First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Hiring Employees and More Trees

One of the most difficult things about this job so far has been the hiring of employees.  Since Lee was specifically told in the interview process that “employees would just show up” and that has definitely NOT been the case for us, I want to walk you through what has been happening.  It’s important, because many people simply don’t want to deal with this sort of thing and since I have spent most of this week doing exactly that I think it’s worth a deeper look.  Here’s a chronological list of how this has played out.

  • We unpacked the trailer and put up our help wanted signs.  Once the signs were up we started to get some walk up traffic.  Since the gates weren’t always open though people came and didn’t know how to get our attention.  I ended up putting the cell phone number for the phone we were given on the sign, so people would have a number to call and let us know they were outside.  Just to be clear though this was not hordes of people.  We had maybe 6 people walk up, but you needed to be vigilant for it so you weren’t surprised or didn’t miss anyone.  Other more established lots had as many as 30 people walk up though, so this can definitely vary depending on where you were located and how years the tent has been in that location. I hired 2 walk-ups, one of which eventually told me he was going to get more hours at his regular job and couldn’t work.
  • We were given all of last years applications.  There were only 7 and eventually when people didn’t come I called the numbers.  3 numbers were disconnected and I left 4 messages.  One returned phone call resulted in a rehire, one returned the call stating they had moved, but I never heard from the other two.
  • When we received our first shipment of trees and I only had two people, I started to get panicky.  I was directed to put a Facebook ad on a garage sale site for the local area and a craigslist ad.  The Facebook ad resulted in numerous phone calls and 1 hire.  The quality of people I was talking to was generally very good through the Facebook Ad and usually they weren’t interested because the amount was to low.  We are paying $8 which is on the high end of the scale, many others are only paying minimum wage.  The other reason was availability.  It was hard for me to be very specific about the hours at this point, and since most of these folks had another job, I really needed weekends at least for availability.
  • That takes me to the Craiglist Ad.  The first couple of days I was inundated with texts and phone calls.  In general these folks (at least in how they communicated) less appealing.  There were exceptions of course, I made one good hire this way, but I talked to tons of people who were in some cases borderline rude.  For the phone conversations there were kids in the background, loud TV’s, and folks having multiple conversations.  They wanted to know pay and hours and I wanted to know availability and good they lift over 50 pounds consistently.  Many of these interactions never got beyond this point, but they were still time consuming and the calls/texts went from morning until late evening.

Once I had vetted a person out on the phone I set up an interview.  I scheduled at least 10 in the first couple of days and at least half never showed up.  One missed the first interview, called to reschedule, I gave him a second chance and then blew me off a second time.  This was a problem, because it tied me to the tent during the time periods the person was supposed to be coming in. Since I had to stagger the interviews, I was “stuck” in readiness mode for several hours.  One morning all three of my interviews just didn’t show up and although I filled the time with inventory, watering trees, and organizing, I couldn’t just go into my rig and work on other things.  I also hired a couple of people who then blew me off when I tried to schedule them for their first day of work.

Again, I mention this because some people would have zero interest in this.  I think we might actually have packed up and left if Lee was having to do this.  I have some early work experience as a fast food manager so have done this sort of thing before, but it is not fun.  And it is especially not fun when you are under time pressure. At this point on Friday morning I have 4 hires and one more interviews scheduled.  I am still getting some calls from the Craigslist ad but only a couple a day and none of them were worth even scheduling an interview.  4 probably won’t be enough people, but I am honestly not sure.  I want to make sure I give enough hours to the people I have hired and if I over hire this could be a problem.  I also have no idea if they will actually stay with me until I see them work.

This has also been a problem as I need to know when trees are coming so I can schedule folks to train.  For whatever reason it has been extremely difficult to get solid info on when trees are coming so coordinating a training session has been tough.  Finally, I managed to communicate my problem to the owner and he worked with me to schedule a tree delivery later in the day.  So today at noon I have all 4 employees coming in and a load of trees.  It really shouldn’t be this hard to coordinate something like this, but I do understand I am only seeing things from my end. Still, I don’t have enough labor dollars to have people just waiting around and with limited availability can’t just call people with little notice to come in.  The larger lots have staff on hand most of the time during the setup process, but since we are a smaller tent, I didn’t feel right about having people here with nothing to do, plus I need to save those hours until we are actually open for business.

