How Fake-Tree Brand Balsam Hill Gets More Marketing Bang for Its Buck

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Balsam Hill is selling designer trees with lots of spaces.
Balsam Hill is selling designer trees with lots of spaces. Credit: Balsam Hill

In the Hallmark Channel's "Switched for Christmas," Candace Cameron Bure stars as twin sisters who swap country and city lives for the holidays. The heartwarming tale is full of life lessons about greener grass, the true meaning of Christmas... and artificial trees from Balsam Hill, the 11-year-old ecommerce company.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for us to have a lot of product in the movie," says Kristen Gasior, chief marketing officer at Redwood City, California-based Balsam Hill, citing the chance to play in both country-themed and modern aesthetics in the movie. "We're big on authenticity—we want to make sure any partnership we have is truly authentic."

It may seem at odds for a fake tree company to strive for authenticity, but such partnerships—Balsam Hill provided products for four Hallmark movies this year—are helping the brand grow beyond its seasonal roots.

And this year especially there is opportunity for Balsam Hill, which reportedly has around $100 million in revenue, as prices rise on real Christmas trees due to a tighter supply of inventory. Prices for real trees will rise 5 percent to 10 percent this year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Before the 2016 season, prices hadn't increased in 15 years.

Gasior declined to discuss Basam's business results but pointed to a Forbes article that said the company's revenue reached $115 million last year. Gasior said revenue increased between 20 percent and 30 percent in 2016.

With a small marketing budget—Gasior also declined to say how much the brand spends on advertising, though Kantar Retail data shows the company spent about $2.6 million on measured media in the U.S. last year—Balsam Hill is forced to use its dollars creatively. That means product collaborations with the Hallmark Channel and the Country Music Awards, a two-year partnership that involved a sweepstakes this year, and a big focus on social media as a way of strengthening consumer engagement. The brand, which was founded by CEO and Stanford Business School graduate Thomas Harman because his brother-in-law was allergic to real trees, uses its expertise in the business as a way of differentiating itself from competitors including Amazon. This year, for example, Balsam Hill is promoting "designer trees" that retail for around $300 and have lots of space between the branches to make room for larger ornaments. Balsam uses social media to provide customer service and setup support.

While 50% of Balsam Hill's business comes from the crucial fourth quarter, the company has been working in recent years to be more of a year-round retailer. It now sells artificial flowers in spring and harvest décor in autumn, along with its annual "Christmas in July" marketing push.

In addition, Balsam Hill is sponsoring concerts this year by musicians such as Reba McEntire, Jewel and Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, most of which include contests and giveaways.

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