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How an Annoying Backbreaking Chore Sparked the Idea for This Entrepreneur's Thriving Business Find out how City Tree Delivery in Chicago brings the holiday spirit directly to urban doorsteps.

By Emily Washcovick

Key Takeaways

  • City Tree Delivery showcases how addressing specific customer challenges—like transporting and setting up a Christmas tree in an urban environment—can fill a profitable business niche.
  • Utilizing an online ordering system and real-time delivery updates can enhance the customer experience, making the service seamless and stress-free.
  • Providing customers with knowledge and tools to make the most of your product or service can enhance satisfaction and foster loyalty. For example, City Tree educates its customers about tree care, increasing the value of their purchase.
  • Founder Chris Hohenstein says it's more than just about convenience—it's a commitment to a greener tomorrow.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Courtesy of City Tree Delivery

In the bustling urban landscape of Chicago, where the holiday spirit competes with the chill of winter, City Tree Delivery brings warmth and convenience to the season. This innovative service simplifies the traditional Christmas tree-buying experience by delivering festivity directly to doorsteps. Founded on the principles of sustainability and exceptional customer care, City Tree Delivery redefines the holidays for modern city dwellers.

Founded by Chris Hohenstein in 2009, City Tree Delivery has grown from a simple idea into a beloved seasonal business that caters to the unique needs of urban residents.

Chris's entrepreneurial journey initially sprang from personal frustration and an environmental concern. Living in Chicago, Chris faced the annual dilemma of disposing of his Christmas tree in an eco-friendly manner.

Related: She Ditched Her Steady Job in Tech to Pursue Her Love of Food. Now She's a Food Network Champion and Celebrated Cookbook Author.

"I always had to throw my Christmas tree away in January because Chicago didn't have a great recycling program," Chris recalled. This dissatisfaction spurred him to action, leading to conversations with local officials and a deeper involvement in environmental initiatives. Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Chris Hohenstein.

The real turning point came unexpectedly. "I was working in public accounting, and after getting laid off during the financial crisis in 2008, I attended an environmental breakfast where the debate of real versus fake Christmas trees came up," Chris explained. This discussion ignited a spark. He saw an opportunity not just to recycle trees but to rethink the entire process of how Christmas trees were sold and handled post-holiday.

The business started modestly but was driven by a clear mission—to provide a full-service, environmentally friendly solution to urban dwellers. "I just wanted to solve the problem. It bothered me that I had to throw my tree away," Chris emphasized.

City Tree offers a unique rental service that addresses the challenges of urban living. Customers can choose to rent a Christmas tree for the season, which the company delivers directly to their door, sets up, and later collects for recycling. This service revolutionizes the traditional Christmas tree shopping experience by removing the burdens of transport, setup, and disposal.

"Customers come online, pick the tree size, what accessories and options they want, and then at checkout, they'll pick a delivery date," Chris said, detailing the ease with which customers can navigate their service options. This hassle-free approach alleviates the typical stresses of transporting and setting up a tree and caters to the spatial and logistical constraints of city living.

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The service also extends beyond delivery. "Once the tree is delivered, we educate the customer on how to care for it and ensure it stays fresh throughout the season," Chris added. This educational component underscores City Tree's commitment to customer satisfaction and sustainability, enhancing the overall value of the service.

City Tree's focus on the customer experience is also at its heart.

"Our customers appreciate the simplicity of our online ordering system and the clarity of the delivery scheduling process," Chris said. This streamlined approach is designed to match the fast-paced lifestyle of City Tree's urban clientele, offering them a stress-free way to embrace the holiday spirit.

Reviewer Ojus P., a loyal customer, echoes this sentiment. "The communication and transparency of the delivery process have made us repeat customers," he said.

Ojus's experience highlights the effectiveness of City Tree's efforts to provide clear, consistent updates from order to delivery. His feedback confirms the importance of trust and reliability in the customer service experience, especially during the holiday season.

On top of service, sustainability is at the business's core. "We ensure that every part of the tree is used. From making wreaths and garland from the clippings to composting the cuttings, we aim for zero waste," Chris said. This approach aligns with a broader environmental consciousness that resonates strongly with their customer base in Chicago, a city that values sustainable practices.

Chris's efforts extend to educating customers about the benefits of real over artificial trees, helping them make more environmentally friendly choices during the holidays. "Real trees can be composted, which significantly reduces their environmental impact compared to artificial trees," he explained.

Chris sees his business as part of a larger effort to foster joy and convenience in urban living. "We're more than a Christmas tree delivery service—we're a part of holiday traditions that bring families and communities together," Chris said. This sense of community involvement is pivotal in City Tree's operations, driving them to engage more deeply with local initiatives and sustainability efforts.

Related: The Little Coffee Shop That Asks Customers Not to Be Quiet

Looking forward, Chris is optimistic about expanding City Tree's services. "We are exploring new ways to extend our offerings beyond the holiday season and considering how we can replicate our business model for other seasonal events," he said. This vision for growth is grounded in the same principles of quality service and environmental stewardship that have guided City Tree since the start.

"Every Christmas tree we deliver carries a bit of holiday spirit and a commitment to a greener tomorrow," Chris said, capturing the essence of City Tree Delivery's mission and impact.

City Tree Delivery relies on these principles for success:

  • Innovate for urban convenience. To address the unique challenges of urban customers, businesses can adapt their services or products for greater convenience. Offer scheduled delivery slots that can fit into the busy routines of city dwellers or develop compact designs to cater to smaller living spaces, for instance. Simple tech solutions like mobile apps for service bookings can also enhance accessibility and efficiency, making life easier for urban consumers.
  • Incorporate sustainability as a business strategy. Integrating sustainability into every aspect of operations demonstrates a strong commitment to environmentally conscious consumers and can set a business apart in a competitive market.
  • Enhance customer experience with technology. Utilizing technology to streamline ordering and delivery processes helps ensure a smooth customer journey from start to finish. Benefits include enhanced efficiency and customer satisfaction as well as improved service quality and operational effectiveness.
  • Provide responsive and proactive customer communication. Regular and clear communication with customers before, during, and after service delivery helps maintain high customer satisfaction. Adopting a proactive communication strategy can help businesses manage customer expectations effectively and improve overall service satisfaction.

Subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday. Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pandora and Soundcloud.

Editorial contributions by Charlotte Che and Kristi Lindahl

This article is part of our ongoing America's Favorite Mom & Pop Shops™ series highlighting family-owned and operated businesses.

Emily Washcovick

Small Business Expert at Yelp

As Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily is meticulously focused on helping local business owners succeed and grow. Her expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management, and all things digital marketing. Through speaking engagements and thought leadership, Emily shares industry insights that entrepreneurs in any business category can leverage for the growth and well-being of their businesses. She is also the host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media, where each episode features conversations with a business owner and a reviewer about the story and lessons behind their interactions.

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