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This family-owned company makes $1 million annually selling Christmas trees in New York City — here’s how

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SoHo Tree stand on 59th Street and 1st Avenue, New York City.
Krysia Lenzo | CNBC

For Uptown Christmas Trees, it's the most lucrative time of the year.

Since 1974, the Hyde Park, Vermont-based business has chauffeured its Balsam, Fraser and Douglas firs almost 300 miles southwest to sell them on street corners in New York City. Uptown CEO Ciree Nash, the daughter of co-founders George Nash and Jane Waterman, estimates the company will sell 17,000 trees to New Yorkers, translating to roughly $1 million in revenue this holiday season.

Last year was Uptown's best year to date: The company sold out across all 19 of its street corner locations on December 21, a full four days before Christmas. This year, after increasing inventory, Nash expects to sell out shortly before Christmas Eve.

Part of the secret, she says: using Slack to modernize her family's 47-year-old company.

For the past four holiday seasons, Uptown has relied on the communication tool to track inventory and sales. The company's Slack team has 60 members, ranging from the small handful of employees in Uptown's main office to more than 50 location managers and nightguards.

For her part, Nash, 43, says she relies on the tool for real-time updates on tree popularity in different areas of the city.

"We have locations in wealthier or working-class neighborhoods, and each spot sells a different number of different types of trees," she says. "We're going to sell less 10-foot trees in the Bronx than in the Upper East Side because people don't have apartments that size."

Ben Perry, a five-year Uptown veteran who sold roughly 870 trees at a stall in Harlem last year, says the teamwide communication is particularly helpful for managing inventory and retaining customers.

"I have a customer who comes every year and says she needs a 12-foot, skinny tree with strong branches to hold candles by the next day," Perry says. "I'll hit up Slack, see which location has that tree, and I'll have in brought in overnight.

The coordination is more important than usual these days: According to Tim O'Connor — executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade organization representing more than 4,000 businesses — demand for Christmas trees has skyrocketed since the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

That's partially due to pandemic-induced nostalgia, he says, and partially due to pandemic boredom: Buying a Christmas tree outdoors is a relatively Covid-safe activity. Given that recent rise in demand, O'Connor adds, Uptown's sales figures are roughly in line with other popular sellers across the country.

Nash estimates that she could have sold another 1,000 trees last year, if she had the inventory. The demand was unexpected, and it's hard to quickly harvest more trees, she says: Christmas trees take at least seven years to reach maturity.

This year, the challenge is supply chain shortages: Uptown relies on multiple farms for its trees, and those farms are charging more per tree to compensate for rising prices in fertilizer, truck fuel, machinery and equipment.

"Everything was so much more expensive this year," Nash says. "Even if we sell more trees, it doesn't necessarily translate to more profit."

Uptown isn't the only old-school Christmas tree seller hoping to modernize. Covid has made it essential for almost every small business to have an online presence, and O'Connor also says some vendors started leaning into social media even before the pandemic.

But while tech supports Uptown's communications, Nash says her company's 47-year-old reputation can only be maintained the old-fashioned way: by being physically present in neighborhoods.

"Most of our managers have been with us 10, 15 years," she says. "They come back year after year because they can make money, but also because they know buying a Christmas tree is a special thing. The managers become part of the neighborhood, and they're a part of your family's traditions."

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