After switching from teaching piano to growing Christmas trees in 1995, Evergreen Trees owner Stephen Reynolds said there was now no limit to his ambitions for the company
A unique franchise model has helped family farming business Evergreen Christmas Trees continue expanding its business over the next few years, following 22 years of ‘steady expansion’.
Founder Stephen Reynolds took inspiration from a German farm when he implemented a franchise model about two years ago.
He said: “I just try to watch what the best are doing. We have international contacts in case something goes wrong.”
But with Brexit approaching, there could also be opportunities for the business, with a large amount of trees still imported from Europe.
The franchise model meant meant revenue in 2016 doubled, while the number of franchisees increased from 11 to 22.
Evergreen Christmas Trees was established in 1995 by Mr Reynolds.
He originally set up as an individual seller but, after struggling to find buyers, he moved into wholesale, mainly selling to farm shops and garden centres.
It was a dramatic career change for Mr Reynolds, a former music teacher, although he had grown up on his family’s farm.
The farm raised suckler cows, but being in an area hit hard by bovine TB, the family looked into ways of diversifying the business.
“I think I naively thought it was something you only had to do one month a year, but it is a year-round job.”
All the family were needed during the busiest period of the year, with unsociable hours during the Christmas period off-putting to some seasonal staff.
It was also a long-term commitment with a 10-year growing cycle for trees limiting the speed of expansion.
He said: “You have to predict the market. There is a lot of investment involved.”
This is where the franchise model came in. Evergreen select a farm in the right location and cover the complete sales area including marketing. The franchise works solely on commission, meaning there is no risk to the farm. It has also created a community sharing ideas and best practice between franchises.
The business has expanded from its base in Beguildy, Powys, by purchasing a specialist Christmas tree farm in Keele, Staffordshire, in 2013.
In summer 2017, the business purchased a farm near Cardiff, with the proximity to the Welsh capital offering opportunities into the retail sector.
Mr Reynolds said: “There is more opportunity further up the chain.”
And he said while the company was looking to consolidate, it was still open to more franchises. Mr Reynolds highlighted the Cambridge area as one with a potential market for another franchise.
He said: “We are starting to target Christmas tree buying areas and we try not to do it if we have existing customers there.”
While the business has changed significantly from how Mr Reynolds originally envisaged it, other things had come almost full circle.
The farm originally created a symbiosis by utilising Shropshire sheep on-farm, but these disappeared as the scale grew. But his second son, managing one of the farms, brought the sheep back.
Mr Reynolds said: “It has to be Shropshire sheep, as they will not eat trees like other breeds do.”
He added he was also considering cover crops, with soil condition a key focus going forward.