With roots planted deep in Northeast Wisconsin and visions of “branch” expansion, recent Business Administration graduate and Christmas tree grower Skyla Aissen has her work gloves on and is ready for the future.
Her Grandma Lean imparted this piece of wisdom on Skyla long ago, “24 hours is a lot of time in a day to get things done.
Suffice to say that Skyla is one to take wisdom from her elders to heart. The 21-year old graduated from UW-Green Bay with honors in December 2018. Remarkably, she earned her Business Administration degree (Marketing and Management emphases) in 3 ½ years, despite having a near-full-time job, running two businesses and managing property that she purchased herself.
And she made it through debt free. See the feature by WBAY-TV.
Four generations of business acumen
Aissen is now among the fourth generation of Christmas tree growers in her family, following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, founder of Hess & Sons Tree Farm in Wisconsin Rapids; her grandfather, who ran a wholesale business in Rapids; and her parents, Tammy Hess and Jeff Aissen, who moved to Northeast Wisconsin to start a retail lot for 11 years, before moving and opening the Aissen Tree Farm in Kewaunee County, in 2000.
If you think of a tree-farm as a seasonal operation, think again. With the Christmas season now in the rear-view mirror, the Aissens turn their attention to post-holiday inventory and taking their 2,000 sq. ft. gift shop, with more than 7,000 ornaments and other gifts, completely apart.
In January, Skyla travels with family members to Atlanta to attend a wholesale mart and shop for next year. Upon return, they work on planning, preparation and cutting firewood that heats the house and two shops. In spring they plant 5,000 trees by hand, followed by fertilizing, removing previous stumps, fixing ruts, weed control, mowing on 55 patches. In summer they shear 50,000 trees and collect pine cones for wreaths. It’s not uncommon for them to walk more than 15 miles a day, working on the farm.
“It’s a 24/7, 365-days-a-year job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said the new UW-Green Bay alumna and entrepreneur.
A nine-year-old entrepreneur
Skyla was only nine years old when she started a side business on the farm, creating “kissing balls” — supersized mistletoe — that have become increasingly popular as household Christmas-decorating staples. That first year, she sold 45 balls. Now, 12 years later, she is up to 375. This side business paid for her entire college, “fully and completely.”
Her second business within the business, now shared with her fiancé’ Nathan Vanderbloemen, is tree coloring. “We found it is cheaper and less messy for customers if we do it.” Growing exponentially, her first 50 trees were a sellout, and 75 colored trees in 2018 sold out as well.
Although Aissen’s sharp business acumen is homegrown, she was determined to be completely prepared for her future by earning a bachelor’s degree through UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin School of Business. She crossed the Weidner stage in December with diploma in hand and no regrets.
“I wanted to obtain my bachelor’s degree to enhance our marketing and management skills on the farm,” she said. “I knew it was important for me to obtain a degree because owning a tree farm is a high risk. Knowing these risks, I realized that I needed a backup plan in case of a natural disaster or health complications as life can be very unpredictable and it is always good to be prepared.”
Business degree gave her a balanced perspective
Through the Business Administration program, she said the most valuable attribute she learned was the ability to “think through and solve problems.” “It has also taught me better time-management skills and how to manage money. From paying for school to paying for all overhead costs, employees, insurance, mortgage payments, taxes, monthly fees and maintenance costs on the new property, I have learned how to properly keep records and manage all of my finances successfully.”
The ace student (3.9 GPA) and Luxemburg-Casco High School 2015 graduate is pleased to be a poster child for graduating from college debt free.
“If you work hard, you can graduate early with no debt, it just takes dedication and time management skills,” she advises. “It is also important not to spend so much time on social media or on mobile devices. Even though it may seem stressful, it is important to push through, and you will eventually reap the rewards.”
The proud alumnus will now turn her complete attention to her business prospects — the family-owned farm with 50,000 trees and the 7.5-acre property right across the road, purchased entirely by Skyla on her own.
“The property is a fixer-upper with a house, barn, garage and shed on 7.5 acres, she said. “However, I already have more than 2,500 hundred trees planted on the property, with hopes to plant thousands more.”
And then there is the grand vision and a safe bet for Skyla’s next dream…
“I would like to expand the farm and turn my barn into a wedding venue and the house into a bed and breakfast, as well.”
With history as a past measure of success, one would be wise not to bet against this rising Phoenix.