Welcome to a new Hustle in our Series! Where my man Andrew from DollarAfterDollar.com shares his step-by-step instructions on how selling Christmas trees can make you some good money in your spare time. Along with how much he’s made so far doing it himself! If you pair this with Holiday Hustle #55 – playing Santa Clause – you’ll really be the hit of the town ;) Enjoy!
Have you ever seen those independent Christmas tree salesman on the side of the road and wondered how much they make?
Well, it’s your lucky day my friend, because I am one of those tree salesman! So high-5 your grandma, hug a baby, or fist bump your dog – I’m going to show you how to sell trees as a side ho-ho-hustle (sorry, that was bad).
It all started one day when my wife and I were discussing extra ways to make money. I mentioned selling Christmas trees as something I think about every December and wondered how much those roadside stands make. Well, light up my nose and call me Rudolph – my wife told me that she had a distant relative who sold trees as her main source of income!
We had someone who was in the business to help show us their Christmas tree ways. We headed right over to talk to her. After our little chat, she told us that she made $100,000 a year between two stands. I was sold. She agreed to connect us with her tree farm and we were in business!
Now, let me start by saying that I did not expect to make 50 G’s our first year. She had been in business for years and built a clientele that knew and trusted her. That being said, our conversation did make me realize the potential, and it was time to hustle!
Here are the main steps to get started with a Christmas tree business:
Step #1: Find a Good Location!
The first step is to find a location. This is the the most important step. Just like in real estate, the tree business is about location, location, location.
December is a great time to search for plots of land to set up shop for next year. You want to look for high traffic lots that do not have any competition nearby. Preferably a place that can provide electricity for your lights (otherwise you will have to get a generator) and running water.
A great place to start would be your local flea market. See if they have a tree guy. If not, try to get some space! Trees sell like crazy at the flea market! Our local flea market tree stand sells over 400 trees in a 10 days! The guy could sell more, but he prefers to go home and drink eggnog once he sells out. This translates to about $20,000 net profit in 10 days!
Not only do flea markets generate foot traffic but they are usually already covered and somewhat secure, which can reduce your overhead tremendously (we will get into this a little later).
The second place to look would be local schools and churches. We set up at a local church in town. This is a fantastic arrangement for the beginner. Instead of making a rental payment on a plot of land, you give a percentage of sales to the church. Local public schools will take the same arrangement (That’s where our tree mentor set up). It becomes a win-win situation. They make money on their land without having to organize volunteers, and you have a high traffic spot to set up shop.
Another benefit to this strategy, is the church members (or students parents) will be more inclined to buy their tree at your stand since they know part of the proceeds go to their school/church. You can even ask them to put a little ad in their newsletter or bulletin to let members know there’s a tree stand on their campus.
We arranged to give 10% of the tree sales to the church. This in turn hedges your risk, if you don’t sell, you aren’t obligated to the overhead on your rented space.
Once you have your location, it’s time to order your trees. Most tree farms will set you up on credit and you pay for the trees after the season. This is nice benefit when you’re starting out because you can allocate startup cash to other areas of your stand.
We ordered 200 trees worth $7,000 our first year. I will break down each size and how much you can make a little later. You want to order your trees a few months in advance to ensure they have enough to fulfill your order.
Step #2: Find a Tent
You definitely want to have a cover over your trees. Sunlight can seriously damage and dry out a Christmas tree. This will be your biggest out of pocket cost up front. We rented a 100 foot tent for $1,200 for the month. The company came and set it up with their crew. They also took it down when we were done.
This may be something you want to invest in if you decide to go all in on selling trees, but it will run you $10,000-$15,000. You could create a 2nd side hustle by renting out your tent for the other 10 months!
Step #3: Get The Supplies You’ll Need
There are a few supplies you will want to pick up before you get your trees delivered.
This would include:
- Vinyl Sign From VistaPrint — $100
- Tags for trees — $20
- Wreath Rings (more on this later) — $50
- 50 Christmas Tree Stands (additional revenue) — $500
From Big Box Stores:
- 4 ft Chicken wire to surround the stand — $350
- Poles — $200
- Pole Driver — $15
- Extension Cords — $50
- 2x6x10s to Hold up inventory — $50
- Weed Cloth: this will shade your trees — $50
- Chain Saw — $100
From HarborFrieght.com (a much cheaper version of the big box stores):
- Bungee Cords — $50
- Lighting — $200
- Zip Ties — $5
- Gloves — $5
Right Before You Open:
- Large Poinsettias (additional revenue) –$250
Got it? Good!
Step #4: Get Your Stand Set Up Properly!
Here’s the trick to a Christmas Tree stand that will set you apart from the rest: You want people to step inside freakin’ Narnia when they enter! A forest of upright trees. At any given time you want to have about 40-50 trees on display so that your customer can see all angles of the tree.
This is a game changer for your stand. People love it! Most places just lay their trees in bundled piles and the customer has no clue what the tree looks like until they get home. Don’t be this type of stand!
[Here is what ours looked like at night]
We set up our trees on poles and strap bungee cords to keep them upright. You want to stake your poles before the trees arrive. That way when they come in, you can display your first 50!
