Posted on: Saturday, December 13, 2003
Christmas-tree sellers unhappy with sales so far
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
"We don't really make a profit on Christmas trees. The whole tree department is kind of like a loss leader."
Neal Arisumi, Daiei store renovations project manager
|J.R. Costa, manager of tree seller Christmas Hawai'i at Ala Moana Center, preferred to remain optimistic about slow Christmas tree sales this year, saying he has every intention of returning next year.
Rebecca Breyer The Honolulu Advertiser
Many of them ordered more trees this year and at higher wholesale prices to fill the void left by one of the longtime operations, Canamore Tree Farms in Oregon City, Ore., which stopped selling in Hawai'i this year.
Independent tree sellers were prepared for tough pricing competition from big-box retailers. And they expected smaller profits because of their higher wholesale costs.
But they didn't expect the back-to-back rainy weekends that kept customers away during their peak, post-Thanksgiving selling season.
It's never easy to predict what will happen in the up-and-down world of Christmas tree sales in Hawai'i, which can be influenced by the local economy, shipping schedules and weather 2,500 miles away that affects the growth cycle of trees.
In 2001, shoppers who waited until the last minute to buy had to scramble. Last year, supply and demand seemed to be in balance although some customers complained that their trees seemed drier than usual.
This season, "Sales have been really slow," said Jim Landess of Jeannie's Christmas Trees from Beaver Creek, Ore. "It'll be tough to come back next year."
Landess and his mother Jeannie Jacobsen the Jeannie in Jeannie's Christmas Trees ordered 200 more trees this year for a total of 2,300 to cover their two lots in Hale'iwa and Mililani.
Where Landess and Jacobsen would normally be down to 400 trees or so by now, going into this weekend they instead found themselves with 1,000.
The irony is that after years of drought in the Pacific Northwest, this year's crop of trees are lush, Landess said. But with extra wholesale costs of about $2 per tree, profits are smaller.
The glut of Christmas trees can mean better deals for customers John Nahmias got 15 percent knocked off a 6-foot tall Douglas fir he bought at the LaBoy's Christmas Tree lot at the corner of Ward Avenue and Kapi'olani Boulevard.
Instead of shelling out the advertised price of $55, Nahmias paid only $46.75.
"You gotta like a discount," Nahmias said as he paid Rick LaBoy, who just shrugged and smiled.
Rick LaBoy and his brother, Cliff LaBoy, have been operating two Christmas tree lots for six years. This year they decided to take over two more that had been run by Canamore Tree Farms.
The gamble meant shipping in 3,600 trees or twice the LaBoys' usual amount. Yesterday, they still had 1,000 more trees to sell.
"It looks like people are waiting until the last minute," Rick LaBoy said. "I hope they come out this weekend."
Even some retailers are feeling a bit of strain this year.
Neal Arisumi, store renovations project manager for Daiei, expects to sell the last of his 4,000 trees by this weekend. But the additional $2 wholesale cost and Daiei's efforts to keep prices below $20 means little return, Arisumi said.
"We kind of eat it," Arisumi said. "We don't really make a profit on Christmas trees. The whole tree department is kind of like a loss leader."
Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse ordered the same 2,500 trees as last year. And Michael Yaji, Lowe's live nursery specialist, hopes to move most of those remaining by this weekend.
"I guess a lot of the customers are waiting for this week to go buy their trees," Yaji said.
Independent tree sellers are quick to say that their trees last longer than the ones sold at lower prices by big-box retailers. They know the locations where each tree was grown and can say without hesitation when they were cut and when they were shipped.
"The trees are exceptional this year," said Richard Tajiri of Portland, Ore., who runs the Christmas Hawai'i lot at Ala Moana Center on the Atkinson Drive end. "Some people want the discount-type trees. And I've considered bringing in the low-end type trees in the past. But my customers want quality."
After five years at the corner of Kapi'olani and Kamakee Street, Tajiri had to find a new location and ended up in the street-level parking lot at Ala Moana Center.
But the crowds didn't follow.
Tajiri has about 1,000 trees left of the 5,000 he shipped in to Hawai'i.
"I should be closing up now," Tajiri said. "Where is everybody?"
After 27 years in the Christmas tree business, Tajiri said, 2003 "is terrible."
"Its the worst year we've ever had," Tajiri said.
But there will be good years again, said Tajiri's manager, J.R. Costa.
"Although everyone's hurting this year," Costa said, "we have every intention of coming back."
Reach Dan Nakaso at 525-8085 or email@example.com.