Bishop and Mathews Newsletter Spring 2019

Hi Folks…

While most customers reported brisk sales, nice trees, accurate tree counts, and on time deliveries last Season, their inability to receive quantities of trees needed affected bottom lines, and was worsened by a lack of local wholesale supplies. Many were forced to close early, turning away customers. Today’s growers are more conservative than in the past. They have learned to limit their planting to what they know they can sell, as opposed to earlier days of speculation and high hopes. Some are slowly increasing planting, but the shortage will continue for some time.

A common complaint was in the overall decrease in sizes offered, compared to previous years. Substituted sizes and/or species on customer deliveries made for some unhappy retail customers. Growers are faced with continually decreasing labor supplies, and ever increasing operating expenses. These factors influence today’s growers planting and harvesting decisions. The decrease in sizes offered is a reflection of this.

Our growers have informed us that they believe they will be able to supply us with about the same overall quantities as last year, but doubt that they will be able to increase our supply this year. We don’t know what specific availability for sizes, grades, and species will be yet.

During our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest Christmas tree growing region, we visited a farm that operates a wholesale yard in the Los Angeles area. We hope to start a relationship with them this year. This could provide our customers with opportunities to pick up additional trees when and if needed. We are in the process of getting specifics on species, sizes, prices, etc.

Getting orders to the farms early was key for us to secure trees on your behalf. Growers typically grade and tally into the Fall, and can’t send us their actual inventories until they have finished, however. It is not until then that we realize the discrepancies that exist between customer order requests and farm actual availabilities, and make adjustments. Some feel that since they already signed agreements and paid deposits that coincide with their original orders/invoices, they should be entitled to receive those exact trees. Getting our orders in early is simply how we make our needs/requests clear to growers, and we can’t place order requests for trees on our customer’s behalf without first getting firm commitments from them. We are updating our Purchasing Agreement to further explain this.

Landed costs for trees did not appear to be an issue for our customers this year. Two growers that we recently met with confirmed that they will be raising prices again this Season. One said he won’t. The others haven’t commented yet.

If we draw on individual shortfalls that customer’s incurred last Season, we hope to make improvements on them this year. By sending us an email ahead of the Season outlining how, when, and why your business and/or customers were negatively impacted last Season, we will be able to address it ahead and in a much better manner this year. Thank you to those that have already done so.

Christmas tree retailing in heat and strong winds. How to keep your trees fresher.

The Christmas tree retailing season in Southern California is often plagued with adverse weather conditions such as high temperatures and strong winds. These can transform your fresh and beautiful inventory of trees into a dried out pile of waste if left exposed. Although your Christmas trees arrive fresh, it is your job as the retailer to keep them that way. There are measures that can and should be taken by retailers to help keep them as fresh and salable as possible.


  • Store trees in an area that will provide good ventilation yet protect them from direct exposure if possible.
  • Stack them a few inches above ground, and in a crisscross fashion. This allows air to pass through the stack, preventing retention of heat within it. A cut Christmas tree is an organic material, and generates heat on it’s own as it decomposes.
  • If trees must be stored in an area that is in direct exposure to the elements, place shade cloth over them, and water them frequently. Although a tree absorbs moisture from it’s trunk and root system, the watering will help provide an evaporative cooling effect on them.


  • Prep trees in an area that will provide good ventilation yet protect them from direct exposure if possible.
  • Make fresh cuts on all tree bases before standing, and keep the butts in water. Once moved to display area, they can be prepped for sale.
  • Keep trees baled after standing until moved to the display area. This will minimize their exposure to the elements.
  • If trees must be prepped in an area that is in direct exposure to the elements, install shade cloth at critical areas, to minimize exposure.


  • If trees will be displayed in an area that is directly exposed to the elements, install shade cloth in critical areas, to minimize exposure to them.
  • Reduce the amount of trees in your display area. This will turn your displayed and exposed trees over faster, reducing the amount of time they are exposed to the elements.
  • Keep all tree butts in water.


