Cinde Gardner-Gillespie of Cinde’s Best Trees loves the Christmas tree-selling business. She gets to work with her family and makes customers happy by providing the traditional decorative conifer that can be found in most homes this time of year.
Not surprisingly, it’s her busy season.
“I’ve been working 18 hours a day, at least,” said Gardner-Gillespie, 50, who runs the business with her husband, Ken.
The family has operated a lot in Gig Harbor for 13 years, currently at 94th Avenue and the Key Peninsula Highway, and they opened a second lot last year in Port Orchard at Sidney and Sedgwick roads. This year, they opened a third lot at Wollochet Drive and state Route 16 in Gig Harbor.
From the latter part of November to Christmas, the family focuses full-time on the Christmas tree business.
And it really is a family affair.
“All of the kids work out here,” Gardner-Gillespie said.
All of the couple’s seven children have, at one time or another, worked the tree lots. Three of them still do, including a 10-year-old son who really knows the business, according to the boy’s proud mother. He can tell customers all about the trees, help pick out the correctly sized tree based on space dimensions and process orders, Gardner-Gillespie said. Even the grandparents get in on helping out. They serve as cashiers at various locations, she said.
Gardner-Gillespie got involved in the Christmas tree business a number of years ago when she published “Cinde’s TV Magazine,” a regional entertainment periodical, when she sold the trees out of Shelton as a fundraiser for Junior Leaders of America.
“In the beginning, it was the kids that got it going,” Gardner-Gillespie said.
She sold about 400 trees. In 1995, she sold the magazine.
“Then I started doing trees on my own,” she said.
Selling Christmas trees — or even giving them away under certain circumstances — is truly a labor of love for Gardner-Gillespie. She said with her husband’s drywall and painting business, Classic Interiors, her family makes a comfortable living.
“We don’t need to do this,” she said.
It’s the satisfaction she gets interacting with the public, especially those who come back on an annual basis, that keeps Gardner-Gillespie involved in the business.
“About 85 to 95 percent of business is repeat customers,” she said.
“You have people that buy trees and come back two or three times to hang out by the bonfire,” she added, referencing the large blaze that often can be found burning at the 94th Avenue location.
The family receives its trees each year from a friend in Mololla, Ore., who owns a farm. Cinde and Ken typically make multiple trips a week during the season to bring back freshly cut trees.
Gardner-Gillespie is proud of the quality trees she offers, many of which are only a few days old when they’re sold, considerably fresher than big-box-store trees, which are cut a month or two before they’re displayed and stored in refrigerated cars.
Christmas tree prices range from $15 for a tree 4- to 5-feet tall, to $75 for an 11-footer, Gardner-Gillespie said.
She said she can only recall a handful of customers who were dissatisfied with the tree they got, and those situations were remedied with a simple exchange.
Besides the trees, customer service plays a large part in the success of Cinde’s Best Trees.
“The weather’s a huge one,” she said of factors that impact sales, noting that workers routinely greet customers at their vehicles with umbrellas when it’s raining. “We have umbrellas for all our customers.”
As she has often done in the past, Gardner-Gillespie has tagged several trees to give away to those in need, including families of Sydney Glen Elementary School children who can’t afford a tree this year.
Every year, she also gives away 10 percent of her proceeds to a charity. This year, she plans to donate to the Angelina Garland Cancer Fund.
Garland is an 8-year-old girl who, in October, was diagnosed with Stage III cancer. The goal is to raise $5,000. Those who would like to donate can go to www.gofundme.com/1cakts.
Gardner-Gillespie is challenging local businesses to meet or beat the amount raised and given by Cinde’s Best Trees.
“I’ve never met the family,” Gardner-Gillespie said. “I don’t know them.”
It’s that kind of caring that has come to personify Cinde’s Best Trees. It’s not just about making money, Gardner-Gillespie said.
“We never let anybody go without a tree,” she said, echoing the “it’s better to give than to receive” spirit of the holidays.
For more on Cinde’s Best Trees, call 253-228-0640 or visit their Facebook page.
Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.