Well-trained, knowledgeable employees can play a major role in providing a great experience for customers. Photo courtesy of Dull’s Tree Farm

by Sally Colby

As soon as a family drives to your Christmas tree farm, they should be thinking about returning next year. Christmas tree growers know one of the main reasons people visit U-cut tree farms is for the experience. The initial part of that experience may influence whether or not a customer returns the following year.

Many customers will have already viewed the farm’s website or social media prior to visiting. Provide information that will help first-time customers know what to expect. Remember some may have never been on a farm, so your website is a good place to suggest appropriate clothing.

If the farm website or social media announces that Santa will be present, make sure you have one lined up as well as a willing “spare.” Nothing disappoints a young child more than being told Santa won’t be there. Check your stock, especially tree inventory and gift shop items, and make daily updates to the website and/or social media. Provide information, ideally each morning, on weather conditions on the farm, changes in the schedule, tree availability and any special activities.

The fresh-cut Christmas tree experience should begin with a smooth drive up the farm lane on a surface that isn’t full of ruts or obstacles. Be sure it’s wide enough for two vehicles to easily pass, or if that’s impossible, provide ample, well-marked areas where vehicles can pull aside.

Those visiting for the first time should know exactly where to park by way of good signage. If traffic is likely to be heavy on certain days or at certain times of day, it’s worth placing employees on parking duty. Those who help park cars should be friendly and knowledgeable about the farm’s procedures and be able to clearly relay information to arriving customers.

Be sure customers have a safe walking experience from their vehicle to the main arrival area. There’s a chance some may not be wearing suitable shoes, so make sure the walking surface is free of hazards such as large rocks, uneven surfaces, holes and debris.

Everyone who arrives on the farm to choose a tree should be made to feel as if their trip was worthwhile. A combination of easy-to-read signage and friendly employees in strategic places work well to provide a warm welcome.

Many Christmas tree buyers aren’t familiar with the characteristics of various trees. A display of cut trees with signage that explains the physical characteristics of each species as well as any information about needle length, scent and other traits can help answer many questions, but it’s also worth placing an employee in the area to address additional questions.

First-time fresh tree buyers may not know what to expect regarding tree harvesting. This is another area where clear signage can help introduce them to your process. If customers can choose a tree from a nearby field within walking distance, be ready to point them in the right direction. Farms that provide a wagon ride should have clear signage regarding where and when the wagon departs and returns. If customers’ trees will be tagged and hauled to the sales area, make that clear as well.

Remember that some customers will be riding on a wagon for the first time. It’s a good idea to review safety rules with each group that boards the wagon. Prior to the season, inspect wagons thoroughly for any signs of loose boards, missing hardware or other potential hazards. The loading area should be clearly marked to ensure no one is in the wrong place when wagons depart and arrive. Provide instructions on the safe use of hand saws you provide, and check saws throughout the season to maintain sharpness.

There’s plenty of time before opening day to make sure fields are as well-groomed as possible. Look for holes, stumps and any debris that could cause a trip or a fall. Mow at the appropriate time to ensure walking paths are clear and free from tall grass or weeds. Remind customers that they’re on a farm, and that while you’ve taken every precaution to keep them safe, they can expect to encounter natural hazards.

Customers who require assistance in the field should never have to look for an employee. Train employees to answer common questions and make sure they can help customers estimate the height of a tree once it’s cut, help them cut trees and move them to the lane for transport.

Most tree buyers take their time when selecting a tree, but once they’ve made their choice and the tree is on its way to the sales area, they’re often ready to go home. To help customers have a successful fresh tree experience, provide care information in several ways: in the checkout area, on a sheet they can take home and on your website. Consider adding a QR code on store signage – customers can capture the code on their phone and easily access the farm website.

If the farm features a warming area or gift shop, it should be pleasant and welcoming. The interior should be well-lit with soft lighting – avoid fluorescent lights if possible. If you offer refreshments, it’s best to separate that area from the gift shop. Food trucks can be located just about anywhere as long as they don’t interfere with customer traffic.

Consider hosting a contest that encourages additional customer engagement with the tree-cutting experience. A holiday sweater contest is always fun – or ask families to dress up their pet and snap a photo in front of the tree. (If you ask families to submit photos of themselves with their decorated tree, they should be aware that by submitting a photo they are granting permission for you to share the photo online.)

Despite planning and preparation through summer and early autumn, the Christmas tree season always seems to arrive quickly. Being well-prepared ahead of time for every aspect of the season will ensure both you and your customers the best possible experience that will bring them back next year.