'Tis the season for Christmas tree tents.
They'll show up in parking lots of retail stores, near intersections, or maybe the trees will just lean against the concrete of a grocery store to avoid the still-hot Florida sun.
However, Mike and Cathy Roberts strive for something different.
Now in its 16th season, Mike's Christmas Trees has thrived in Tampa Bay. Since setting up their first tent in 2000, the Roberts family has grown its business to five locations in Tampa Bay — Riverview, Gibsonton, New Port Richey, Lutz and New Tampa.
In an industry where many "grower direct" tree tents come and go, they credit their success to their research and selection when it comes to tree farming.
"We look for the shape, the contour and uniformity," said co-owner Mike Roberts. "We only end up bringing down the top 2 percent of what we have to bring to the five locations.
"There's a lot that goes into learning the chemicals needed to kill bugs and how to grow certain types of trees, just like animal farming."
For them, 16 years of competing against artificial trees and keeping customers hasn't been a difficult task.
"People come back and tell us, 'You're our family tradition,' and we tell them, 'Guess what, you're our family tradition, and this is what we do for Christmas,'" co-owner Cathy Roberts said. "The people that chose our trees are getting quality to the point where they don't even think about a fake tree that will end up in a landfill. You just have to find a tree that's been properly taken care of."
With such longevity, comes some wisdom when it comes to picking the perfect Christmas tree. Mike and Cathy Roberts say it all comes down to how the tree has been cared for and personal preference.
"As far as picking a tree, you just need to make sure it's been kept in water and shade and that it doesn't shed a lot," Mike Roberts said. "All trees will shed a little bit, but you can tell by pulling on a branch."
The couple says they have a tree for everyone in their supply of seven different species, and there is no shortage of people coming to find a specific tree.
"We try to bring something down for everybody, whether it's the big traditional types or the fat little Hershey-Kiss types of trees, or even the big linear, majestic European types that ornament collectors tend to look for," Cathy Roberts said.
This year's trendy tree is the Fraser fir.
Soon, the couple will return to Michigan to work on next years' supply of trees, but not without first acknowledging that they might have tree sap coursing through their veins.
"Well, I don't know about my veins but it sure does cover my arms by the end of the day," Cathy Roberts said.
Contact Kelsey Sunderland at firstname.lastname@example.org.