The Holiday Season is a time for family gatherings, time off of work and school, and hopefully a beautiful (but not dangerous) dusting of snow. As we all know, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or another winter tradition, the holidays are also a time to exchange presents with those you love the most. While most people are focusing on wrapping their gifts and placing them under the tree with care, those of us in the logistics game know that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes this time of year. The holidays bring a huge boom to the shipping industry, significantly increasing the number of imports and exports and inundating both manufacturers and retailers with seasonal business.
Toys, toys, and more toys
In 2012 the U.S. imported more than $9 billion worth of toys from its leading trade partner, China. These shipments included roller skates, ice skates, basketballs, and the biggest seller of all – athletic footwear. Trailing far behind China but still prominent enough to deserve honorable mentions, both Thailand and Canada also contribute to the United States’ annual stockpile of games and other playthings.
As Christmas approaches, businesses around the nation feel the pressure and anyone who has ever worked seasonal retail can attest to the extra manpower needed in December. But the industry that perhaps feels the effect of the holidays the most is the United States Postal Service. In 2014 the USPS expects to deliver between 450 and 470 million packages in the six weeks before Christmas. That’s a 12% increase over 2013, and doesn’t even include the shipments handled by UPS and FedEx!
Christmas trees provide serious boost to agriculture and shipping
Hanukkah and Christmas presents aren’t the only factor in logistics this time of year, either. Although many people don’t realize the effort required to make sure their homes are decorated with beautiful Christmas trees, in most years, 45 or more states contribute to the production of healthy Spruce, Fir, and Pine trees. The heavy hitters in the industry are Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, which together represent a virtual monopoly on the Christmas tree market, producing 75% of the trees sold each year. Altogether, it takes more than 12,000 farms to grow the whopping 17 million live trees that will end up in families’ homes each Holiday Season!
Christmas trees aren’t just a domestic business, either. As a country we scramble to import nearly 2 million additional trees each Christmas, more than 99% of which come from our Canadian friends to the north. Only a very small minority comes from elsewhere in the world – mainly Italy, Colombia, and Mali.
Artificial trees trending upward
Unfortunately for the tree farmers, more and more American families nowadays are making the switch from real Christmas trees to artificial Christmas trees. Over the last 50 years or so, the market share for fresh trees has declined by about 6%. This doesn’t seem very significant at first, but it has opened the door for artificial tree manufacturers, who have seen the demand for their products grow by a surprising 655% over the same time period.
Just like with our toys, we get most of our artificial trees from China. This year we have already spent nearly $138 million on wooden, PVC, aluminum, plastic, and tinsel trees from our Eastern trade partner. This amount has increased steadily for years – as recently as 2011, we only spent about $80 million on artificial trees.
Spread the joy near and far
Lastly, we can’t forget about what goes on Christmas trees – ornaments! To ensure that you have only the best and the sparkliest decorations with which to adorn your tree, American retailers import a crazy number of ornaments each year from (you guessed it) China. For the past three years we as a country have spent an amazing $1 billion annually to bring in little reindeers, Santas, candy canes, and colorful bulbs from China to ensure that your tree looks spectacular.
So while you’re gathered around the fire with friends and family, sipping hot chocolate and sharing embarrassing stories of one another, remember that our penchant for celebrating the holidays in style actually has a global impact. We contribute billions of dollars to the global economy and bring jobs to thousands. We also probably seriously stress out everyone in the retail and shipping industry, so try to be nice to the cashiers in your favorite stores, and make sure to tip your postal workers!
Happy Holidays, everyone!