Now that you have diligently kept you trees in a fresh condition,  your customers need to to keep them that way, and their house safe while there. We recommend providing them with a list of recommendations. We recommend that retailers make a fresh cut before turning them over to customers. Below is a list that has been prepared by the National Christmas Tree Association:

How to Care for Your Farm-Grown Christmas Tree

When a Christmas tree is cut, more than half its weight is water. With proper care, you can maintain the quality of your tree. Below are a number of tips on caring for your tree:

  • Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.
  • To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand.
  • Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.
  • Make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don’t cut the trunk at an angle, or into a v-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree.
  • Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does NOT improve water uptake.
  • Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go 6 to 8 hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. Don’t bruise the cut surface or get it dirty. If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days in a cool location. Place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket that is kept full of water.
  • The temperature of the water used to fill the stand is not important and does not affect water uptake.
  • Check the stand daily to make sure that the level of water does not go below the base of the tree. With many stands, there can still be water in the stand even though the base of the tree is no longer submerged in water.
  • Keep trees away from major sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.
  • Use of lights that produce low heat, such as miniature lights, will reduce drying of the tree.
  • Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set.
  • Do not overload electrical circuits.
  • Always turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or when going to bed.
  • Monitor the tree for freshness. After Christmas or if the tree is very dry, remove it from the house.
  • Visit the Tree Recycling page to find a recycling program near you.
  • Never burn any part of a Christmas tree in a wood stove or fireplace.

1951 Christmas tree harvest.

Nobody ever said that being a Christmas tree grower was easy. This attached letter from my Grandmother to her bookkeeper offers a glimpse of some of the hardships and struggles that growers dealt with in earlier days, while trying to harvest natural trees from wild, high elevation stands. Things are still tough for today’s growers, although their hardships and struggles are not the same as my Grandparent’s. Farmers are an amazing bunch!

Click on the link below, then when it redirects you back to the post, click on the red on again. (I am not a website guy)

1951 Christmas tree harvesting… Nobody said it would be easy!

2018 Bishop and Mathews Christmas Tree Forecast

We recently returned from our annual  Spring trek to the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree growing region. During this trip, we visit as many farms as we can. The growers are pretty rested and relaxed this time of year, so we get some quality time with them. What we learn from them during these visits explains a lot about our current situation as retailers, and also provides us with insight as to what we may expect from the farms in the future.
One grower that we visited told us that he has been increasing planting, and expects to have more trees available starting next year.  We think that overall 2018 availability will be similar to 2017.
It looks like the last few years of grower price hikes have put the farms back on solid ground. We think that prices may have stabilized. An overall shortage still exists, however. The farms that have contracts with big box retailers are still scouring other farms to purchase trees in an effort to honor their own commitments. We don’t think this will affect us any differently than it already has.  We are frequently reminded by the mid sized farms that we buy from however, that filling our orders of mixed species, sizes, grades, and split loads, is more time consuming, complicated, and costly than most of their other customer’s orders. Reading  between the lines, they are telling us that although they maintain their loyalty to us, if we weren’t around, they wouldn’t have to work quite as hard, and would probably make a few more bucks. One grower told us that it can take up to an hour longer to load one of our trucks.
The biggest challenge that the grower’s are facing today is the continually increasing shortage of labor. Another is their continually increasing operating costs across the board. Those that survived the recession and tree glut are having to make changes in order to become more productive and efficient in order to survive in today’s farming environment. One that we know is experimenting with narrowing the taper on some of his trees, to lighten them up and make them easier to handle. This would also reduce freight costs by loading more of these trees in a van, and increase productivity by planting more trees in the same field. We don’t know if or when we may actually see a shipment of trees like this get delivered to a retailer. Another has stopped growing anything over 8 ft., because of their weight and the difficulty of handling them. One grower explained that in the same amount of space and time it takes to grow a 16 ft. tree, he could grow 8  7/8 ft. trees twice. In addition, the risk of damage to them during harvest, baling, loading, shipping, etc, is greater since the branches tend to be more brittle than on others.  We may see a future decrease in the overall availability of bigger trees.
Truck drivers’ hours of service regulatory requirement for trucks to be equipped with electronic logging devices is now in effect.  The new regulations could translate to a decrease in truck availability, and an increase in  freight costs. Unfortunately there is no way to know until the shipping Season actually begins.

