Jay Bustard, 57, of Gilbertsville, Montgomery County, owns Bustard's Christmas Trees with brother Glenn and mother Virginia. The retail business, based in Lansdale, has been in the family since 1929. Bustard's also owns tree farms in Carbon County and in Canada, and rents a third farm in Montgomery County.
Q: How have you managed to stay in business for so long?
A: We've tried to offer as much value as we can. We try to cut our trees in small batches so we can keep 'em fresh. We have a little more hands-on approach than many tree operations have.
Q: How's the business work?
A: Like any other farming business, there's not a lot of money in it. You have to buy a lot of equipment. In the winter we maintain our equipment and shear some of our smaller trees. Then, in the spring, we're planting, fertilizing, mowing grass. In the summer we mow and shear every tree. In the fall we tag every tree, count 'em and get ready for Christmas. And then, around Thanksgiving, we start cutting and, obviously, in December we're selling trees.
Q: How many employees?
A: It depends upon the season. In January and February, it'll be myself and my brother, and two employees. Over the summer, we use employees from my brother's landscaping business, and we can have as many as eight or 10 guys [at the farms] at any one time. Then [in Lansdale] at Christmastime, on a busy weekend, we can have as many as 20 to 25 people. That's one of the nice things about real trees versus the artificial tree. The money is staying here, we're paying our employees right here and they're spending money here instead of sending it over to China.
Q: So, how many trees have you sold so far this year?
A: We sell between 6,500 and 7,000 trees each year. The business is fairly inelastic: We pretty much stay the same, in good and bad times. The fact we have been here so long and the trees are fresh builds loyalty.
Q: How much does the typical tree sell for, and what are the most popular sellers?
A: We have 10 types that range in price from $19 on up to $245.
Q: Whoa. What's a $245 tree?
A: About a 15-to-16-foot tree, you know, a Griswold tree [a reference to the 1989 movie "Christmas Vacation" and its character Clark Griswold, portrayed by Chevy Chase]. The average consumer buys a 6-to-8-foot tree, which costs between $49 and $75, depending upon type. When you consider most of our trees have been in the ground since 2003 and are hand-sheared, it's good value compared to most products.
Q: The most popular tree?
A: It's probably evenly divided between the Douglas and Fraser firs.