mas tree farms add ex­pe­ri­ences for cus­tomers

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Business - Sarah Hauer Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

To mark the sale of each Christ­mas tree at Trees For Less Nurs­ery in Grafton, Lisa O’Mal­ley pours a shot of whiskey for her cus­tomers.

There’s no tra­di­tion or folk­lore about the whiskey. But it is, no doubt, some­thing that would hap­pen only in Wis­con­sin. O’Mal­ley goes through two one-liter bot­tles of Jame­son Ir­ish Whiskey a day dur­ing the sea­son.

“I just in­vented it. I thought it might be fun,” she said.

Com­ing to her farm is a full ex­pe­ri­ence. That’s what draws cus­tomers to Trees for Less in Grafton and Me­quon to buy Christ­mas trees, many of them young cou­ples and fam­i­lies start­ing their own new tra­di­tions.

It works — O’Mal­ley and her hus­band, Rick, sell thou­sands of trees a year be­tween their two farms.

The draw of ex­pe­ri­ences for mil­len­ni­als, in par­tic­u­lar, is so strong that the Na­tional Christ­mas Tree As­so­ci­a­tion is ad­vis­ing its mem­bers to turn their farms into In­sta­gram-wor­thy des­ti­na­tions.

“We’re help­ing tree grower to un­der­stand the newer cus­tomers say­ing make your lot a so­cial me­dia friendly en­vi­ron­ment. Make it a place to post and share from,” said Tim O’Con­nor, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the as­so­ci­a­tion. “That’s catch­ing on. It’s a real growth trend for the fu­ture of the in­dus­try.”

At Trees for Less in Grafton, that means a lot

more than just wan­der­ing through 8,000 trees on the prop­erty un­til find­ing one wor­thy of hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions.

A banjo player greets cus­tomers singing Christ­mas songs, with adult ver­sions for kid­less crowds. Trees for Less sup­plies saws, but most peo­ple wait for the high school boys in Santa hats rid­ing around on Ga­tors who will quickly cut the tree down with a chain­saw. Back near the park­ing lot, cus­tomers warm up around the fire pit with free hot co­coa and cook­ies. Hand­crafted goods are for sale. And, of course, there are the shots of whiskey.

All the while, they’re snap­ping pho­tos to share on­line.

O’Mal­ley tries to im­prove ev­ery sea­son. She added a food truck — Falafel Guys — to the lineup this year.

Buy­ing a liv­ing tree, as op­posed to a fake one, fits in with mil­len­ni­als’ affin­ity for all-nat­u­ral and lo­cally sourced food, beauty prod­ucts and home goods, O’Con­nor from the tree as­so­ci­a­tion said.

Last sea­son, 27.4 mil­lion real Christ­mas trees were pur­chased in the U.S., a sur­vey con­ducted for the NCTA found. About the same amount were pur­chased from choose-and-cut farms (27 per­cent) and chain stores like Wal­mart (26 per­cent), ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey.

NCTA is telling its mem­bers to em­brace the young fam­i­lies by help­ing them cre­ate the per­fect so­cial me­dia mo­ment. The pho­tos shared on­line will spread in­ter­est in the farm and lure more peo­ple.

“We want (tree grow­ers) to be aware of where their fu­ture cus­tomers are com­ing from,” he said. That means do­ing more than lend­ing a hand to tie the tree onto cars.

The Wolosek Christ­mas Tree Farm in Wis­con­sin Rapids started paint­ing some of its trees pink, pur­ple and blue around five years ago.

At the time, Jan Wolosek thought it was fun and a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. The trees sell — the Wolosek farm painted about 50 trees this year, and nearly all are gone. The un­usu­ally col­ored trees also at­tract peo­ple look­ing for a lively back­drop for self­ies and fam­ily pho­tos.

“They want to build fam­ily mem­o­ries,” Wolosek said. “A lot of peo­ple just want to get a fam­ily pic­ture.” He said the cus­tomer base has al­ways been young fam­i­lies for his choose-and-cut Christ­mas tree farm.

“You took pic­tures years ago but not like to­day,” he said.

Sarah Hauer can be reached at [email protected]­nalsen­tinel.com or on In­sta­gram @HauerSarah and Twit­ter @SarahHauer. Sub­scribe to her weekly news­let­ter Be MKE at json­line.com/be­mke.

MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL MICHAEL SEARS /

Owner Lisa O’Mal­ley (left) holds shots of Jame­son Ir­ish Whiskey and cus­tomers Brian and Mar­cia Ren­nicke kiss as Terry Berndt holds mistle­toe over their heads af­ter the tree cut­ting is done at Trees For Less Nurs­ery in Grafton.

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