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.

Find more about me on:

Here are my most recent posts

Author Archives: Thomas Harman

About Thomas Harman

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.

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Our Delightful Castle Peak Pine

Share Button

It’s our busy time of year, and as we prepare for our peak season, it can be easy to forget why we do what we do. In the midst of all the busy-ness, I had a truly refreshing experience yesterday.

A media publication contacted us and asked if they could run a story about Balsam Hill, to which we happily obliged. They asked to do a photo shoot with me and one of our trees in a home setting, and since we are so busy, I asked a friend to set up and decorate a tree for the photo shoot. I arrived after all the decorating was done, and found a gorgeously decorated Castle Peak Pine awaiting.

Castle Peak Pine from Balsam Hill

Balsam Hill’s Castle Peak Pine features 100% True Needle™ tips for exceptional realism.

My friend and her daughter were beaming, they were so thrilled with how great the tree looked. It was the first time they’d set up a Balsam Hill tree, and they bashfully admitted to me that they had always had fresh Christmas trees, but after setting up the Castle Peak Pine, they were pretty much convinced to buy a Balsam Hill tree. Read This Entry

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Balsam Hill Christmas Tree Inspirations: The Shasta Fir

Share Button
Mount Shasta

The beauty and majesty of Mount Shasta. Photo from Summitpost.org

Mt. Shasta is simply awe inspiring. Standing at 14,163 feet, it is the largest Cascade Range volcano by volume. It is a beautiful mountain and one that, in my opinion, deserves to have a gorgeous Balsam Hill Christmas tree named after it.

For years, we’ve received feedback from our customers saying they absolutely love our BH Noble Fir for its beautiful shape and sturdy upward sloping needles. However, some of them also wished the foliage were a color other than the classic silver-green of the Noble Fir. This prompted me to look into other possible foliage colors for this popular Christmas tree.

In my research of Christmas tree lots on the Pacific Coast, I found that most of the Noble Firs sold in the region had the same classic silver-green color, but that a few of them would have greener foliage.
Read This Entry

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Balsam Hill Special Feature: An Interview with Flip Tree Inventor Bruce Schooley

Share Button

When I first started Balsam Hill, my goal was to provide homeowners with premium quality artificial Christmas trees unlike anything they had ever seen before. I wanted to create a collection of trees that capture the beauty and elegance of nature but without sacrificing the convenience of an easy-to-install design.

With modern innovations, such as our signature True Needle™ foliage and Easy Plug™ technology, we have been able to do just that. And now, with the introduction of the Flip™technology, we have taken the next step to making our Balsam Hill Christmas trees the best in form and function.

I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Bruce Schooley, inventor of the Flip Tree™. A long-time innovator of artificial Christmas tree designs, Bruce brings his state-of-the-art creation to our premium evergreens. We’re extremely excited to be working with him to bring Flip Tree to Balsam Hill.

Read This Entry

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Why Choose Balsam Hill vs Tree Classics

Share Button

Choosing a Christmas tree is one of the most important events of the holiday season, and even more so when it comes to artificial Christmas trees, as they are typically purchased online with only photos, descriptions, and testimonials as a guide. At Balsam Hill, we are exceptionally confident about our unparalleled quality, exquisite realism, and superlative customer service. However, we know that you are faced with many options when it comes to deciding on the perfect tree for you. In that light, we would like to offer you some information about Balsam Hill vs. Tree Classics, one of our top competitors, so that you are equipped with all the information you need to make the best purchase possible.

Company Focus

Founded in 1976, Tree Classics boasts over 30 years of experience in artificial Christmas tree manufacturing. Their design, merchandising, and production of pre-lit artificial Christmas trees and related holiday décor makes them a leader in the industry, and they have a large customer base to prove it.

Balsam Hill, on the other hand, is more of a specialty boutique. We are not just known for top quality and realism, but also for our ability to take our products to a superior level that is simply unmatched by our competitors. We deliver more than just a great tree – we provide customers with the best products and service on the market.

