First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Officially Open for Business

Wednesday I felt bad because we weren’t open on Tuesday, so we opened from 8am -8pm.  We also got a large shipment of Nobles and a new type of tree for us, Douglas’.  There were 55 large trees and 7 little tabletop/kid’s trees in the shipment, and for once we had lots of people.

Kids tree area Lee setup. These trees went fast

Kids tree area Lee setup. These trees went fast

I had two new guys, Matt (who has been with us since the beginning) and Matt’s friend Brad came for the day.  We also had John (Kayte’s significant other) and Mike, a long-time employee from their lot, and Greg was the driver.  John came over to give us some advice on how to fit all these trees on the lot, and we were really glad to have him.  But in the tight setting (we still have 4 large trees laying on tarps in the back, waiting on stands) it was a little chaotic.  There are limits to how many bodies you can throw at a problem and we were definitely stretching the limits.  Plus, our new people didn’t know what they were doing yet, and people were running into each other.  Not surprisingly it took us several hours to process the trees, but at least for once Lee and I didn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting.  As soon as I could we started letting people go and finally were down to one employee at a time.

It turned out OK, though, from a labor perspective because we did sell six trees and made our payroll.  At some point we are supposed to be around $4.00 per labor hour per tree, but with all the deliveries I haven’t been close to that.  We were given a season target of  labor based on last years number, but we are way busier than they were, so really all I have to go by is this daily percentage. It’s a tough balancing act, because we have so many new people to train and some folks just don’t work out.  You bring them in and either they don’t like the job, don’t show up for subsequent shifts because of scheduling conflicts, or in a couple of cases we just got a really bad vibe from them.  There is only so much you can tell from an initial interview. But having them actually work a shift tells us a lot in a short period of time. Lee’s been really great about the constant training though.  He’s patient and understanding about the constant schedule changes.  Still all this is happening in absence of any real customer pressure so we will see what that looks like this weekend.

We also did another flocked tree and this one turned out really great.  We have been having problems on and off with the flocking machine, but now have a new hose, new powder, new sort of everything and it’s working well.  Unfortunately it has been really humid so the trees are taking a full day to dry, but wow are they pretty.  I get why people like them so much.

Finished tree waiting for delivery

Finished tree waiting for delivery

Close up of the branches. This is a heavy flock

Close up of the branches. This is a heavy flock

On Thursday, we were lucky enough to go to Cori’s sister’s house for Thanksgiving.  She has had an “orphan Thanksgiving” tradition for years and we were happy to be invited.  This year it was a relatively small group with us, Cori and Greg, Cori’s parents, Sherry, her daughter, and her best friend.  The food was great, the conversation was better, and it was nice to be in a family environment for Thanksgiving. We always had huge groups in my family for Thanksgiving and I do miss that on the road.  Last year we went in a totally different direction .  I also talked to both of my parents and we had a long Facetime conversation with our oldest and our youngest who were together for the holiday.  That was nice.  Plus I was grateful to be truly “off” for a day and even left my work phone in the truck.  

Beautiful spread and Lee watching TV with Cori's dad

Beautiful spread and Lee watching TV with Cori’s dad

Greg is very serious about cutting the turkey

Greg is very serious about cutting the turkey

Yummy plate full of food

Yummy plate full of food.  I brought the broccoli cheese casserole and dinner rolls.  Two of my favorites

On our drive home, I did see that my new person scheduled first thing Friday morning had called off, but thankfully I was able to get a person to come in and cover.  I have more potential employees checking back after Dec 1st and now that I have a better idea who I am looking for hopefully can lock in some solid employees quickly.  For the record, physical strength is important.  It’s fine to have people who can only lift 50 pounds, but then you need two of them or to be able to help them carry a tree.  I need more people who can lift 100 pounds.  It’s also fine to have folks who have other jobs, but if they have a job where their hours vary, especially with little notice, it’s very difficult to work with.  It’s OK to have some people who are good workers, but not great with people, but then you need to have people who can deal with customers in a positive way or you have to handle every single customer interaction.  So I need strong people with open availability who show up on time and consistently for shifts and can handle the public.  Yeah, good luck with that.

