For Utah County residents, partitioned sections of parking lots filled with Christmas trees is an expected sight during the holiday season. The long hours and easy access of the lots make bringing a real tree home for the holidays a cinch. Within a short amount of time, living rooms begin to smell of the aromatic tree and a star ornament is placed on top.
However, Russ Frederico, owner of several Christmas tree lots in Utah County since 1988, explains that the business of Christmas trees is more complex than one might think.
"People don't realize what an orchestrated effort and hard work goes into getting these trees here," Frederico said.
Each fall Frederico goes to Oregon to meet with Christmas tree farmers. Due to the Pacific Northwest's consistent plentiful rainfall and quality soil, a large majority of Christmas trees sold on the western side of the United States are grown in either Oregon or Washington. Frederico said these farms are so vast that they often look like a large forest of evergreen conifer trees. In fact, it isn't uncommon for the farmers to use helicopters to assist in the harvest of trees.
"These are farmers I deal with that just happen to be in the Christmas tree business," Frederico explained. "They're grown like any other crop."
While on the farms, Frederico hand tags the trees he wants to be shipped to Utah and sold on his lots. This year, Frederico had close to 1,500 trees for sale on his two lots in Orem. As a business owner with a high standard of quality for trees, picking each tree ensures that they meet Frederico's expectations. In addition, it allows Frederico to diversify the selection available at his lots.
"I always try to find different growers with different qualities because everyone's tastes are different," Frederico said. "It's a lot of hard work but there's a lot of gratification when people walk off the lot with a good tree that will be part of their family for a few weeks."
Frederico is confident that enabling customers to pick their trees gives his business an edge over major retailers who just hand customers a tree at random without being able to inspect it.
"They have no idea what they're getting," Frederico said. "It's kind of like playing Russian roulette with your Christmas tree."
Until recently, Frederico has had help operating the lots from his two sons, Adam and Nathan. The seasonal business gave Frederico's sons an opportunity to gain work experience and learn discipline.
"I think it was a good foundation for them to see what the business world is like," Frederico said.
Aside from his time away on an LDS mission, this is Adam Frederico's first year not working on the lot.
"Ever since I can remember I worked on the lot," Adam Frederico said. "I learned what hard work is."
Nowadays, even though both sons live out of state, they still help with the business by maintaining the website and planning business strategy. The actual labor is relegated to high school and college students looking to earn some cash while on winter break.
After 24 years of selling Christmas trees, Frederico admits that the business is exhausting, but he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.
"It's been a long haul," Frederico said. "Once it gets in your blood, it's hard to relinquish."