Matt Bliss's small-business adventure started with an A-frame cabin, his grandfather and a fresh way of looking at the Christmas tree.
In 2014, the local entrepreneur spoke to Westword about how he took his grandfather Lawrence “Bud” Stoecker’s design — a set of concentric rings that hang from the ceiling — and created Modern Christmas Trees, a successful business selling collapsible artificial trees to customers as far away as the United Arab Emirates and Ireland. Over the past four years, as sales have skyrocketed and demand has increased for this modern take on a holiday tradition, the executive producers at ABC’s Shark Tank — a reality show in which entrepreneurs go head to head for funding — have taken notice, as well.
“I got a call in the spring of last year that Shark Tank would be doing a Christmas show, and they were wondering why I hadn’t applied,” Bliss says, adding that the producers contacted him after they saw his Kickstarter campaign online. “They were really impressed that I have a product line, not just one tree. It’s a seasonal product, and it’s not a business everyone may want to be in, but I think I got a fair shake.”
It took roughly 45 minutes to pitch on the show back in September, Bliss says, though he cannot disclose whether or not he got a deal until the episode airs on December 3. He says the experience has been great exposure for Modern Christmas Trees and a tribute to his late grandfather, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2012.
The entrepreneur went through the Shark Tank process with his mother, Stoecker’s daughter, making it all the more special for Bliss.
“When you have someone you love with Alzheimer’s — and they’re the centerpiece of the family and they’re not able to be at their best — it’s a very helpless feeling,” Bliss says of his grandfather, who designed the first Modern Christmas Tree in the 1960s. “I just wanted to show the world his contribution to design, and we’re selling trees all over the world now.”
Since starting the company in 2011, Modern Christmas Trees has grown significantly. What began as a single-product company, offering only a full-sized, 7.5-foot hanging tree constructed from acrylic rings and glass chandelier crystals, has now expanded into a full product line. Modern Christmas Trees now offers a tree that sits flush against the wall, a tabletop tree, and accessories like tree skirts and tree toppers. Bliss says this season marks the first year the company will try selling an undecorated tree.
“People are telling us they love the design of the tree aesthetically and that it’s easy to put up and take down, but that it’s also the perfect tree to display anyone’s ornament collections,” Bliss says. “Being able to turn the tree slightly each night and get a brand-new view of the tree and your ornament collection really resonates with people.”
Bliss’s ability to predict consumer demand is a necessary skill. Whether it’s deciding to carry undecorated trees or finalizing inventory, Bliss has to get the numbers down to a science.
“I get one time a year to get it right, and once I’m sold out this year, I’m sold out until next year,” Bliss says. “We’re doing what we can to get processes in place to help address what might happen when the episode airs, like setting up phone lines at my house [during the watch party] and having people chatting online, ready to process big orders.”
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Bliss plans to watch the episode surrounded by family and friends, and says he only wishes his grandfather could be there to witness it all.
“You know, we just got a call from Boulder County regarding his A-frames, because he spent his whole life building A-frame cabins throughout the Rocky Mountains,” Bliss says. “If only he knew that his frames are being saved for historic purposes, and what’s become of his Christmas tree. It’s a really neat time for my grandpa.”
The “25 Days of Christmas” episode of Shark Tank will air at 7 p.m. on Sunday, December 3. For more information about Bliss, his grandfather or their design, visit Modern Christmas Trees online.