Above: photo by John Loomis
About 80 percent of Frans Kok’s (MBA 1972) cut-your-own customers make the trek to the Middleburg Christmas Tree Farm in Philomont, Virginia, during the two weeks after Thanksgiving. After bumping down the mile-long driveway, visitors collect a cart, a bow saw, and a map of the 125-acre property. From there, “it can literally take half a day to buy a tree,” says Kok. The leisurely pace is all part of the purchase price—which starts at $85 for a six-foot fir or spruce.
Only about 25 percent of US live-tree buyers choose this Rockwellian route, says Kok, who sells about 2,500 each year. The vast majority of buyers show up at a tree lot or big-box store, toss one on the car, and head home. Kok’s customers are making a “totally different purchase,” he says. “The trees are the impetus to get people here, but really they are buying the experience of a day in the countryside, of yelling ‘Timberrrr!’ as daddy cuts down a tree.”
It’s the same impulse that led Kok to buy the farm in 1980. A former EPA chief economist who now heads the investment banking firm Johan Hekelaar, Kok was looking for a respite from city life. Along the way he developed a soft spot for this seasonal side business, where 99 percent of his customers leave with a tree—a sales rate few retailers can imagine. “Plus it’s Christmas, so everyone’s in a great mood.”
Class of MBA 1972, Section K