Friday was our official opening day and despite the fact that we were told several times that Black Friday would be very slow because people would be shopping we were busy all day starting when we opened at 11am.  Initially we only had one employee and Lee and her were constantly busy helping people load trees.  At one point there were 4 people waiting in line with their tickets and I could tell Lee was getting very tired.  He didn’t get lunch until 1:30 and had to stop in the middle of that to load a large tree and he didn’t eat dinner until 9pm when we closed.  I was able to call in one employee a little early and he brought a friend, who was a great worker and I hired him on the spot.  Things got better after we had two employees, and they spent most of the evening filling in the “holes” on the floor left from the trees that were sold and thankfully they were both there when we sold a 10 footer (our biggest tree sell to date.) We also got a load of wreaths and garland in, and had to find time to hang those around the traffic coming in.

Wreaths (which come in small, medium, and large) and some beautiful garland. We sold 20 feet of it right after it came in

Wreaths (which come in small, medium, and large) and some beautiful garland. We sold 20 feet of it right after it came in.  You can see the garland in the hand of an employee being pulled out.  That’s a little tricky because it can’t touch the ground so requires two people to hold and cut

Heart wreaths

Heart wreaths

Candy Canes. One guy buys one every year and turns it upside down because their last name starts with a "J". I thought that was a cool idea

Candy Canes. One guy buys one every year and turns it upside down because their last name starts with a “J”. I thought that was a cool idea

Beautiful cross wreaths. The pine cones and berries are all real. but so fresh they actually look fake

Beautiful cross wreaths. The pine cones and berries are all real. but so fresh they actually look fake

We ended the day tired, but feeling good we had sold 38 trees and have over $5K in gross revenue. What’s concerning though is historically Saturday and Sunday are way busier and I don’t have more staff to call in. I made the mistake of taking a wait and see attitude on staffing and stopped after I hired 8.  One is out-of-town, two didn’t work out,  one blew off the weekend so he’s out, and one is unavailable because he works another job.  So essentially that left me with two.  Now that I have added the new guy to the schedule so we have three during Saturday with a two-hour block of time where we have two people.  This means Lee is going to have another long day because Saturday we are open 9am – 9pm.   I’m going to have to leave this post there because I have paperwork to do before we open at 9am.  That will be at least 45 minutes worth of work.  I’ll get into more detail on what the day actually looks like in the next post.

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11 thoughts on “First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Officially Open for Business

  1. Great First Day!!! So glad you got to spend Thanksgiving with Cori and Greg’s family. Just nice to have a chance to take a break and enjoy good company. Oh and that food looked wonderful also:o))

  2. Thanks for sharing the details and your impressions of the different jobs you work on. I’ll never do that work but I’m very curious so it’s all interesting to me. I never would have considered all the details that go into running a Christmas tree lot. Hope your employee situation stabilizes and your sales continue to grow!

  3. I have to tell you that I really enjoy each post I read from you. Randy and I are planning to start full timing sometime in the next year or so. We have started condensing our home and selling things off as well as shop for a Class A that will be our home. I know that we will have to work while we are on the road and we are both fine with that as we are not afraid of hard work. We love reading about the different jobs you both have done and the issues that you have had doing them. It gives us a lot of insight as to what to expect when it is our time to do the same. Please keep sharing the good and bad and know we will continue to following along in your exciting adventure!

  4. This sounds like another hard physical job. You guys should be in awesome shape 😉
    Thanks for taking the time to share, I know it can’t be easy squeezing this in too.
    So do you feel this is better than your old jobs? Is the work too hard?
    I personally don’t even mind cleaning bathrooms. It’s better than the old stressful job. ( but this sounds kind of stressful too ). Thanks again and Merry Christmas 🎄

    • So far I would have to say it is not better than our old jobs. The money is way less, the work is much harder, and it has put some strain on our relationship. The ONE Great thing is we know it is temporary and we can afford to walk away at any time. Not that we necessarily would. I just want to try everything once and at the end figure out what makes sense for us. I do have less stress in general which is a good thing and why I am not signing up for another corporate job, but I keep hoping we will find something we both really, really like.

  5. Pingback: First Friendsgiving – Camper Chronicles

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