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TREE BUSINESS KEEPS OWNER ON NEEDLES

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Compared with previous years, 1994 hasn't been a good Christmas tree year along the Wasatch Front for Allied Advantage, formerly Allied Development Co., according to president Mark McGillis.

More competition and some large companies like Home Depot (which this week began giving its trees away) and PayLess Drug Stores getting into the tree business are cited as the reason for the decline. He believes that because some companies don't know much about the Christmas tree business (Allied has 36 years of experience), they may think twice about selling trees next year.It was McGillis's first exposure to the Christmas tree business, although he purchased Allied (and changed the name) four years ago. The former owners had wanted to retain the Christmas tree portion of the business, but they sold that to McGillis in September.

Allied handles upwards of 50,000 trees on 50 lots located between north Ogden and south Provo. Each lot is cared for by a person or family staying in a trailer at the lot, which allows for personal service in selecting a tree. McGillis said the personal service is different from some companies who lean the trees against a wall and expect customers to pick their own.

In addition to Christmas tree lots established in parking lots and empty fields, Allied leases parking lots from Salt Lake County.

Allied purchases its Grand and Noble fir trees and Scotch pine trees from Oregon. It also buys some "wild" trees from Montana. A wild tree is one that hasn't been fertilized or trimmed. Most of the trees from Montana are called "tabletops," meaning they are small enough for tables in apartments.

Every year, nurseries in Oregon plant new trees to replace the ones cut. During the seven-year growth period, the trees are fertilized, watered and trimmed. After they are cut, they are bundled, put into piles and lifted by helicopter onto trucks for shipment to dealers like Allied.

Once in Utah, holes are drilled into the trunks so they can be mounted on stands. Sometimes, branches or tops need trimming. In addition to the trees, Allied sells stands, boughs, wreaths, fire retardant, firewood and a spray that keeps the trees green.

If a tree dries out too quickly, Allied will give the customer a new one. To retard drying, McGillis suggests watering the tree daily with hot water.

After Christmas, the lot operator must clear the lot of trees and clean it up. The unsold trees are "chipped" and the chips donated to various institutions for landscaping.

McGillis said the Christmas tree business is a difficult one because it lasts only 25 days in December and the grower, distributor and lot operator all must make a profit.