Setting retail prices for Christmas trees

To successfully determine retail prices for Christmas trees, retailers must know their customers, understand their needs, and set their tree prices and services at a level that will match them.  In addition, retailers must know how many trees they will need to sell at those prices to cover operating expenses and generate a worthwhile profit.

We have noticed that retailers can usually get a higher price for the same tree the farther South and West they are located from the Los Angeles area, and less the farther North and East. We see a spread of anywhere between 100 and 300 percent markup by retailers throughout California and Nevada as we visit them during their selling Season. Retailers that dress up their trees, keep them fresh, display them nicely, and work hard selling them, generally command a higher markup.

Being a unique product of nature, a delivery of #1 trees will vary in densities, tapers, colors, shapes, layering’s, heights, etc.  A seasoned retailer will bring out more desirable qualities in some and sell at a premium price, and may mark others down that don’t seem as desirable as the rest. If damage is present, retailers normally make necessary repairs and/or sell at a discount.

Since growers and wholesalers don’t set retail prices for their customers,  it would not make sense for them to request credit on a tree that they marked down without the grower or wholesaler also getting paid extra for a tree that they marked up.

Some things to consider when determining retail prices:

  • Are Big Box retailers selling trees at or below their cost as loss leaders near you? If so, don’t try to compete price wise. Your success will depend on quality and  service instead.
  • What did your competitor’s sell their trees for during the prior Season?
  • Do you want to sell based on price or on service and quality? It is hard for a customer to put a price on great service, high quality products, and a cherished, yearly family outing in a festive atmosphere.
  • How many trees will need to be sold at your desired markup to cover operating costs and also make your efforts worthwhile? Is that quantity and/or markup  realistic?
  • Are you trying to develop a loyal, long term customer base? Make sure to have adequate stock so you don’t send potential customers to your competitor. Selling out early is nice if you are satisfied with your sales.
  • Make sure that your merchandising and pricing strategy makes your trees look more attractive than the alternative artificial tree.

Oregon Farmers See Christmas Tree Shortage

Oregon Farmers See Christmas Tree Shortage

As the 2017 Christmas tree season approaches farmers are beginning to see that the over abundance of Christmas trees is no longer on issue.  In fact, it is quite opposite.  Farms are now seeing a shortage in trees faster than they had thought.  Here is an interesting article discussing the Christmas tree shortage in the  upcoming years.

2017 Christmas tree forecast


2017 Christmas Tree Forecast

We just returned from a week long journey through the Pacific Northwest Christmas tree growing region. Much of our time was dedicated to visiting with our current, loyal farms. We also made sure to allocate plenty of time searching for other farms that may be in a position to take on more customers. We returned with some great insight about the 2017 Christmas tree forecast, but did not find any other farms that could take on  new business.

The 2016 Season marked the beginning of an overall shortage of Christmas trees. 2017 inventories will be tighter than 2016. In addition, many growers oversold in 2016 and were forced to cut into portions of their 2017 inventories to honor their commitments, increasing their shortage.

Big box retailers still appear to be the primary market for big farms. They are relying heavily on smaller farms to sell them the trees they need to complete their orders now. Big farm’s buyers are prepared to offer other growers whatever price is necessary to acquire their trees. It looks like most mid sized farms prefer to keep their relationships with their regular customers, however.  Big farms were not able to acquire all of the trees they promised the big boxers in 2016. Maybe the retailers are finally gaining some ground on them.

In light of these and other changing conditions, growers are now weighing against many factors when determining the worth of their regular customers. We speculate that mid sized farms 2017 prices will increase again about as much as in 2016. Several mid size farms will likely eliminate some problem and late paying customers, freeing up some  inventory for the rest.

