Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Why Choose Balsam Hill vs Frontgate

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A message from our founder:

This time of year, we often field inquiries from prospective customers that go something like this:

“I want to buy a realistic, high quality artificial Christmas tree. I’ve done my research, and I’m deciding between Balsam Hill or Frontgate. Is there a big difference?”

The short answer: YES!

Now, before I get into this topic, let me say that I think Frontgate is a great company, and that I’m personally a very happy Frontgate customer. If you haven’t tried their bath towels, I highly recommend them – they are terrific quality and very reasonably priced. I use mine daily.

This being said, when it comes to artificial Christmas trees, there is a huge difference between Frontgate vs. Balsam Hill. Here are some of the things you may want to consider:

Company Focus

Frontgate is a very large, well-known catalog retailer. You probably receive their catalogs (they will mail 83 million this year) and see them in SkyMall when you fly. They sell thousands of different product categories in the home décor and outdoor markets, and are owned by Cornerstone, a subsidiary of HSN (Home Shopping Network). Altogether, the company is a $3 billion dollar enterprise.

Balsam Hill, on the other hand, is a privately owned, much smaller company. While we may sell more Christmas trees than Frontgate, we do not have the benefit of having as large an audience. On the positive side, we are focused on our goal to design, manufacture, and sell the highest quality, most realistic artificial Christmas trees available in the world.

Design Detail

Each of our Balsam Hill Christmas trees is conceived by our internal team in California, designed by our designers, and prototyped in our R&D center in China before they are made by hand in China. I still serve as our lead Christmas tree designer, and I have personally been involved with the design of each and every Christmas tree that we’ve developed since I founded the company in 2006. In most cases, I review 3-8 iterations of a new tree from our R&D team before deciding whether it meets our standards and should go on to production. Over the next three months, I personally will make three separate trips to China to meet with our R&D team and to iterate the design details of our new products for next season.  What this means for our customers is that they get the best trees available. Our products have been scrutinized and designed with great attention to detail, which is something that we can afford to do as a specialty retailer.

In contrast, Frontgate purchases their trees from importers who are middlemen between Frontgate and factories in China. One of Frontage’s holiday foliage buyers meets with brokers to select the trees for that season. Likely, they will ask for a few design changes as part of issuing a purchase order and then move on to the next product category. Some years Frontgate will advertise the tree as “Frontgate Exclusive,” which means that they are the only retailer selling that particular tree purchased from a broker. However, with something as complex as mimicking nature in the form of a Christmas tree, it’s difficult to do it well for each product when a limited set of buyers is selecting thousands of products to retail.

Branch Quality

Our True Needle branches are simply unmatched in quality. The main reason is that it’s actually quite difficult to consistently produce high quality polyethylene (PE) branch tips at scale.

Competitors’ tips generally fall short in 3 areas:

  1. The quality of the molds is not as high, so the detail in the branches is not as realistic
  2. The quality of the hand-painting of the tips is not high (or they aren’t painted at all)
  3. Needle tips are not strongly defined – there are thin sheets of trailing plastic between needles

On this third point – you’ll rarely see this in a product photo, and you’ll never see it in an inset close-up photo of the tips. The photographer will always select one of the good tips for the close-up photo.  However, when we examine our competitors’ trees, this is always the single biggest issue we see between the advertised product and the actual product.

Photography

Our focus has always been on taking very high quality, high resolution photos of our products. We know that it can be a leap of faith to purchase a high-end Christmas tree online without seeing it first. So, in addition to offering our branch sample kit, we invest in photos that allow our customers to zoom in and see our trees in tremendous detail. It’s impossible for us to hide any imperfections in the branch tips, the quantity of the tips, or any other things about our trees – they are there for your examination, “naked” without ornaments or other decorations to take your eyes away from the quality of the underlying product.

On the other hand, Frontgate is amazing at taking what we call “in-home” product shots. They beautifully style rooms using their many products, and they produce absolutely gorgeous catalogs with amazing imagery. We do some of this, but to their credit, they do a lot more of it and they do it very well.

