On April 30, 2015, the
Center for Family Business and John Lipinski’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship class welcomed Indiana entrepreneur and small business owner J.D. Fleming to campus. Fleming owns and operates
Fleming’s Christmas Tree Farms, LLC, a business that was started by his father, Roy Fleming, in 1945, just after World War II. J.D. officially joined the business in 1980, but the Christmas tree business was always a part of his life.
Over the years, the business has become more challenging. Fleming commented that in the early days, all one had to do was plant and harvest trees and one could earn a good living. In recent years, additional competition and changes in the American lifestyle have both added to the supply of trees available and reduced demand. As such, Fleming had to become more creative and adapt his business to the current business environment. While selling trees wholesale is still an important part of his business, Fleming’s Christmas Tree Farms has evolved its model to selling a Christmas experience.
The Christmas tree business is the ultimate in seasonality. Fleming stated that the entire market for live Christmas trees spans a period of five weeks. As such, the business requires him to be creative and ensure that a steady stream of customers wants his trees and, hopefully, make a visit to his farm an annual event. This has pushed him to develop promotions, including cut your own tree, hay rides, photo opportunities, trees for troops where one can donate a tree to a service member, and building a retail store with Christmas items and wreaths. He mentioned that he has many regulars who now drive from out of state and actually use their annual purchase of a tree as an excuse to hold a tailgate party in his parking lot. One customer from Ohio even (surprisingly) has made an annual tradition of purchasing a dead tree for Christmas!
Lipinski commented that it is amazing for the students to see how much effort must go into making such a seasonal business profitable. You work for 90 percent of the year hoping for a favorable five weeks. To help prime the pump seasonally, Fleming mentioned that he is considering working with one of his nephews to develop a pick-your-own-pumpkin patch to bring customers in during October… and, of course, all the customers will have to drive right past his field of Christmas trees!
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