On Sunday, I woke up to a text from my oldest daughter Kyrston that said “Please don’t hate Christmas after this!”. She knows me. I adore Christmas. I was one of those people with boxes and boxes of Christmas stuff, and we would always spend an entire day decorating every available space in the house. I also for many, many years made Lee get a real tree. I should mention here that he never liked getting a real tree. He liked the concept of them, but hated wrestling with them to get them to stay in a stand, and he was always concerned about the fire hazard. So it’s funny and at the same time not so funny that I signed us up for this, since that is what he doing all day long. Of course, with these trees and the specialized drilling machine, the stands with the 6″ stainless steel spike, and the grommet process, they actually stay on the stand and are straight, but it is still funny to me. Not so much for him though. He’s been a great sport about the whole thing, but when we are having a particularly rough day, he will give me that look. All you wives know the one. It says “I can’t believe you got me into this, but I love you so am sticking with it, but you owe me.”. Yeah, that’s the one.
Thankfully though, things have started to turn around. We had three employees on Sunday, because one of our employees brought her boyfriend to help. He works a full time job, but offered to help and since I am allowed to pay casual labor the same day they work, he made enough to take her to dinner. Plus I think he had fun. He’s 6’1″ and a big guy, so he could handle many of the trees by himself. Lee also, for the first time, didn’t have to lift as much during the processing, and his back was very thankful. We processed the rest of the Nordmann’s and then had the three of them work on other tasks. I am trying to switch things up for folks as much as possible, so the couple shook out the trees and used a leaf blower to remove the loose needles and anything picked up by the branches between being cut down and transported and processed. My other employee helped Lee change out our parking lot light bulbs to red/green LED’s bulbs and helped me measure and unwrap the trees we had just put on the floor.
The best part of the day was that I hired three people!! Two were scheduled interviews and one was a walk-in, and they all had open availability. Thank heavens. I also finally got several more walk-in candidates (where were these folks when I needed them earlier in the week?) and soon I actually took down the Help Wanted signs from the gate. The vibe I am going for here is “tree boutique” and once the customers started coming in, I didn’t want them competing for my attention with walk-in applicants. I did tell everyone who came to check back Dec 1st to see if we had openings. Now that I am staffed I don’t want to get into that situation again. I also put together my first schedule this week and everyone said it was fine. That was a good sign!! The new people I hired are “on call” until next Sunday when I will put them on the schedule.
But back to the customers. Our first couple had an adorable little two year old named Savannah and the wife was VERY pregnant. She said they had never gotten a tree this early before, but since she was due any day wanted to get the tree up now. Smart, and since our trees are in water and guaranteed through the end of the season we are a perfect choice. It was fun watching them pick our their perfect tree and then Lee and the young man who has been with us since the beginning took it out to their truck. Matt got a $5 tip, which I was thrilled to see for him, and actually turned with the money in hand to see if Lee wanted half of it. We immediately said, nope the tips are all yours unless a second employee helps you and I was glad he got a little something extra. Since many people here in Texas have pickup trucks loading the trees is pretty easy, but we also remove them from their stand and shake them in a machine to get the last of the loose needles off them. I gave the little girl her coloring book about a Christmas Tree farm and a Christmas lollipop and felt great about the whole transaction. I did stumble through the credit card piece though because the new program I am testing didn’t work right, but they were super cool about it.
Not long after that a cardiologist from the local hospital came in and bought a Gift Certificate. I was told I might never sell one, and my second transaction was for one. I had to pull my instructions out, but he was very nice about it. He buys a tree for a local family in need and gets the gift certificate so they can just come ind an pick one out. So nice. Plus we had a nice long chat about how he retired from the Air Force and they paid for his education, which we are definitely passing along to our youngest Kay. At 46 he is debt free, fully educated, and receives a pension from the Air Force for his twenty years of service. Really smart guy and a nice man.
After him was a great couple who had just moved to the area. They both work from home, and wanted a beautiful tree flocked. They also bought tons of extras. We walked through the flocking process for the first time, put the tree on hold until it could be done in the morning, and they were a thoroughly pleasant couple. Plus since we make commission on all the extras I was pretty excited about the sale. My take is to allow people to look at trees, answer questions, but no selling, and that’s what I have told my people. These trees are so beautiful they sell themselves, and we just need to educate folks on why they are special. Since this is a high-end area, no one even blinked at the prices, and I am feeling good about executing my business plan. We are a small lot, off the main streets, so we are never going to sell the most trees, but we can sell lots of extras and more of the higher end trees. We receive the same set rate regardless of the price of the tree, but we get a bonus on overall sales at the end. The bonus is subjective and decided at the end of the season by the owner, but I have no reason to believe he won’t be fair with us.