You’ll also want to set up your fencing, shade cloth, and lighting. For the fencing we just wrap it around the perimeter and secure it with zip ties. This makes for an easy set-up and tear down. The shade cloth goes around the side and rear of the stand to help protect the trees from drying out. In Florida, where we live, this is a must because it’s still warm in December. We still can go to the beach on Christmas! #Blessed
Lighting is a must as most of your customers will be coming after work when it’s dark. The brighter the better! We get workshop lights from Harbor Freight and hang them from every corner. They don’t need to be able to see it from the international space station, but a well light stand will result in people feeling safe and secure stopping by your stand.
If your location doesn’t have an electrical outlet, you will need to rent a generator. This can increase your cost ($300-$1,000) so keep this in mind when you are looking for locations.
When To Open Up Your Christmas Stand
[Here is a picture of our stand. See the difference when the trees stand up?]
The best time to open your stand is the weekend before Thanksgiving. We all have an Aunt Phyllis who wears a Christmas sweater that lights up before Halloween. Well, those people want their trees as soon as possible, so be the first in the business!
Schedule your trees to arrive a week before Thanksgiving. They will come in a huge semi-truck. If you have a good tree farm, they will have just cut the trees a few days ago which makes them really ‘fresh’ (this is a huge selling point that we will talk about later). Ours are so fresh they still had snow on them! You’ll need a few helpers to unload the trees. We hire a few high schoolers to help out for $10 an hour.
Our stand is open from 3pm – 9pm weekdays and 11am – 9pm weekends. This makes it perfect for the side hustle ninja inside of you. If you work 9-5’s like we do, have someone run the stand until you can get there. (Full disclosure, my dad helps us out so this is free for us.)
The most important thing you need to nail down is your sales pitch.
You’re not giving your customer a wrapped up tree and throwing it in the back of their mini van. You are giving them a fresh tree that was just cut a week ago.
A little known fact, the big box stores cut their trees in early October, sometimes September, which is why their trees dry out and lose their fragrance. Make sure the customer knows this as they look through your trees. As you talk to them, you need to develop a relationship. This is where you get repeat customers and referrals year after year. We have a very large percentage of people who come to our stand just via word of mouth.
So How Much Can You Make Selling Christmas Trees?
I am glad you asked. Most trees are a 50% markup or more. Some of the big trees can be a 200% markup (I love when we sell one of those). When you set up your trees on display, you will be able to tell which ones look ‘perfect’ and others that are ‘not so perfect’. The trees without ‘holes’ or blemish will fall under the higher price range. The trees with ‘holes’ will be on the lower price range. Let me break it down for you:
|6′-7′||Cost $20||Sell For $40-$50||$20-$30|
|7′-8′||Cost $30||Sell For $60-$95||$30-$65|
|8′-9′||Cost $35||Sell For $80-$120||$45-$85|
|9′-10′||Cost $40||Sell For $90-$150||$50-$110|
|10′-11′||Cost $50||Sell For $100 – $200||$50-$150|
|11′-12′||Cost $75||Sell For $150 – $400||$75-$250|
Those prices for big trees may seem outrageous at first glance, but people will pay for them. We sell a handful of monsters every year. I cannot tell you how many times people will come in and say “I want your biggest tree”. Boy, oh boy, do I love selling it to them.
The sweet spot is the 6′-9′ trees. The majority of our sales come from those trees. They have great margins, and can fit in the majority of your customers homes.
Additional Revenue on Top of The Trees
When someone purchases a tree, you are going to cut off some of the lagging branches at the bottom. Those branches can turn into additional revenue sources by making live wreaths (who says money doesn’t grow on trees)! We sell small wreaths for $20 and large for $35.
There are plenty of youtube videos on how to do this, so I won’t bore you with the details. This brings in an additional $1,000 for us. They look amazing too!
The last of additional revenue is poinsettias. We found a guy who sells GIANT poinsettias for $5 a piece. We sell them to our customers for $25 each. Not only do they make the stand look nice, they sell like crazy! We sell out and re-order many times throughout the month. It’s the WOW factor. It also makes the stand look very festive. Customers (the ladies especially) love this and almost always add them to their tree purchase.
How Much Have I Made Selling Trees So Far?
In our first year we spent $3,195 on startup equipment I listed above (including tent rental), and after selling our trees, paying our tree farm, and giving 10% to the church, we had a net profit of $7,555 in 5 weeks. Here is a visual breakdown:
- Trees: $7,000
- Supplies + Tent + Poinsettias: $3,195
- Total: $10,195
- Tree Sales: $14,500 (after paying church)
- Stands: $1,000
- Poinsettias $1,250
- Wreaths $1,000
- Total: 17,750
Net Profit: $7,555!
(Next year, we will eliminate an additional $2,000 in cost since we already have the supplies, poles, shade cloth, etc.)
This profit was after having about 20 trees leftover. The city did not like that our tent was under power lines on the main road so we had to move our stand behind the church which killed our visibility. With a better location, I truly believe we can sell well over 200 trees! The stand down the street (on the main highway), sold 400 and finished a week before us. We gave away the excess trees to the church who gave them to people in need.