Read This Entry

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Why Choose Balsam Hill vs Frontgate

Share Button

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.

Read This Entry

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Our Delightful Castle Peak Pine

Share Button

Our Balsam Hill Castle Peak Pine Tree

It’s our busy time of year, and as we prepare for our peak season, it can be easy to forget why we do what we do.  In the midst of all the busy-ness, I had a truly refreshing experience yesterday.

A media publication contacted us and asked if they could run a story about Balsam Hill, to which we happily obliged.  They asked to do a photo shoot with me and one of our trees in a home setting, and since we are so busy, I asked a friend to set up and decorate a tree for the photo shoot.  I arrived after all the decorating was done, and found a gorgeously decorated Castle Peak Pine awaiting.

My friend and her daughter were beaming, they were so thrilled with how great the tree looked.  It was the first time they’d set up a Balsam Hill tree, and they bashfully admitted to me that they had always had fresh Christmas trees, but after setting up the Castle Peak Pine, they were pretty much convinced to buy a Balsam Hill tree.

Yet the real surprise for me was just remembering how beautiful the Castle Peak Pine really is.  In all honesty, I don’t think I had ever fully appreciated its beauty.  It’s not like I hadn’t seen it before, I designed it and in fact had been working on it for over two years.  But most of the time, I have seen it in our R&D facility, without decorations, and without the charm and comfort of seeing it in a warm, inviting home.

The Castle Peak Pine is one that took a long time to develop: I wanted to introduce a tree similar to our Aspen Silver Fir, one that was all True Needle, and that had quite a bit of space in between each branch.  This allows for an open look and also for ornaments (especially larger ones) to be beautifully displayed.  However, in contrast to the Aspen Silver Fir, I wanted to have a tree that had a warmer color palette as well as spruce needle tips instead of fir.

While my favorite trees are ones that exactly mimic nature (such as our BH Noble Fir or BH Fraser Fir), there are only so many natural tree species that make great Christmas trees, so we also design trees that are guided by nature, such as this one.

Inspired by the Engelmann Spruce and other beautiful conifers around Colorado Springs, Castle Pines, and other communities in the Eastern foothills of the Colorado Rockies, our team set out to develop this beautiful tree.  For the first year of development, we code named it the Nebraska Pine.  (I’m not sure why, but it was memorable…in part because we kept coming back to make minor tweaks this tree.)  Call me picky, but it took a long time until we had the tree just right.

The challenge with an open tree like the Castle Peak Pine is that it needs to have enough branch density so that the light strings are concealed, but not too much density that all the nooks and crannies that are so naturally great for ornaments get filled in.  And of course, the tree needs a realistic faux trunk since there is not a dense inner thicket of branches to cover up the tree’s center pole like many of our trees.

After many iterations, our team perfected the Castle Peak Pine and we achieved what I think is the perfect balance of needle tips; needle shape; needle, stem, and bark color; a gorgeous tree shape; and the right amount of lights.   Ultimately we decided to introduce the Castle Peak Pine with our Candlelight TM LEDs – their warm glow accentuates the gentle, warm colors of this tree beautifully.

Back to the present – walking into this photo shoot I was just astounded with the beauty of the Castle Peak Pine.  It looked so real, so natural…the handmade branches had been fluffed perfectly so that it looked just like a farm grown Christmas tree with natural variances in how each branch tip fell.  It was so stunning that I surprised myself!

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Unprecedented

Share Button

Over the past week, we’ve had unprecedented interest in Balsam Hill.  Whether it is from being in a very nice article this past Sunday in the New York Times, being on Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Holiday Things, or other reasons, we’ve never had so much interest in our artificial Christmas trees in such a short period of time.

We are grateful for this overwhelming interest; however, due to this tremendous interest, we are not able to pick up the phones or return emails as expediently as we desire.  To our customers and potential customers, please know that all of us at Balsam Hill are working overtime and as fast as we can to get back to you and serve you.  For those of you calling us, thank you for your patience.  For those of you emailing us, please know that we will get back to you as soon as possible.  Thank you for your patience and thank you for your interest in Balsam Hill.