Finally, we got a fourth couple with two kids and they went back and forth between two trees for some time. Earlier in the day I had everyone pick their favorite tree and put a little sign on it saying “Tracy’s favorite” etc and they picked “Lee’s Favorite”. It really was a beautiful tree, but the family had some discussions because it was a little smaller than the tree they normally get. Once the decision was made (and so far Mom is always the deciding factor), Lee and I shook it and loaded it up into their truck. No tip on this one, maybe because we are obviously the managers but that didn’t matter since it was fun. The tree shaker is my favorite part. They had a discount postcard from last year, so once again I was pulling out my cheat sheet, but they were very nice about it. The kids were pretty well behaved, but a little bored and at one point I saw the 9 year old boy crawling on the ground between two 8-1/2 footers. I immediately said, “Oh No” and explained seriously, but politely that the trees were extremely heavy (taking two big guys to lift) and if they fell on him they would smoosh him flat. That got his attention and he stayed in the aisle from that point forward.
So it was a good day from a sales perspective and the $555 in sales totally covered my labor for the week. I completed the batch process on the credit card machine, the Z tape on the cash register, and the daily recap excel spreadsheet. I did well for my first time, and was really glad that I had the opportunity to “soft open” and run through all these tasks in a low volume atmosphere. We will be open again on Monday and then again maybe all day on Wednesday. Since technically we don’t open until Black Friday we get to choose our own hours. It is cold in the tent though, especially when the sun goes down, and we really need someone “on the floor” at all times. My schedule this week has 1 person with us Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and I can call more people in as needed. I don’t want to over staff until I get a feel for what the traffic will be like, but based on today I am feeling good about it. I do need to teach Lee the cash register though. None of the employees are allowed to use it, and occasionally I may need to use the bathroom 🙂
I feel so much better abut the whole thing and even Lee thought selling the trees was fun. My major Lesson Learned though would be to put out a Craig’s List Ad Day 1 on arrival and start hiring. Don’t wait for last year’s employees to show up, as you need strong help as soon as possible for the multiple loads of trees. Speaking of which, we still have several loads to go. We can take about 30 more Nobles, and we need tabletop/kid’s trees (under 3′), wreaths, and garland. I had a couple ladies come in and ask when that would be coming yesterday, and that all has to be in by Black Friday. We also still have those 4 big trees I need to get up as soon as I get the stands, and that will require at least three strong people. Still feeling good.
OK, so maybe my cheeriness from this morning was a little premature. Our first employee this morning no called/no showed (after texting us a few days earlier that he was fine with the schedule) and that set the tone for the day. Lee and I decided not to call anyone else in (because we found out we weren’t getting a shipment of trees after all) and moved the tree from yesterday to flock it. It was tough though because the machine is just not working right. Or maybe it is and we don’t know better, but we fussed with that tree for the better part of an hour. I woke up with one goal today, getting a haircut (can’t run a tree boutique with shaggy hair), but I couldn’t leave at 9am because the employee no showed and then when I tried to leave after flocking the tree two customers came in. Plus I got a call from the YMCA and they were coming in to pick up their donated tree. I trained Lee on the basics of running a transaction this morning, but the donated tree was complicated. They also bought a stand and were tax exempt so that was all new to me as well. After the YMCA was taken care of it was lunch time and then I decided to just wait until tomorrow. One customer from this morning was coming back with the stand they bought last year and I wasn’t sure when.
They ended up arriving about 2:30pm and bought a beautiful 9 foot tree and wanted very heavy flocking. Oh boy. We worked through that and when I rang her credit card on the new program we are trying, somehow she voided the transaction. That was scary because I barely noticed it and when I tried to rerun it on the old machine the card was locked out. Thankfully she had another card and we were able to process the transaction. But she then said she wanted delivery. That’s OK, because it’s paid for at the time of delivery, but a whole other new form to fill out and then discussion around when we can deliver. Thankfully she wants it next Monday so we have plenty of time, but we are both pretty nervous about the heavy flocking. Plus, who am I going to send to do the delivery and setup? Straight delivery is no issue, but I am sending people into this woman’s home and aside from two employees, I barely know them. Oh and that tree we flocked earlier in the day still wasn’t dry and the people were supposed to pick it up today.
Finally I just called Greg and asked him if he could stop by on his way home. I hated to ask that as he will already have put in a twelve hour day, but these trees are worth several hundred dollars each and the last thing we want is an unsatisfied customer. Lee wasn’t trained on these processes, because there were no trees to train on, so to do a beautiful job and screw up the bagging and loading onto a vehicle is the very last thing we want. Thankfully Greg said yes and I am sure we will be fine after we see it once. There’s just a lot to learn here and through my dumb luck I got all the weird ones first. I said to Elaine earlier, I would just like to sell a regular tree without the fancy stuff 🙂 It’s a good sign though that we are selling the high end stuff, and I am sure things will settle in once Lee and I have done everything once.
Greg got here at 8pm and we spent an hour learning how to wrap a flocked tree, properly tie trees to cars, poly wrap a flocked tree and heavy flock a tree. Turned out the motor went bad on on the flocking machine, so Greg is bringing a backup tomorrow. We were open the whole time and got a couple lookers but no buyers, and by the end of the night I was exhausted. Greg and Cori stopped by briefly, which was the high point of the day, but really I am feeling super overwhelmed. It’s so much to learn and we are learning it in front of customers, which is extra hard. And it’s not just mentally tiring. Lee is walking 10,000 -15,000 steps a day and has lost 15 pounds since we got here.
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