So this is our situation.  There is a lot of work to do. We have minimal employees to do it.  The two we have have been absolutely fantastic and I am so grateful for them, but it’s a ton of work even when I can get both of them at the same time.  I don’t know when to schedule people because I don’t know when deliveries are going to come.  And I am trying to hold onto my labor hours as much as possible.  The only way to solve this problem is for us to do most of the work.  Interestingly enough, I have heard that the other new couples are taking a different tact.  There are four new couples all together and they are all different in what they are willing to do themselves.  One couple in particular seems to have drawn a line in the sand and is using the warehouse staff to complete most of the tasks.  I get it. The only reason we are not doing that is Lee has the skill set to complete most of the tasks, I am not afraid of physical labor, and we really like the warehouse people they have sent us and it is not in our nature to stand around and watch other people work.  Still this whole thing could have been avoided by setting clear expectations regarding the setup workload, hiring of employees, and how many man hours we could use during the setup process.  I can understand why people would be frustrated.  I am frustrated.  And again please keep in mind none of us has any idea how much money we will ultimately make. It’s hard not to feel like we are being taken advantage of at this point.

An to further illustrate here is how Friday went.  We got the load of trees in at noon as promised.  One of my four employees got a flat tire and never came.  One of my four employees came briefly for training but had to leave because her other job had called her in.  The other two did fantastic, especially the young woman we hired who grew up on a ranch she was amazing.  The four of us unloaded the trailer which had roughly 42 trees on it which is harder than it sounds because these were the Nordman’s.  The Nordman’s are very dense and heavy and many of them were in the 8 foot range.  Once the trailer was unloaded we started processing them and with the four of us it took until 4:00pm to get 2/3 of the load done.  One good thing is it was 85 degrees with 87 percent humidity right before the delivery came and then miraculously the heat broke.  The temperature dropped significantly and the humidity feel to a reasonable 35 percent.  Thank heavens because even with some flaps up it is HOT in that tent and doing that in the heat would have been rough.

HEre's the batch of trees we received. Lifting some of these required two people

Here’s the batch of trees we received. Lifting most of these required two people.

And what our initial row looked like

And what our initial rows looked like once they were stood up

We sent one person home (she had started working her other job at 3am that morning) and then finally sent the fourth home at 5pm.  Lee and finished unbinding, measuring, and tagging the trees on the floor and were done by about 6pm.  Lee walked 13,000 steps today according to his Iphone app and my back is really unhappy with me.  At 5’4″, 130 pounds I am not really built for heavy lifting and some of those trees were very heavy.  I did the best I could though and we stopped when we had all had enough. I also managed to setup another interview for tomorrow and conducted an interview and hired someone in the middle of all that.  If we continue with the current rate of attrition though I don’t see the interview/hiring process ending anytime soon.

Then we got a call that said at 8am they would be dropping off 9 large trees all at least 9 feet and one 11′ and one 12′.  Based on today I knew we would need an employee and thankfully one of ours can come in, but it was a close thing.  Hopefully once these trees are up this will will get easier as we will be filling holes rather than an entire tent, but for right now it’s tough.  We are supposed to get at least two deliveries tomorrow, so should be a long day.

Well it’s the end of Saturday and instead of trying to explain how big these trees are why don’t I just show you.  The two biggest were 12-1/2 feet.  So here’s the pics. So for the quality of some, I was fighting the light and grabbing the shots in between working.

12-1/2 footer getting a D15 stand. The stand alone is over $150.

12-1/2 footer getting a D15 stand. The stand alone is over $150.

