by Kelly Gates
When Charles “Doc” Reichheld was young, his family chose its annual Christmas tree from a small lot in the center of town run by a former railroad worker named Harold. The memory of the tree lot inspired Doc and his brother to eventually start their own Christmas tree business, Medina Christmas Tree Farms of Medina, Ohio, complete with a railroad station themed sales shed with a sign that reads, “Pine Tree Station.”
According to Reichheld, growing is not currently his primary career. It is a side business that has become an integral part of his life. One day soon though, it will be his full-time focus.
“I am a professor emeritus at a local community college where I still work as an adjunct professor. My wife Debbie also teaches there, but the Christmas tree farm has grown from being more of a hobby to a very big part of our lives as we continued to teach,” Reichheld told Country Folks Grower. “My brother Fred and I started the business in 1980. My role has always been the ‘doer’ — handling all of the growing responsibilities, and now, in retirement, I expect that we will spend even more of our time at the farm.”
Not long after establishing the business, Fred and his family, having settled into a home in Boston, allowed Doc to continue managing and expanding Medina Christmas Tree Farms as sole owner. Under his watch, the farm was expanded to include two additional sites and many more trees and related products for sale.
It takes a full crew of staff members and peak season employees to manage the business with the separate locations and a slew of on site activities and offerings to boot.
Their main focus is selling high quality trees and extending high quality customer service to everyone who visits the farms each year.
“We didn’t want to just be a retailer or a bargaining lot where people haggle over the prices of the trees,” noted Reichheld. “We spend a lot of time tending to the trees so they are high quality. We also help customers with everything from the time they get out of the car until they leave, helping them park, showing them where trees are, measuring the trees, cutting, carrying, shaking, netting, drilling holes in the trunks and tying the trees to their cars.”
The staff frequently educates guests on the various types of trees grown and sold there as well. The inventory includes everything from scotch and white pines to Norway spruce and Colorado blue spruce and Canaan firs-ranging in size from tabletop to 15 ft. tall.
The farm even overnights Fraser firs from North Carolina so visitors who don’t have time to choose and cut their own can quickly purchase a pre-cut tree.
The Christmas trees that are grown by the farm are tended to carefully from the time they are planted straight through to harvest. Each one is hand sheared. Certain varieties are also color treated.
“When people come out to choose a tree, they know they will find the highest quality around. After cutting a tree, they usually spend time sitting around our campfires, sipping hot chocolate or grabbing a bite to eat,” said Reichheld. “We have hot dogs, barbecued food and other items for sale at a food truck managed by an outside vendor. But we provide the hot chocolate for free for the kids.”
Picnic tables are scattered about for guests to use. Moms and dads often rest at a table or by the fire while their kids are kept busy watching the geese, chickens and other animals kept at the farm.
While there, many customers also purchase wreaths, roping and other decorations to make their holiday homes complete. To pay for their trees and decorations, people must step up to the Pine Tree Station. The retail building reflects Doc’s love of trains and railroads while paying homage to “Harold the railroad guy.”
According to Reichheld, owning and operating Medina Christmas Tree Farms was an educational experience for him — he had to learn everything from soil amendment and pest management to general growing practices when the business was first established. His children also learned a lot about business over the years.
“We have four children and each one of them went from being strictly labor to handling all dimensions of the business, including accounting, marketing, product management and everything else that comes with managing a tree farm,” he said. “It’s not easy to run a small business, and they were able to learn both the ‘goods’ and the ‘bads’ and how to get things done with as few people as possible.”
One of the additional things the Reichhelds taught their kids was the importance of giving. Medina Christmas Tree Farms donates to Trees for Troops every year. They have also incorporated a unique soccer league setup into the program, creating a win-win for both Trees for Troops and children in the local community who wish to play the sport.
“Several coaches contacted us and said they had young players who couldn’t afford to pay the fees required to be part of their soccer league,” explained Reichheld. “So, we now have the kids ask neighbors and friends to donate Christmas trees for our Trees for Troops program. For each tree that is donated, we give $10 toward a scholarship for a child to join the soccer league.”
Along with a charitable outreach, the couple has worked hard to continually enhance the on-farm experience. Field lights were recently added to illuminate the place in the evenings since the sun sets much earlier during that time of the year.
The owners also hope to open the farms to local artisans in upcoming years, showcasing the processes of glass ornament making, wooden ornament painting and other crafting skills.