By Anna Grace Moore
A sharp wisp of wind grazes across a young Boy Scout’s frost-bitten lips. He sucks in through his cheeks, as the tips of his fingers turn violet in the November air.
“Hustle, hustle,” bellows his troop leader. “These trees won’t sell themselves!”
He struggles to brace the weight of cylindrical tree trunks rolling off of his shoulders as he carries eight, nine, even 10-foot-long Christmas trees into the lot.
Three meticulous hours trudge on. The Scout soon finds himself winding his arms around and around, drilling holes through the stout ends of tree trunks, only to position each tree in rows like soldiers standing at attention.
Some community members of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, say they buy from the Boy Scout Christmas Tree Lot every year simply to be served by chivalrous, young men.
“Those boys work harder than anyone else,” long-time Boy Scout supporter Bonnie Moore said. “I’ve bought my Christmas trees from them for the last 20 years. I never go anywhere else because I know I’m supporting a good cause. Every year I take my family out and we pick out a good seven-footer. Each time they never fail to tie it up on top of my car with a big, red bow.”
While the Scouts strive to serve with pride, what distinguishes their business from other corporate rate chains such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart is that their makeshift tree farm is located in the grassy lot right in front of the Walgreens off of Montgomery Highway in Vestavia Hills.
This specific location attracts customers by the lot’s kid-friendly atmosphere, as many families enjoy being served by other families as they choose their living-room trademarks. Subsequently, this suburbial business model actually benefits surrounding companies by enticing customers to shop around in other local stores.
“So right around Thanksgiving time about 10 different Boy Scout troops set up Christmas trees in this lot to sell them and raise money for Boy Scouts of America,” Troop 226 Eagle Scout AJ Simonetti said. “I call our business a suburbial business because it’s like a smaller business in the shopping center of other, larger ones.”
An influential reason this business model has been so successful has been from the amicable relationships between the Walgreens staff and the Scouts working the lot, some say.
“The two businesses feed off of each other,” Walgreens shift manager Julian Kitchens said. “Customers will call and ask if the Christmas tree lot is close, and we’ll be honest and tell them it’s right out front.”
The Boy Scout Christmas Tree Lot has been known to attract many customers to the Vestavia Hills shopping center. Simonetti believes their selling Christmas trees gets customers in the spending mood because they can get all of their holiday shopping done in one place.
Kitchens said he’s seen this happen in his own store.
“Customers will come to buy Christmas trees then turn right around and buy lights or ornaments for their trees in our store,” Kitchens said. “Season after season the scouts will set up and they come in to the store to warm up, use the facilities, buy snacks or hot chocolate. With any retail business your sales are going to go up around the holiday season. The scouts play a big role in bringing in outside customers to our business, too.”
Simonetti said the tree lot is successful year after year.
“We sell about 600 trees every year,” Simonetti said. “At the end of the season we will usually have like 40 trees left over that we either gave away for free or use to make wreaths. Every ounce of our profits goes towards some good in the community.”
The lot, he said, is a rewarding experience for him as well.
“I really liked serving in the Christmas tree lots because it gave me responsibility,” Simonetti said. “It taught me work ethic. Those trees were really heavy and some nights got so cold that I would have rather been anywhere else, but the smiles on some of the customer’s faces were well worth it.”
According to www.scouting.org, “Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation’s largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations, providing programs for young people that build character.”
“A big part of being a Scout is learning to humble yourself through servitude,” Simonetti said. “That’s the main reason I worked every winter at the lot back in high school — to do good in the doing-good season.”
Kitchens said the attitude toward service is mutual.
“The scouts have been doing this for years,” Kitchens said. “They always treat everyone with respect. Here at Walgreens we pride ourselves on making our business personable, which is important because no matter what business you’re in, customer service is key.”