After the big group meeting the next several days were very busy. We were told at the meeting that we would probably be getting trees either the 17th or the 20th, so even though I had only hired two people I felt like I still had some time. Then we got a call on Monday morning saying trees were coming first thing the next day. WHAT?? Lee called the owner immediately and explained our employee situation and he agreed he should hold the trees until we had at least 4 people hired. He gave me the name of a fellow Lot Operator of a couple of fellow Lot Operators to talk to and I sprang into action. I spent the day setting up a Craigslist Ad (not as hard as I thought it would be), advertising on a local Garage Sale Facebook page (this was pretty easy), and calling a couple nearby lots to see if they had any extra helpers (they did not). It took most of the morning because I needed pictures, to be accepted into a closed Facebook group, to set up a Craigslist account, and specific language, which thankfully Leia from another lot helped me with. And I have to say it worked. I started to get calls/texts (yes people text now for job inquiries), and I spent the afternoon and evening fielding those calls and setting up interviews.
Lee spent the time finishing putting in a PVC pipe system for the water and we both cleaned and organized a bit in whatever downtime we had. I also worked with one of the other Lot operators to get a macro-ladened excel spreadsheet (my daily report sheet) on my computer and get trained on it. I had been warned that a Craigslist Ad would open the floodgates and that was true. Plus some people just showed up at the lot, which was fine, but required at least one of us to be onsite. We had walked away from the meeting with a small list of items we needed to purchase (we buy them and are reimbursed later), but Lee didn’t feel comfortable leaving me on the lot alone with people just showing up. By 5pm I had hired one person, the assistant manager from the Shell station next door, and setup several interviews for the following day. Then we got a phone call from the delivery driver that our trees were loaded and he would be onsite at 8am. WHAT???
OK, at this point we were both getting pretty annoyed. We had a clear plan with the owner and I had worked my butt off all day to get more people, but still only had three. Of those three, only one was available in the daytime and could I even get him there at 8am on such short notice? So the driver went back to the owner who admitted he had dropped the ball, but now the trees definitely needed to come because they were already loaded up, and he would send an extra person to help us unload and train us on prepping the trees, which we still hadn’t been shown. Wednesday, folks were on our lot at 7:40am (we were up and ready to go) and the trees arrived at 8am. The guys jumped right in training us, and I have to say they did a great job working with me. Despite my post the other day, every one of them worked with me like I was anyone else, and the training went well.
The process for prepping the trees is basically as follows:
- Trees are unloaded from the trailer and stacked lying down.
- Then a small (about 1/4-1/2″) slice is cut off the butt of the trunk using an electric chainsaw. This opens the tree up to accepting water (When they are cut they “seal” themselves, and can’t drink water, but this also helps them stay fresh. Once you make this cut, you have 30 minutes to get it in water, or they will seal over again. Because of this trees are completed in groups of 5 through the whole process, to make sure they don’t stay out of water too long. I learned how to use a chainsaw and for the first time ever used one. I felt OK about it, although I don’t think it will ever be my favorite thing, but it is hard learning a new things with three guys you don’t really know watching you. Still, I hung in there and they were very helpful.
- Once the trees are cut, they are carried to a drilling machine and stood upright. You put your foot on a pedal and it opens four bars and when you release the pedal the jaws close around the trunk to center the trunk over the drill hole. The jaws don’t hold the tree up, just keep it from sliding on the plate. Someone still needs to hold it upright, but all the weight is on the plate. Above the tree is a pointer that is adjustable, so you can line up the top with the drill hole. This is a two person (or three if the tree is big) job, and then once you make sure the tree is straight (what constitutes straight took some explaining) you push a lever slowly which pushes up a drill through a hole in the plate. That makes a 6 inch deep hole in the trunk that’s perfectly straight.
- The tree is then removed from the drill, and held while a stand with a serrated stainless steel spike and a bowl with a hole in the center and a rubber grommet is hammered onto the tree. The hammering requires some force, because the hole is slightly smaller than the spike. I didn’t do so great at this because the angle is weird, but I learned the principle and could do it in a pinch. Once the tree is on the spike, the tree will swell up around the spike and it gets very tight.
