Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Exact Same Christmas Tree

Imagine if every house had the exact same cut Christmas tree.

That’s the dream, apparently, of some Christmas tree growers and sellers. I’ve seen Christmas tree lots where all the trees are essentially the same — not just the same variety and age, but with no discernible variation in height or weight either, and of course, all offered at the same price. This seems to be a trend of the last twenty years or so. The advantage to the retailer is supposed to be that the more uniform trees are easier to sell. As a customer, you will buy the very next tree that comes off the assembly line or you won’t buy at all — a quick decision that won’t waste the retailer’s time. Those who insist on the tradition of picking a tree can pore through a row of identical trees until a trick of the light makes them prefer one over the others, again, a relatively quick process.

The savings in retail labor, though, results in a loss in value for the consumer. The experience of picking a Christmas tree is part of the experience of the Christmas tree, and when that is taken away, some of the iconic value of the tree is lost. More fundamentally, though, a Christmas tree is a decoration, to be placed in rooms of various sizes and styles, and therefore, the one-size-fits-all approach results in trees that fit poorly in the rooms where they are placed.

The most vexing problem I hear with Christmas trees is the difficulty in finding one that is small enough. This is a particularly ironic problem for the growers, as it is easier to grow a small tree than a large one. Growers have worked so hard to efficiently deliver a tree that reaches the ceiling and towers over the largest suburban living room that they have failed to deliver the smaller trees that people with smaller rooms (or shorter arms or a smaller car) are likely to need. The suggested work-around of removing the bottom branches and cutting off the bottom of the trunk is not only inefficient but awkward and an unwelcome chore. There is a demand for smaller trees, and it is a market segment that nearly half of Christmas tree sellers are simply brushing off.