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

Why Choose Balsam Hill vs Tree Classics

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.

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Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Why Choose Balsam Hill vs Frontgate

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.

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Thomas Harman | CEO of Balsam Hill

Our Delightful Castle Peak Pine

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

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.