During the week, you can find Steve Kozachyn who is the Rohrer College of Business Director of Experiential Learning in the Business Hall, teaching classes but when the weekend comes, you can find him just a few miles down the road where he owns and operates Kozy Acres Christmas Tree Farm with his family.
Kozachyn spent much of his career inventing and designing toys for companies including Mattel and Tyco, but now he spends his holiday season being the one selling the trees that the children’s toys go underneath. Kozy Acres opens its Christmas Tree business on Black Friday and sells trees from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday until the week before Christmas. Each tree is sold at a flat rate of $60 per tree, which also includes a free hayride, hot chocolate, coffee, pastries, and family photos.
In the Summer and Spring the farm is home to an apiary where bees are kept and honey can be harvested twice a year. There are several boxes of bee hives which are kept near some of the trees, where the bees swarm together in clusters, moving in a folding motion to keep each other warm enough to survive the winter months.
There’s a wide variety of trees for sale at the farm, including Douglas Firs, Blue Spruces, Norway Spruces and Concolor Firs– a native tree to the Colorado region which is able to grow well in this area of Gloucester County due to the soil. There are also Turkish Firs, Canaan Firs and Balsam Firs that are planted but not ready for sale yet. The Balsam Firs will be planted for tree sales, but also with the hopes of making more wreaths to sell at the farm.
Owning a Christmas tree farm has its obstacles though, as trees don’t grow overnight. When the farm first started, Kozachyn had to have patience while he waited years for the trees to grow and had hope that the investment would pay off.
“For the first 5, 6 ,7 years…we lost money on the farm. Because farming probably for 10 years, and we were buying trees we weren’t selling,” said Steve Kozachyn. “So we lost a lot of money on the company, it was an investment.”
It’s also a risk when sales are higher than usual. During the pandemic, Steve Kozachyn mentioned that sales were much higher than in years past, making 260% in profit, which was good for business but also meant that the farm needed to plant more trees, which take years to grow back. Christmas trees can take on average 7 years to grow to be 6-7 feet, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
The price of the trees is kept at a flat rate, in order to ensure that the Kozy Acres customer’s experience is put above making a profit. $60 per tree is less than some other farms in New Jersey have been charging. According to an article published in 2022 on NJ.com, there were trees that were going for as much as $14 a foot, or $112 for an 8-foot tree.
“I think too much focus is spent on profit and not on the customer. And when you do that, you focus on the profit, you make bad decisions. So I don’t focus on the profit, I focus on the customer’s experience,” said Steve Kozachyn.
Kozy Acres doesn’t do a lot of marketing in terms of social media, commercials, or advertising. Much of it is word of mouth, a Facebook page and a culture of regular customers who come back each year for the environment, the family and the experience.
“I just like the environment and like how it’s run by their family and they’re always very nice and helpful,” said Taylor Turner, a customer from Williamstown who’s been bringing her family to Kozy Acres for four years.
The Turner family is not the only one who has been repeat customers. There are several families who come back year after year to pick out their trees.
“It’s like we get a big hug when we get here…it’s just it’s not a question. We can’t wait to get here,” said Scott Werkheiser, a customer who’s been bringing his family and dogs to the farm since its first years in business.
The whole Kozachyn family works on the farm, driving the customers on the hayride, tagging trees, and cutting them down. They also sell honey, handmade soaps and lotion which are made by Steve’s wife, Lisa Kozachyn with the honey harvested at the farm. There are also ornaments and wreaths that are available for purchase as well. These items are sold at the farm, in addition to pop up festivals and markets throughout the year.
“This is the best part of our holiday, watching these families come out and have fun to be together… it’s hard now in the society we live in with people to have fun, be together and just do family things without being on electronics,” said Lisa Kozachyn. “Whatever is happening out there in the world, you can come out here and be in our little world.”
Regardless of the money or the supply and demand, Steve Kozachyn emphasized that the experience of the families is the component that keeps the business going. The flat rates and extra goodies are also there with the holiday spirit in mind, not wanting to “nickel and dime” people during a season where people are spending lots of money on gifts for their loved ones. Their tree-buying experience is designed with memories as the main goal– not necessarily the money.
“This is what the kids are gonna remember when they grow up, you know, 20 years from now. ‘Do you remember us going to the farm?’ They won’t remember the name of the farm…they won’t remember but the fact that they have a great memory, they can forget about life for a while,” said Steve Kozachyn.
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