Schroeder's still growing after 29 years
NEENAH -- Schroeder's Forevergreens grows on its customers.
Just ask Micki Rause of Neenah, who gladly paid $74 Tuesday for a Fraser fir tree she picked out at the corner lot at 706 Main St.
"I've been a customer forever," she said. "The service is wonderful. The trees are high quality. I wouldn't even consider going anyplace else."
Rause's beauty is one of several thousand trees that award-winning growers Tom and Sue Schroeder will sell to retail buyers this Christmas from their two retail lots in Neenah.
While they don't disclose their sales numbers, the Schroeders expect the couple's 30th season in the Christmas tree trade to be profitable.
"We have second generation customers," Sue Schroeder said. "We figure about 70 percent to 80 percent of our business is repeat."
The Schroeders have about 150,000 trees in various stages of growth on the 170 acres in Marquette and Waushara counties in central Wisconsin, which they own, and two smaller farm properties they lease. The couple just received the grand champion award from the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association for the third year in a row for a Balsam fir tree.
The Schroeders got their start in the Christmas tree business in 1976 by selling other growers' trees. They sold the trees to supplement the income from their vehicle upholstery business, which they still run.
In 1987, tired of the inconsistent quality of purchased trees, the Schroeders began growing their own trees on farms in central Wisconsin. Sue Schroeder said they made the decision to raise only higher quality trees and price them by variety and quality.
Trees for sale at their two lots range from "tabletop" varieties that are a few feet high and priced at $10 to 14-footers that go for up to $150 each.
The Schroeders say they face competition from discount lots and cut-your-own operations.
It takes an average of seven years to grow a Christmas tree to its six-to seven-foot retail sale height. Weather patterns tend to dictate the outcome of the crop, and the Schroeder's tree farming operations have suffered some harsh setbacks.
The most recent came two years ago, when they lost 13,000 trees to drought. Then deer came through and chewed the tops off all the replacement trees, threatening to stunt or kill those, too. Fortunately, the new plantings sprang back and appear to be thriving, Sue Schroeder said.
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