Downsides to The Tree Business
One downside for some to having a tree stand is that it’s labor intensive. If you don’t like lifting heavy things and putting them back down, this may not be the side hustle for you (bro, do you even lift trees?). You can hire a few employees to help you with the labor, but it can cut into your profit (especially when you are just starting out).
A tree stand is also not a passive side hustle. You have to plan, organize, and put in the work to make it successful.
That being said, this would be a great side hustle for early retirees. You work for one month a year on a business that can generate a nice chunk of cash to fit your lifestyle!
Wrap It All Up a Christmas Bow…
To sum it up, a Christmas tree stand can be a great side hustle. You get to meet all kinds of people in the community, provide a product that brings cheer, and make money in the process.
You can grow your stand with a great customer base that will return year after year. Maybe you can open a second stand and sell trees full time and work one month per year! How much better can it get?
P.S. I know sometimes J. Money likes to exit in style with a musical bang, so I thought I would leave you with the Christmas classic ‘Christmas in Hollis’ by RUN DMC.
Andrew is a financial analyst by day and a money blogging vigilante by night. He is the creator of the blog Dollar After Dollar where it’s all about the benjamins baby! He writes about personal finance, real estate, and keeping it 100.
****Update October 2020!: Adding some good Q&A from the comments. Read these before holding your own Christmas tree sale this holiday season!****
Q&A and Notes For Selling Christmas Trees (From the Comments)
Can you use your front yard to sell Christmas trees? –> Usually not… Check your street’s zoning codes first. Most residential areas do not permit businesses, even temporary ones, to be set up. The zone codes protect home values. Either way, you’ll need a permit from your local government to set up a stand. In my city, stores, churches, etc. cannot give you permission to set up a business on their property without the appropriate business permit. Doesn’t cost much, but you need one. Just do your due diligence so all your work isn’t for nothing.
Is there much competition for tree stands? –> Yep, there’s competition with every business! But, don’t let this scare you off trying. Big box stores sell both live trees and fake trees, but they lack the charm and character of a small local tree sale. One way to come up to speed quickly on your competition is to ask someone who has run a stand in the past. Find yourself a “tree mentor” who can give you the local knowledge and save you from making rookie mistakes.
A trick for making your trees last longer at home… –> I’ve got a little trick for you next year when you buy your tree. Water with 1 part Coca-Cola, one part water, when you first bring home your tree. The sugars in the coke will cause the trunk to seal in the water. This in turn will make your tree last much longer! Kiss dry branches goodbye (I sound like an informercial). I had one customer tell me their tree lasted until March with this method (although I don’t recommend keeping your tree that long from an interior design standpoint)! (The big box stores always cut trees too early. I would ask the folks at the stand down the street when theirs were cut. It should be less than a month.)
Adding delivery when you sell Christmas trees. (And pick-up once the holiday season is over!) –> Some folks don’t buy Christmas trees because they have no way to pick up or take the tree home to their house. For additional revenue, you could consider adding delivery as part of your business. The customer could call the stand, order based on size/height etc, and you could have delivery arranged. Also, Once Christmas is over, you could have a collection day where you hire a big truck and drive around collecting people’s trees. People will pay for the convenience!
What’s the profit per hour approximately? –> “It’s about 50 hours work per week. Most side-hustles are a marathon, usually working 12 months of the year. This is an all out sprint, averaging about 200 hours in a month. Our first year it ended up being about $37.50 an hour (200 hours). Next year we plan on making a minimum of $2,000 more since we already have all the equipment. So we will in turn make about $47 an hour. Another option to reduce your hours is hire a college student (usually home for the holidays) or high school student for $10/hour. You make less hourly, but can sit back, relax, and enjoy the holiday cheer.
Do you have to grow the trees yourself? –> Nope! Find a grower or a Christmas tree farm to partner with. You’d be surprised how many wholesale businesses pop up in your area right before the holidays. Again, having a mentor who has done it all before can help you, or, you can always ask other local stand owners where they source their trees from in bulk.
Artificial tree collecting, storage, and resale? –> h/t to FinancialPanther for this idea (he’s a side hustle legend!). Turns out many people throw away their artificial Christmas tree at the end of the season (silly, because they are re-usable!!!). So, when Christmas is over, you could go around and collect all the artificial trees thrown out or being given away for free. This can be done by placing an ad on Craigslist requesting for artificial trees. You could even purchase cheap ones online. If you have property with a lot of space, store the trees, clean them up, and sell them for a fee the following Christmas. Not a huge money maker, but, there’s definitely a huge profit margin!
Loose limbs make great a wreath. Competitors might give you them for FREE –> Many stands throw away their loose limbs or small branches that fall off the trees. They see them as a headache to dispose of. Picking these up and crafting wreaths gives you more inventory for your stand! The competitors think you’re doing a favor for them by taking their branch trash away… but they are actually funding an additional revenue source for you! A wreath is perfect for people that don’t have the space for a tree at home.