In an effort to counteract an ever increasing shortage of labor, and rising freight costs, many farms are reshaping their trees to become narrower and lighter. This will reduce labor costs and increase the quantities that can fit in a van. We expect this to be the beginning of a trend that may eventually become the norm for them. Handle sizes are increasing to 10 -12 inches.

A few farms are out of the commodity market altogether. They are mostly family farms that cultivate premium trees on a small scale. By focusing entirely on quality and continually meeting their customers needs, the demand always exceeds their supply. We expect their prices to increase modestly, and their inventories to remain the same.

One can only speculate as to how this will all trickle down. We have been assured that our normal quantities of trees will be reserved for us. However, allocations of some popular sizes will be reduced and substituted with what is left. One farm that we buy many trees from will be down 40% on 7/8 Noble, 50% on 7-8 Douglas, and has no Nordmann over 8ft.  Farms normal practice of outsourcing from neighboring farms to supplement and correctly fill their customer orders may not be much of a possibility in 2017.  We think that premium big tree inventories 14 ft and up will decrease in 2017, and continue to diminish in future years. We expect tree quality to improve now that growers have more dollars to put into them.  Some farms are still working through a bit of distressed inventory left over from the drought.  Retailers may have to deal with them the best they can again since substitutions may not be available. Growers don’t want to be first to release their prices.  They will likely wait as long as possible to release them.

Our strategy of getting orders to the farms early has helped us stay a step ahead of others so far. One would expect that some of our customers will contact other farms and shop for comparable options. We do not want to rush them through their normal decision making process.  However, we are strongly encouraging these customers to perform their due diligence ahead and get the results of their comparisons early.  We need them to be ready to make their educated purchasing decision early, since supplies are limited.

Although most retailers started the 2016 Season with a lot to overcome, most all sold out, many earlier than expected, and most reported an increase in profits over the 2015 Season.  We don’t anticipate the 2017 Season to be much different for most retailers.













Modern Christmas Tree Retailing

Modern Christmas Tree Retailing

Before the days of plantation grown trees, farmers worked with and harvested their trees  from wild forested stands for the most part.

The retailers had to rely on their own skills and ingenuity to spruce  them up into nice looking trees, attractively merchandise and market them, and then work hard  to sell them.

Today’s trees are pretty magnificent comparatively speaking. Consequently, many of us will never need or acquire much of the knowledge and skills that these treasured old time retailers relied on.  It is unrealistic for retailers to think that today’s growers can manufacture a tree to a specific set of standards at will, however.  It is still a tree that is unique and governed by genetic characteristics  and environmental conditions that  cannot be overcome.  It’s quality, shape, desirability, grade, and value are considered personal preferences that vary from consumer to consumer, for the most part.


It is still and always will be up to the retailers to know how and commit to making them look their best.  Retailers will always need to rely on their own sales skills and strategies to sell their trees. As a general rule, it is not reasonable to expect trees to sell themselves, or acceptable to blame a grower if they don’t sell.

  • Limbs can get twisted during the baling process. Spend a few moments studying the tree, and help it unfold back to it’s original shape.
  • Shake it good to remove any debris or dropped needles.
  • Inspect it’s overall shape. A selective clip here or there may help finish the tree to your satisfaction.
  • Insert a branch to fill an unwanted opening. (plugging)
  • Add a coat of flock to a drying or undesirable tree.
  • Repair a broken top or branch.
  • Reduce price if necessary.

Most of our great customers have been with us  for 30 years, some 40, and a few over 50. These “Old Timers” built this great industry that we now enjoy with nothing but their own ingenuity and grit. They are treasure troves of hard earned knowledge and wisdom.  We don’t need for them to tell us how they do  it. No one was was there to tell them how to do it. Just do it and become your own treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom that others will one day find remarkable!