- Then the tree (which is still wrapped in twine) is taken to a specific area of the tent. The tent is divided into four quadrants(one for each type of tree) and placed in a row based on size, with the tallest trees being in the middle of the tent and the smallest near the edges. The initial spacing of the trees was a bit of a challenge because we had never done this before and every tent is a little different. Thankfully our one daytime employee had shown up and he is also our only returning employee. With his help, our lot mentor, and the driver we were able to at least get the pattern started, but it was pretty chaotic trying to figure out where everything was going to go. This whole process gets more complicated as trees fill up the tent, but having a complete open space and not really understanding how it would work when it was done was also tough.
- The trees are immediately given water (very thankful Lee had the watering system completely done by this point) and then they are measured, untwined, shaken, and tagged. This whole process (for 32 trees) took a couple of hours mainly because we were learning and figuring out where everything went, and just coming up with a system.
So it was all pretty stressful, and although everyone they have sent to help has been very nice, Lee and I feeling were left feeling uneasy. Because we are a small lot, I am only hiring around 6 people to start and so far it looks like only two of them will have daytime availability. Plus, based on our labor projections, I can’t afford to always have folks on the clock and really need some advance notice on when these deliveries will be happening or Lee and I will end up doing the bulk of the unloading. From what I am hearing though, this is all pretty common, but hopefully they will get things more organized in the near future. We kept our employee for a couple of hours, worked on re-organizing the lot, and I fielded numerous calls from potential employees and set up more interviews. I also hired my fourth person and let the owner know that we were staffed enough to take another shipment of trees. Everything finally calmed down around 2pm so Lee and I left the lot and started running the errands we had. We also made arrangements to visit Kate’s tree lot, because more than ever I felt I needed to see what all this was supposed to look like. We were getting feedback from the people who came to train us, but it has been somewhat contradictory and seeing it in person would really help.
Less than an hour later, in the Home Depot parking lot I received a call from the driver that they were sending a trailer full of supplies and would be at our lot in 45 minutes. OK. I would love to say I was surprised at this point, but we weren’t. So we cancelled the lot visit, cut our errands short, and drove back to the lot. And since calling in an employee just to unload a trailer would have been difficult, the three of us unloaded it. Of course, I had a walk up applicant at the same time, so we are unloading, learning about what we were taught, and I was managing a person filling out an application at the same time. Not cool. The one good thing, is our driver Greg is a wonderful guy. He has been super helpful since the beginning, and since he used to run one of these lots, and helped at ours last year, he has been our best source of information. And the applicant was great and more importantly can work anytime. So I had my trailer of stuff, I had my fifth employee, and we learned a little more. But neither one of us was happy about the way it played out.
Since we got here, 11 days ago, we have left this lot together (except for the scheduled training sessions) in the daytime only twice. The first time we went to breakfast and received a call during breakfast that a trailer was coming and needed to return and the second time was today. Keep in mind we haven’t received any wages (returning managers get $1,000 bonus their first day, but we don’t get paid until the end) and I have lost track of how many hours we have worked up until this point. Whether or not we are actually working though, we are definitely “on call” and those calls have come as early as 7am and as late as 7pm at night. Also, because we did not have returning employees the bulk of the labor so far has been done by us. Yes, we have had some help to get started, but most of the work has been on us. Once we get going, that may change, but the amount of time and effort in this setup stage is way, way, WAY more than we understood it would be. And just to be clear, it’s not so much about the work. You know by now that we aren’t afraid of hard work. But the combination of work without compensation and feeling like we are on call 24/7 is wearing us down a little. We have no idea until the end how much we will be making, but just based on the base pay we know we will receive ($2,500) and 58 days of being here we are making as a couple around $43 a day. That’s total as a couple, not each. Of course that may all change if we sell a lot of trees or receive a healthy season bonus, but for right now we are taking quite a bit on faith.
