For many years, Nancy Rosenthal would drive to Connecticut with her husband and three children from their Brooklyn home, wander through a field searching for the perfect tree, chop it down, lug their haul back to the second floor of their brownstone and, voilà, their Christmas tree was ready for trimming.
Now she just calls a local tree-delivery service, Tyler’s Trees, and it’s done by someone else, for not much more than the family spent on those trips.
“I would order my tree in July if I could,” said Rosenthal, adding that while those expeditions created warm family memories with her now-grown kids, she is “over the whole cutting routine. I’ll go with grandchildren to do that.”
Brian Millman (left) and Tyler Kupper (right), co-founders of New York City-based business Tyler's Trees, will select your Christmas tree for you and deliver it to right to your home.
One person’s fun family tradition is another person’s stressful holiday task. For those looking to have someone else handle the sometimes nerve-racking aspects of the holidays – finding a tree, sending out cards, shopping for gifts – there are many services ready to take care of everything for a fee.
Of course, outsourcing Christmas preparation is nothing new, as generations of 1 percenters can attest. But newer businesses are making the services available to a wider range of consumers and allowing more people to relax and enjoy the holiday season.
“Efficiency kind of rules,” said etiquette expert and TODAY contributor Harriette Cole. As long as the end result is not impersonal, Cole said, saving time and aggravation is a wonderful incentive for outsourcing.
Sending good tidings
For many who love written correspondence, the holiday card exchange is a welcome excuse to break out the finest pens and dash off a personal message. In the digital age, you can now do so online and make it look as if you sat down and wrote it.
Online greeting card company enGreet allows users to send paper cards containing generalized and personalized messages that look handwritten, right down to the addresses on the envelopes. Pay for postage and the service will mail it to your entire list as well, usually in less than 24 hours.
New Jersey-based enGreet allows customers to send paper greeting cards with personalized messages that appear to be handwritten, such as this Hanukkah card.
“This is a huge timesaver, as well as good for people who just want to use this type of technology but you don’t want it to look like it,” said spokeswoman Suzanne Haines.
The Edison, N.J.-based company, founded in 2010, charges by volume, with cards starting as high as $3.29 for one, down to pennies for a group of 1,000.
EnGreet sends cards for birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, though Haines said Christmas and Valentine’s Day are the busiest seasons. Haines believes the sincerity of written greetings remains intact, which is not always the case with electronic greeting cards.
“Honestly, my grandma doesn’t know my handwriting,” she said. “The truth of the matter is, handwritten is handwritten, and people will receive the paper card with the personalized message and personalized envelope that’s handwritten. There’s everything to gain with very little chance because it looks warm and fuzzy.”
Though some may balk at the idea, Cole agreed that the wishes will likely be well received.
“You always want to have a balance of technology and humanity,” she said. “As we look at the efficiency here, the humanity part is putting your heart and soul in it. You’ve really thought about who you’re sharing your love with.”
For those who just can’t stomach the crowds in stores, people who love retail therapy are ready to help. A company called Seek New York offers personal shopping services in the city’s five boroughs.
Customers can either provide a specific list of items to be purchased, have a personal shopper go to stores with them or have Seek New York come up with some ideas that the customers can find themselves, according to owner Rebecca Frey. Many of those contacting Seek New York for holiday help are men.
“Some guys want to be a part of it,” Frey said. “We’ll send a shopper with them for a second opinion, someone who knows where to go.”
Prices for services range from $35 an hour for online searches and idea generation to about $75 an hour for shoppers to actually purchase the gifts in stores. Frey said her crew often can come up with more unique ideas than a spouse.
“It depends a lot on the person and the person that they’re shopping for,” she said. “It makes it more personal in the sense that they’re getting something a little more unexpected. Maybe that guy is the guy who gets her a scarf every single year.”
Frey will be taking care of her own gift list herself.
“I will probably be one of those people that is shopping on Dec. 22,” she said. “I enjoy giving personal gifts and not giving the same thing that everybody else does. I will be doing my own shopping after I’m done with everybody else.”
Elyse Clark, owner of Personal Shopper Los Angeles, has been doing "bargain shopping" for customers this season.
“People still want to have lovely gifts during this economy, so I shop flash sales or on sites like Tradesy.com or eBay.com to find great items at a better price point,” she said.
Amy Woodall, a personal shopper in central Indiana, purchases any gifts but specializes in working with couples.
“Just tell a guy you’re going to get it and pick it out, he’ll say, ‘If you love it, she’ll love it,’ and they’re happy,” Woodall said. “What women want is to do something a little different than the traditional cologne.”
The service is $75 an hour. She consults with the couples to learn more about them before suggesting gifts, which are often photo-related like calendars or something personalized “for their eyes only."
“Guys are visual creatures,” she said, “and they also are utilitarian.”
O Christmas Tree
A Fresh Direct-type service for Christmas trees instead of groceries, New York City-based Tyler’s Trees allows customers to order a tree and all of its extras and have it delivered often within hours.
Co-founder Brian Millman said the service helps the problem typical city-dwellers face when getting a tree, such as “traffic on the sidewalks while taking a 70-pound Christmas tree two avenues down, three blocks up, and up a couple flights of stairs.”
Services will not only select your tree but also will decorate it like this tree put together by Tyler's Trees.
Co-founder Tyler Kupper said the Fraser firs were cut two weeks ago in North Carolina. Tyler’s Trees provides the tree, a tree stand, a tree skirt, delivery and set-up. Don’t want to decorate it yourself? They also will return a few days later when the branches have settled to decorate the tree, with three design themes available – Classic Christmas, Winter Wonderland and Gold and Glamorous.
Though they have full-time jobs in sports marketing, Kupper and Millman spend their weekends delivering trees themselves. Cost varies from $139 for a bare 5-foot tree to a 9-foot “Rockefeller” version at $359. Decorations run $129 for a small tree to $199 for the largest version.
Tyler’s Trees works with the New York Restoration Project, donating 30 trees for every tree the group plants in the five boroughs. It also collects used Christmas trees to turn them into mulch.
Paul Hatch of Manhattan recently surprised a friend who was traveling by ordering a tree and having it set up before his return. Hatch spent about $200, which included the tree delivery and set-up, two sets of lights and a wreath.
He planned to have one delivered – and decorated – for himself.
“I’d love to have somebody else do it,” said Hatch. "Trimming the tree isn’t quite the thing that it used to be.
“There’s a huge convenience factor if you live in the city. Convenience is the difference between quality of life and not having time to do things with family and friends. This is gonna be my new party favor for people.”
TODAY's Professionals – Star Jones, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, and Donny Deutsch – chat about the hot topics of the day, including the new trend of hiring someone else to shop for gifts or put up Christmas lights when you're just too busy to do it yourself.
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