Modern Christmas Tree Retailing

Modern Christmas Tree Retailing

Modern Christmas Tree Retailing

Modern Christmas Tree Retailing

This is a great article about the beginnings of the Southern California Christmas tree industry

 “The Tracks”-Southern California Christmas Tree Industry

Trains played a huge roll in getting the Southern California Christmas tree industry started. Without a doubt, Bishop and Mathews knew how to use the trains to their advantage!  In fact, “The Tracks”, were the best place to be to get a fresh cut Christmas tree.  They were auctioned right out of the boxcar to the highest bidder.

Ron Bishop wrote this great article in Christmas Tree Lookout about the beginnings of the Southern California Christmas tree industry.  He tells us in this article what life was like being part of the  up and growing Christmas tree industry.  Ron lived it first hand and wrote this article based on his own personal experience and knowledge.


The rising costs of growing and retailing Christmas trees

 The costs of purchasing trees are on the rise.  I spoke with a grower to learn firsthand about his costs of growing trees.   I hoped to gain an understanding of his need to increase prices. This is a small family farm that we have been purchasing trees from for over 30 years. Following are just a few of the surprising things that I learned from the conversation we had:

  • Overall, all of his trees over 7 ft. are still priced the same as 2005.
  • Wages have risen  $3.00 per hour since 2005.
  • The Affordable Health Care Act increased their insurance premiums $5000 per year.
  • Operating costs, such as fuel, chemicals, and fertilizer have continually increased substantially. For example, the cost of diesel was below $2.00 per gallon in 2005, and has risen as high as $4.00 per gallon in recent years. Over the 7 to 9 years that it takes to grow a tree, that is a considerable expense.
  • Goods such as supplies, tree tags and top tie tape have also increased substantially.
  • Seedlings have gone up 50% from 30 cents to 45 cents, if you can find them.
  • Farm Insurance has risen.
  • As trees grow and use minerals out of the ground,  they need to be added back after a couple of rotations. The cost of lime rose from $120 per ton to $230 per ton in one year. To keep the trees in the healthy condition that his customers expect from him, he also adds potassium, phosphorous preplant, root dip, and nitrogen fertilizer. The cost of new pre-plant fertilizer alone increased $2000 on top of the already $5000 annual bill.
  • Maintenance and repair of equipment costs continually increase. For example, an unexpected but necessary $11,000 repair bill on a tractor occurred this month.
  • The Pacific Northwest Tree Association imposed a mandatory 15 cent fee for every tree harvested, to advertise and promote the value of real trees verses artificial, which amounted to a $1500 expense to the grower.
  • Bookkeeping costs for payroll, etc., have risen over 40%.

The grower also explained that in the last few years over 1/3 of tree farms in the Pacific Northwest have gone out of business.  This was because of the steady increases in costs, and not having the ability to sell their trees at a high enough price to cover those costs.

I also spoke with a retailer in Southern California. He has built a successful retail business lasting over 30 years. Top quality trees topped with excellent service is the business plan. He know his customers and finds the ways to meet their needs. “None of our customers NEED Christmas trees however, all of us NEED our customers to be successful”.

Having been through these up and down price cycles before, he plans on sticking around. He will stay with his normal proven business plan, and focus on meeting his customer’s needs. Lowering the markup on trees will be necessary to avoid having to “stick it” to his customers with  a disproportionate sudden price spike . “Raising retail prices too fast would be detrimental to the industry. It would encourage some customers to switch to an artificial tree. Some may abandon their tradition of kicking off the Holiday Season with the family trip to the local tree lot altogether,  and buy their tree from the big box retailer down the road”.

Home Depot and Lowes are his 2 closest competitors. They sold trees at his cost for several years. This forced him to lower his markup. In addition the costs of goods such as stands, flock, etc. has risen significantly.  Also, competition from wholesale Christmas tree accessory suppliers has forced him to lower it.

In the long run, by keeping his customers loyal and happy he will again survive this cycle of rising costs. The farms will be able to sustain themselves. The laws of supply and demand will determine what the market will bear. Eventually, the supply will again exceed the demand. A new buyer’s market will born.