An old hand at Christmas tree sales
At 82, tree seller Paul Sexton isn’t ready for the chop just yet
Paul Sexton, selling Christmas trees in Foxrock, Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Paul Sexton,who is 82 years of age and probably Ireland’s oldest Christmas tree salesman, plugs in the guard dog. “Woof, woof!” says the guard dog, which is actually an electronic speaker designed to fool burglars.
Made in China, it is activated by a sensor and there’s a picture of a German shepherd on the box. Sexton sells them alongside Christmas trees from a shed by a row of retail units he owns in Cornelscourt.
“Ah he’s great!” says Sexton with admiration, as the electronic dog barks away. “If you’re going out shopping or anything, you can switch on your dog.”
You need good security in the Christmas tree business, a business Sexton has been in for more than 60 years. “We once sold them for five shillings,” he says, referring to the trees. “Now they sell for €50.”
Sexton started selling things in his teens. “There was no pocket money in those days in Co Clare. So we used to grow fruit and veg and sell them to hotels.” While developing this into a wholesale business he also found that there was a market for Christmas trees. “It was an underdeveloped market,” he says, “so we developed it.”
At that time Irish Christmas trees were generally “old tops of trees”. They were fine, he says, but they were “a bit raggedy looking”.
“Now there are Christmas tree farms around the country and they grow trees and export them as well. We pick our trees very carefully – 20 or 30 years ago we had to import them from Denmark because we couldn’t get enough good quality trees here to keep our customers happy.”
Sexton grows them himself, although his current crop is a few years off being ready. “The trick is to keep pruning them so that they keep their shape,” he says. “Otherwise they grow all wild and shapeless.”
Fashions have changed. Twenty years ago most trees sold in Ireland were longer, narrower Norway spruce, but in recent years people have preferred the wider, non-shedding Norse fir variety. Plastic trees have also had an impact on business. “But usually after a few years people get tired of the plastic and go back to real trees again,” he says.
A free one
He has a lot of loyal customers. “I get people who come and say, ‘I used to buy trees off you with my grandad.’ A woman came in the other day and said ‘I’ve bought 40 trees over the years it’s about time you gave me a free one!’ I said, ‘When the recession is over I’ll give you a free one.’”