During the heat of the summer months, Wayne Harmon usually has one thing on his mind: Christmas trees. In fact, he has been thinking about Christmas trees each day for almost two decades — and for good reason.
Harmon and his wife, Ann, are the owners of the Starr Pines Christmas Tree Farm in Boonville and have been selling trees since 1990. Although the farm is only open between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is a business that keeps the Harmons working full time all year long.
“The whole year is in preparation for one month,” Harmon said. “We make or break in 30 days. It’s a pretty short season.”
Harder than it sounds
Like the Harmons, many seasonal business owners say their businesses require a lot of time and energy in the off-season. Chuck Basye, the owner of Basye farms in Rocheport, sells homegrown produce from April until Halloween, but spends the off-season preparing the fields and planning for the next planting season.
Similarly, some of Harmon’s most important work is done between January and October each year. In preparation for the holidays, the Harmons decorate their barn and turn it into a shop full of freshly cut trees, ornaments and wreaths. They serve hot cider, and guests are welcome to ride a hayride through the field. After the holidays, however, the decorations are taken down, the hay wagon is put away and the barn is transformed from a winter wonderland to a barn full of supplies used for the care and harvest of next season’s crop of trees. When January comes, the Harmons’ work is not done — in fact it’s just beginning. They will spend their whole year planting new trees, caring for the old ones and analyzing the market for next year.
On his 10-acre farm, Basye grows everything from pumpkins to asparagus and a wide range of produce. He sells his produce to the public as well as to area restaurants.
Every year, however, Basye’s crops vary depending on the weather conditions. This year, for example, he was not able to sell pumpkins because it was too hot and dry. But the weather was good for asparagus and tomatoes, and those items sold very well.
“You have to depend on a lot of good luck with the weather,” Basye said.
Basye said running a seasonal business is a hard thing to do, and it takes determination and passion for the business to make it work. He is happy to put in the time because he really enjoys what he’s doing.
“It’s fun and I enjoy it,” said Basye. “It’s more than a hobby.”
A long term project
However both Basye and Harmon agree that before starting a seasonal business, it is important to make sure you have enough resources to cover expenses during the first few years of the business.
“Until you’ve done it awhile,” said Harmon, “you don’t know how it’s going to go. You need a few years to get your name out there.”
Both Harmon and Basye started their seasonal businesses on the side of another job. Harmon did painting and landscaping work in Columbia during the first few years he operated his farm, and Basye still works as a flight service controller for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Ann Harmon also operates a small business called Celestial Body Aromatherapy that specializes in natural skin-care products. She sells her products at the tree farm during the holiday season, and makes them available through mail order during the rest of the year. Her products are also available at some stores in Boonville and Columbia. Harmon said that’s because there is not enough traffic at the tree farm to sell her products there year round.
A winning strategy
Basye and Harmon also hire employees on different terms than regular business owners. Harmon said that during the year, he brings in some local help, family and friends to do planting and other maintenance of the trees. During the holiday season, he typically hires high school students to work at the farm and help customers select their trees. He hasn’t had to hire any full-time employees. Basye has also used help from family members — his two sons used to always help with the planting and harvesting as they grew up.
Despite the challenges and uncertainties of operating a seasonal business, both Basye and Harmon continue to do it because it’s what they love.