Inside a Small Niche Holiday Company's Annual Rush

Modern Tree
Modern Trees' new white model, courtesy Matt Bliss.

For businesses that specialize in holiday-themed products, the day after Thanksgiving marks the start of a rush season unparalleled in most other fields. After profiling Matt Bliss, the creator of Colorado's Modern Christmas Trees, for the fall '13 issue of CA-Modern, I got to thinking about how this rush season must affect him as a one-man operation during this month of madness.

With a burgeoning business targeted toward modernist holiday tastes, Bliss occupies a small, very specific niche market, which means he can't afford to alienate a single customer with sub-par service or products. This year he introduced a new, white tree, and says he's ready for his biggest rush yet.

"The trees are all pre-made. So the challenge is trying to estimate what the demand's going to be. This year I have 300 that are manufactured and assembled." About half are made in Colorado, and another half in China, Bliss says. "The sales window is typically six weeks, so the idea is you try to get everything in order prior to that rush."

Blue Tree
Bliss offers four colors: blue, green, red, and now white.

Bliss coordinates with a shipping fulfillment company to ship the trees themselves, which he stores at the company's facility. "It allows me to have a house that's livable during that time." When an order comes in, he tells the company to send out a tree, then he assembles the ornaments, lights, and accessories from home.

"The challenge is that a lot of the orders have some kind of customization feature to them. So they want not silver bulbs but blue bulbs, or they want extra chain because they've got higher ceilings. From a shipping fulfillment question, it's difficult to have a third party do that." But between Bliss, a part-time assistant he hires for the season, and the shipping company with which he contracts, he manages to send out the tree and the accessories the same day an order comes in.

"We ship Fedex ground, which typically takes two to four days, depending on where it's being shipped to. One of the advantages of being in Colorado is that most of my customers are on the East or West coast, so being central helps."

Through a combination of luck and effort, Bliss managed to establish contracts with a plastics firm to make the trees, a die cutter to make the ornaments, a custom box manufacturer, and his shipping coordinator, all within a few blocks of one another and about a mile from his house.

Red Tree
With lots of preparation and some holiday help, Bliss gets his "trees" delivered in two to four days.

In his first year, Bliss says, he had to borrow a truck, take the pieces from the manufacturer to a friend who would assemble them, borrow the truck again and take the packaging over, and so on. "So that first year it was incredibly inefficient," he says. "Initially it was just doing whatever you had to do to make a customer happy, knowing the first customers you get are so valuable."

But now that he's got his system in place, Bliss says this season, which he expects to be his busiest yet, will also be his smoothest.