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Happy Thanksgiving!

Share Button

One of the many things for which I’m thankful is our fabulous team here at Balsam Hill.  It is a pleasure and honor to work with such dedicated and talented colleagues.  This time of year, we are all exceptionally busy doing our very best to serve all of you, our customers.  This holiday weekend is a time to give thanks and to celebrate with family.  In the world of Christmas trees, it’s also our time to shine as it is the peak of the Christmas tree season.  We will be working through the holiday weekend to serve you – so from our Balsam Hill family to your family, Happy Thanksgiving.

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

The More Things Change, The More They Look the Same

Share Button

I’ve been travelling to China for many years now, and I’m always amazed each time how much has changed in just a few months.  When I arrived this time, four apartment towers sprung up near our factory, each at least 20 stories tall (and growing…they are still building up).  When I first arrived years ago, there was no highway and the road was half dirt and half cement.  Today, there’s a four lane highway and the roads are beautifully paved with nice curbs and street markings.

Even just a few years ago, there were few stoplights and no one paid attention to them anyway (the saying goes that street markings and stoplights in China are “for reference only.”)  Today, there are fancy LED stoplights with timers that count down how many seconds until the light turns green (we should get those in the USA, it’s genius) and frankly the roads look nearly identical to ours as in China you also drive on the right side of the road.  I have to admit that the stoplights do seem to still be “for reference only” when the roads are not crowded, but they seem to be followed 90% of the time.

What really got me this time was that I noticed that there is now a second 24 hour McDonald’s that is within two blocks of my hotel.  I knew about the first 24 hour McDonald’s (and the nearby Starbucks), but I didn’t realize that there was a second one literally two blocks away.  On top of that, Wal-Mart is opening a location on the same block.

It is amazing as the world gets smaller.  I just hope that as stores and brands globalize that we will still have vibrant local and regional cultures.  Life would be boring if everything is the same!  If everyone drove the same car, ate in the same restaurant, wore the same clothes, listened to the same music, had the same artificial Christmas tree, it just wouldn’t be that interesting.

Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Kit Kats and Snack Mix

Share Button

Thanksgiving is just around the corner (mmm…pumpkin pie!), which means it is already time to design new Christmas trees for next year! To my knowledge, we are now one of just two Christmas tree companies who designs and manufactures our own trees (everyone else buys their trees through wholesale brokers).  Designing and producing our own trees is a huge undertaking, but one we feel is well worth it to ensure that we bring the highest quality, most realistic artificial Christmas trees to our customers.

Although it is a long trip, I always enjoy travelling to our factory in China to present our latest designs and to review new product samples.  Whenever I meet with our team in China, I always bring them something from the US.  Often, we exchange favorite foods.  Since it is cool this time of year, it’s a great time to bring chocolates without worrying about them melting along the way.  I had some extra space in my luggage this trip so I brought a giant six pound variety pack of favorite Mars, Inc. chocolates: M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, Reese’s, Twix, Snickers, Kit Kat, Milky Way, and Almond Joy.

Earlier this week I brought out the massive bag and there were smiles all around.  We had a great time discussing the pros and cons of each candy bar.  Some were familiar – M&Ms and Snickers are quite common in the stores around our factory (to my palate a Chinese Snickers bar tastes exactly the same as it does in California).  I shared my favorites (Kit Kat) and my least favorite (Milky Way).  Next time, maybe I’ll have to bring both Mounds and Almond Joy and sing the song (provided no one has a  video camera to capture it…)

In return, we snacked on a snack mix from one of my colleague’s hometowns in Sichuan Province.  It was a combination of candied popcorn, peas (similar to wasabi peas without the wasabi), and dried sliced fruit (we still haven’t figured out what the English name is for the fruit).  Delicious!  I can’t wait to see what we’ll decide to share with each other on my next trip!