Customer Service & Warranty

At Balsam Hill, customer satisfaction is our top priority, and we always strive toward exceptional service. We encourage customers to contact us for advice or to voice concerns regarding either their prospective or completed purchases. Our customer care center is currently open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 11:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am to 7:00pm (Eastern Standard Time), and we are also available through email. We look forward to hearing from you.

Our website offers a comprehensive package of useful customer resources, including a buyer’s guide and information about products, policies, order status, creating an account, domestic and international shipping, and pricing and billing. We like to foster the kind of accessibility and transparency that makes the Balsam Hill experience seamless and superb.

Perhaps the single biggest factor that conveys our confidence in our Balsam Hill artificial Christmas trees, and perhaps highlights the difference between our trees and Frontgate’s, is our respective warranties. Frontgate offers a 1-year guarantee on their products. Our minimum warranty is three times as long.

Little Details

Here are some of the “little details” about our trees that you may consider:

  • We offer a huge variety of trees mimicking natural tree species from around the country
  • We continue most of our products year-after-year, so you typically can buy a matching wreath or garland years later
  • We design our trees for quick and easy set up
  • We always offer free shipping on our trees (if you do buy from Frontgate, wait for a free shipping promotion!)
  • We do not sell or include pull-up style tree bags because we’ve found they damage the trees over time by dislodging light strands and breaking off branch tips

Summary

The final judge of our respective products is the customer – only you can decide which artificial Christmas tree is right for you. Hopefully, this article highlights some of the key differences between Balsam Hill and Frontgate. Regardless of which option you choose, I wish you and your family a very merry and joyous Christmas, and a happy and peaceful New Year!

– Thomas Harman, Founder & CEO

About 

Thomas is as an operator and investor in consumer brands and consumer Internet companies. Since founding ecommerce retailer Balsam Hill, Thomas has launched several other national brands under the Balsam Brands umbrella including pool retailer Backyard Ocean. Prior to founding Balsam Brands, Thomas ran a contract manufacturing company, worked in consumer products marketing, business development, and as a management consultant.

About the Author
Thomas is as an operator and investor in consumer brands and consumer Internet companies. Since founding ecommerce retailer Balsam Hill, Thomas has launched several other national brands under the Balsam Brands umbrella including pool retailer Backyard Ocean. Prior to founding Balsam Brands, Thomas ran a contract manufacturing company, worked in consumer products marketing, business development, and as a management consultant.
  • BalsamHill

    Hi Barb,

    Sorry for the lateness of our reply. We currently only sell our trees in a brick and mortar location in California, but do let us know if we can help you with any of your holiday decorating decisions this year!

    Thanks,
    The Balsam Hill Team

  • cguchek

    I’d like to find this brand in a retail store in Central NJ. Is there is a list of retailers?

  • BalsamHill

    Hi,

    Thanks for stopping by the blog! Currently, our trees can only be purchased online or via our showroom in Burlingame, California.

    If we can help you with any of your holiday decorating plans, please let us know!

    Best,
    The Balsam Hill Team

  • Clay

    We bought a Christmas tree on there clearance sale last year and it looked great when we got it up, until we plugged it in. At least 10 to 15 lights had been broken in shipment, one of which was the master light, which made 3 branches go out. When we contacted Balsam Hill to get it fixed they told us we restring the bottom 1/3 of the tree or purchase a new bottom for $150. Not what we expected from them, we will not buy another tree from them.

  • Tricia Moran

    I am looking for a non-toxic tree and non-toxic lights. Is there any PVC or lead in your trees or lights?
    Thank you very much.

  • Mary

    Is there arsenic or others preservatives in the trees?

  • Peter and Claudia Villani

    Looking for a truly “real” Christmas tree, have never had an artificial one before.

  • Balsam Hill

    Hi Tricia and Mary,

    Our trees are made from standard PVC and PE plastics that do not contain arsenic or formaldehyde and are phthalate free. We take great care to make our trees as non-toxic and hypo-allergenic as possible and meet the requirements of all compliance agencies.

    As for the lights, While all Christmas lights contain trace amounts of lead, Balsam Hill uses the least amount possible and the combined amount falls well below the regulation standards for notification under Prop 65.

    We hope this was helpful. Please let us know if you have any other questions!