The stand is drilled into the tree

The stand is drilled into the tree

The guys pulling it out of the trailer. Around 250 pounds Greg thought

The guys pulling it out of the trailer. Around 250 pounds Greg thought

When it was stood up

When it was stood up

Then loaded onto a tree mule, which worked pretty good once you got it on their

Then loaded onto a tree mule, which worked pretty good once you got it on their

Wheeling it into the tent

Wheeling it into the tent

Moving to the front center of the tent

Moving to the front center of the tent

HEre's me in front of it

Here’s me in front of it

We had enough stands for 4 trees to go up and they were all absolutely beautiful.  Two went on the D20 stands and two on commercial stands with bracers that Lee drilled into the tree trunks. Once again Greg did a great job teaching us.  I have absolutely no complaints there.  Actually the whole big tree thing went well, although we could have used one more big guy.  It forces you to go slow (it took us 2 hours to process 4 trees) and everyone was super careful.  Plus it really makes the front of the tent a showplace, so even if we don’t sell any of these I am glad we have them.  Some folks don’t like them though because we get the exact same amount of commission on a 5 foot tree as we do on a 12 foot tree.  The sales of course get credited to you, but no extra for selling one of these big guys.  Still I am glad we have them, because I think lots of folks will have tree envy for the big ones and spend a little more on a smaller one.

Commerical stand on bracer

Commercial stand on bracer

HEre's an 11 footer on the drill machine. This was hard and took careful coordination

Here’s an 11 footer on the drill machine. This was hard and took careful coordination

Our four big ones all together

Our four big ones all together.  We have 5 more left to process but need to get more bracers

After that we all took a break and our 2nd employee came into work.  These two have been a godsend and are doing a fantastic job, but I am a little worried that we haven’t had more interviews.  I’ve fielded some calls and tried to set interviews up but nothing scheduled until tomorrow and Monday.  We all worked on finishing the Nordmann’s from yesterday and things were really starting to take shape when our next shipment came.  Unfortunately instead of getting the lighter Nobles we got 33 more Nordman’s which we really didn’t have room for.  So we had to start standing them in water in the back corner in a “back stock area”. Our tent is 20 feet shorter than most of the other ones, so we really don’t have much extra room and we had to call and tell the owner to not send another shipment that day.  By this time we were all pretty tired (the driver on the second trip wasn’t Greg and he doesn’t unload trees so it was just the four of us) and we stacked them, finished opening all the ones on the floor, and then I sent the employees home for the day.  You simply can’t have people doing this physical of labor constantly for more than 5 hours and frankly Lee and I couldn’t keep up the pace anyways.

Starting a Backstock area

Starting a Backstock area

More Nordmann's for tommorrow

More Nordmann’s for tomorrow

Lee and I took the time and went and visited both of the tree tents that were near us.  We were happy to see we were on the right track and neither one had made much more progress than us and they had more employees.  We both felt better and stopped at Applebee’s to celebrate.  I’ve been caring around a gift card for over a year, so it was a cheap meal and then we were back on the lot and opening for business by 5pm.  It’s not required that we open, but the other two lots were and I thought having the lights on for a little while would be a good thing.  No one came into the lot, but Lee did get the spotlights put on the sign and hopefully people saw the lights and will come in tomorrow.  From this point on when we are working, we are also open for business and we will see what kind of traffic that generates.  Our official opening date is the day after Thanksgiving, but most folks start a little early.  Anyways it was another long couple of days, but I feel really good about what we accomplished and the people we have so far.  Just pretty worried about getting more folks working soon.  Again, we will see how it goes and we four start again at 9am tomorrow to process more trees.

Open for the evening

Open from 5pm – 7pm


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2 thoughts on “First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Hiring Employees and More Trees

  1. Wow sounds like not alot of Fun? I would love to help, as I sold Christmas trees growing up and love all the interaction with the tree buyers. Ours was a family and friends tree stand so we had plenty of help as everyone enjoyed the comradery. It kinda made for a better holiday experience. So many folks just loved the holidays back then and were so excited to get a nice tree. I’m sure you’ll start to see things turn around and pick up after this weekend. I hope your employee prospect improve dramatically! Happy Holidays!

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