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The countdown to Christmas is on, with less than two weeks to go. For many, this means shorter work hours, more time kicking back with family, and staying warm inside between shopping sprees.
Not so for Scott Lechner.
Instead, the veteran entrepreneur and Christmas tree salesman is kicking into high gear in his all-weather gear, trimming festive firs for families all over New York City. The Brooklyn native has seasonally hustled and bustled as a partner at the helm of SoHo Trees for 33 years now — and he wouldn’t take a minute of it back.
“I do it because I love it,” Lechner told Free Enterprise. “There are times when the spirit soars and the holiday magic exudes from us to our clients, and back twice fold. All these moments … there is no price, no profit margin, no other job that we would rather do than to make children smile, and older folks, too.”
Lechner and his team of Santa’s helpers don’t just sell fresh-cut spruces from their busy curbside tree lots, they also fully decorate and deliver them, too.
We caught up with the jolly tannenbaum trader between evergreen deliveries, just in time for the holidays, to find out what it’s like to spread cheer — and tinseled trees — in the Big Apple, year after year. Here’s what we found out:
When did you launch SoHo Trees and what inspired you to start the company?
“We launched SoHo Trees in 1983. We were originally in the produce business for many years. We were born and raised in Brooklyn at a time when our life, like a film noire, was more black and white than color. We were losing friends to drugs and crime quicker than we were able to make new ones. Having had previous experience in the produce business as some of New York’s largest fruit peddlers, a grassroots and low-tech business was a natural choice.”
How do you squeeze big trees into small New York City apartments?
“Sweat, a little engineering, and more sweat. Then more sweat, more engineering, and a little more sweat. There was a time when a client requested a 13-foot, 600-pound noble fir tree to be delivered to their top floor apartment. They didn’t bother to tell us that there was no freight elevator. We had to walk the tree up in shifts.”
Who are some of the more notable customers you’ve sold Christmas trees to?
“Both Kelly Ripa and Hugh Jackman are some of our most celebrated clients. But other notable clients include Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, Billy Crystal, Owen Wilson, Cher, Madonna, Meg Ryan, Brooke Shields, Louis C.K., Vince Vaughn, the [Robert] DeNiro family, and many others. We kid that we meet more celebrities than even the celebrities do themselves.”
How many Christmas tree stands do you have in New York City in all and where are they?
“In this 2016 season, we have nine locations throughout New York City. Eight of them are in Manhattan and one is in Brooklyn.”
Where do you source your trees from?
“We currently source from six U.S. states and two provinces of Canada. From the Randall Family in Oregon, to the Sturgills of North Carolina, such family farms we favor, but we also do business with some of the vast plantations.”
How long is your Christmas tree sales season and what is the most you’ve earned in a single season?
“Like Cirque du Soleil or Barnum and Bailey, what seems like one scant month, is really about four months of preparation and work to prepare for one Christmas tree season. The actual on-street season is about 36 days in all. We’d tell you [the most we’ve earned in a season] but Santa might put you on the Naughty List, and nobody wants to be banished to the North Pole in July.”
How many employees do you hire per holiday season?
“The SoHo Trees staff consists of 40 to 60 personally-selected individuals each year, in addition to family members who are some of the supervisors. More than 1,000 applicants each year hail from almost all 50 states, many European and Asian countries, and are selected by talent, heart, and honor only.”
How does SoHo Trees give back to the local community?
“We’re always sensitive to those less fortunate than we. We donate multiple trees, stands, and other holiday gifts every season to many charities, which have included the Hurricane Sandy Fund, the 9/11 Memorial, local schools, and several parishes and other charities.”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about being an entrepreneur through your experiences at SoHo trees?
“Little things mean a lot. Products can be great, service can be good, merchandise can be plentiful. But the smallest details sometimes count the most. A smile, consideration, sensitivity to the customer’s feelings, often mean more than anything. We learned that very lesson our first year, when we learned that we’re not just selling Christmas trees, we’re selling Christmas cheer.”