After I wrote the above, I took a shower, went down the street for a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich, and by 6:30am was settled down learning the cash register. I worked on one of these back in the 80’s and thankfully it hasn’t changed much. Plus the instructions were excellent and the training mode option allowed me to “play”. In about an hour I felt comfortable and asked Lee to move the register to the booth. After that I started checking the trees for water (this is done every morning and every night…thirsty little buggers) and while I was doing that Lee was trying to find out where our package was sent to. We placed an order at Amazon and were told UPS would deliver to our lot. Instead they sent it to the US Post Office and now it is in no man’s land, because the post office won’t deliver here. Lee told me he was going to drive over to the post office and try to find it when he got a call from Greg. The owner wanted us trained on flocking trees today and Greg would be here between 8:00am and 8:30am. This text came in at 7:05am and once again, we were changing our schedule.
I have to say once again though that Greg is great. He’s super helpful and the flocking process was pretty cool. First you shake the tree on a shaker and then you put the tree on a revolving platform. Then you spray the flocking on and voila you have a beautiful “snow-covered” tree. We can flock lightly or more heavy and the drying time depends on how humid it is. Once it is dry, we polytube wrap it for a customer and then it is delivered to them. This process is not cheap (starts at $8.50 a foot for the smaller trees), so it’s important the tree is handled very carefully after flocking. One of the major benefits to the customer though is the tree doesn’t need to be watered after flocking and it locks in the smell, which is good for folks who have allergy issue. Speaking of smell, the first group of trees has opened up and the tent smells great. They really are very pretty and a couple of them are absolutely beautiful. I’ve decided to mark my favorites with a tag of some sort to call them out. Not changing the price, just saying the manager thinks this is a pretty tree.
But although the day started out well, the rest of it was pretty frustrating. We finished inventory of all of our For Sale items and found places they would live. Then we sat around and waited for UPS to arrive with our awning screen. UPS had told us they would deliver to the lot, but around 4pm we received a text that the driver couldn’t deliver because it wasn’t a “valid address”. So we wasted a whole afternoon and still didn’t receive the item we needed. We have talked about a sun screen since the beginning, but held off because of price. Here though we are facing directly into the sun all day (no choice about which direction we are facing) and it’s been as high as 92 in the daytime. We have AC in the rig, but the full sun is making it difficult for it to keep up and since we need to be outside waiting for applicants etc, a nice to have become a need to have.
This is where I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone. Since January, we have earned $300.26 from our readers who have clicked on our links and made a purchase. This money comes to us in the form of Amazon gift certificates and we have held onto them waiting for an expense such as this one. Since you are helping contribute to our lifestyle, I thought it was only fair we spent the money on RV related stuff, and we wanted to wait until an expense came along that was an extra, but important. So you just bought us an awning sun blocker screen, and we very much appreciate that. They are not cheap at $169, but we will definitely get full use out of it here and in Quartzsite this winter. And since Christmas is coming up, I thought I would take a moment and explain how the program works, if you would like to help but don’t really understand how the program works. I didn’t so don’t feel bad 🙂
You can click on any link on our site (or the link at the bottom of every post) and it takes you to Amazon. From there you can sign into your account (if it doesn’t come up with you signed in) and then navigate the pages just like you normally would. ANY purchase you make within 30 minutes of going to Amazon is linked to our Associates account and we get a tiny percentage of your purchase(s). It doesn’t cost you anything extra, you can still get free shipping if you are a Prime member, and honestly there are no hidden fees or anything. It’s just a way for you to send a little our way, which as you can see does add up over time. Also, I don’t have any visibility into who makes the purchases, I just get a report that tells me the dollar amount purchases made and my percentage. If it’s not something you are interested in, that’s OK, too. My take on blog writing is that it’s the modern-day equivalent of being a roaming story-teller. I compare it to wandering into a village, telling a tale or two, and getting a hot meal, a place to stay, or maybe a dollar or two. I imagine the folks who traveled and told tales in the “olden days”, did it for the love of travel and the making of tales rather than any expectation that they would get rich from it. I feel the same way. But I certainly don’t mind the occasional bowl of soup 🙂
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