First Time Selling Christmas Trees – What a Busy Day Looks Like

We have a couple of solid days under our belt so I wanted to walk you through what they are looking like.  I have no expectation all days will be the same volume, but we seem to have started to find some rhythm at least so I wanted to share that. We are open 11am -9pm every day but Saturday, when we’re open 9-9.  That extra two hours on Saturday was a killer (Lee walked an all-time high 17,000 steps, or  7.7 miles, that day), but in general they are falling into a similar routine. (That was exceeded on Sunday by 18,374 steps, or 8.1 miles. – Lee) 

We wake up relatively early, can’t break that habit, and I eat breakfast, take a shower, and complete last night’s paperwork.  I have a Daily Recap excel spreadsheet to fill out which is pretty detailed and takes me 30-45 minutes.  The steps are as follows:

  • Account for every tree that is sold, by size, with quantities.  I use the bottom of the tree tags to count these (I put them in size order the night before) and then I get my tree total.  I put the dollar amount of tree sales from the cash register “Z” tape under the amount.  I also put the quantities by type on the top section which holds our inventory numbers. Tree and wreath sales are about 80% of our total sales and since we only get $1.50 a tree, that’s not where most of our commission will come from.  The counts are also very important for calculating our labor costs and determining what to reorder, so the owner is more concerned about tree counts than anything else.  Whether it is a 5′ Douglass or a 12′ Noble they are counted the same to some extent, which is a bummer because the price and manpower needed to move them varies so much. We have been selling a ton of 8-9 foot Nordmann’s, which are way more expensive tree than some of the others, but the labor we are allocated is the same. I’ll talk about that more in a minute.
  • Then I list every single sundry item with quantity and total price.  Again the “Z”tape is very helpful but there are some miscellaneous items and I have to go back and try to decipher those.  I am supposed to keep track as I sell them, but I find that too difficult in the heat of the moment.  Thankfully we have a low enough volume that I can recreate what they were.
  • Next I put in each employee, and their hours.  A calculation happens that says X dollars per tree in labor.  $4.00 a labor hour per tree comes up as yellow and anything under $4 is green.  We have found that anything green is a stretch for us because our employees are new and on the small side, so it mainly takes two of them to get a tree out to a vehicle.  It spikes way up when we get trucks as well and on truck days we are usually in the red.  It’s a guideline, and we are doing the best we can to watch it, but with the constant training of new staff it’s tough.  If Lee was able to take the place of one employee it would probably always be green, but that would mean he would be working a 10-12 hour day hauling trees all day long.  We had that scenario one day, but he was just too exhausted, so if we are yellow, or even red, so be it.  We’ve been told that it does impact the end of year bonus, but that’s somewhat subjective, so we will see how it all plays out.
  • Finally I put in the cash register totals, the credit card totals (95% of our orders are credit card sales), and make sure they match.  So far this has been fine thankfully, but there are processes in place to adjust if necessary.

Once the spreadsheet is done I email it to the owner and then put completed time sheets (if any), the tree tags, the credit card slips (attached to the summary in numerical order), the register tape, and all coupons in my daily “lunch sack”.  It’s a solid process, with lots of checks and balances, but it is time-consuming.  Once the paperwork is complete we open the doors for business.

We have generally been getting customers pretty early when we open, and it stays steady throughout the morning.  There are usually one or two families in the tent at one time and depending on what they buy and how long they look (which can vary wildly) we might have a little downtime.  We don’t hover, so folks can take as long as they want.  I had a couple yesterday who took over an hour picking out a tree, for example, but for some reason everyone seems to pick their tree at once.  They can take the lower part of the tag off and bring it to us, but we prefer having an employee nearby who can walk it up to me in the cashier’s booth.  People will try to switch tags between trees to get a more expensive tree for a lower price (Lee caught someone trying that just yesterday) so we are on the floor in the nearby area to discourage that.  We also need to be nearby for some of the kids.  It seems to be a 50/50 split on people keeping an eye on their kids.  Some are great, but others allow them to run around or mess with the trees. We found a beautiful Nordmann yesterday, for example, where several branches were broken off.  We will have to cut that tree down, significantly lowering its value.  It’s also dangerous.  These trees are extremely heavy and if one got knocked onto a child they could be hurt pretty badly, so depending on the kids behavior I spend more time than I would like nicely asking kids to not run.

The employees keep busy while folks are looking.  They are watering trees or filling holes left when someone makes a purchase with a replacement tree.  The backstock trees are tied up and tagged, so they need to be carried onto the floor, untwined, and watered immediately.  The employees also answer some questions, but Lee and I spend quite a bit of time explaining why these trees are different from what you would find at an average tree seller. I enjoy that, but when we are busy things can get chaotic.  Each tag is brought to me and one or two employees start bringing the tree to the front.  While I ask the customer if they need a stand, or other sundries, the “lot stand” is removed from the tree, and the tree is  placed on the shaker.  Depending on the size of the tree and type of vehicle we determine if it needs netting, and once I finish ringing the tree up it is being loaded into or onto to the vehicle.  I also give the kids a coloring book (all about Christmas tree farms) and some crayons, wish them Merry Christmas, and they are on their way, almost always really happy. (I wish everyone Happy Holidays. The sentiment is the same, but since I don’t consider myself a Christian, I don’t feel like a fraud. – Lee)

This process works great if we have one or two trees waiting to go out the door, but is tougher when we have more than that. Yesterday we had two families simultaneously that bought two trees each.  One of these trees was an 11 footer which takes much longer to process.  That was tough with only four of us, but we managed to work through it.  We had a little meeting after the mini-rush and determined when folks bought two trees, I would not start ringing them up until both trees were brought to the front.  All of this is manageable of course, if no one needs a break.  Lee can ring up simple transactions, but anything more complicated I need to come up and I can help with smaller trees, but nothing too heavy.  So even when we try to take some time to eat lunch or go to the bathroom, invariably we will get pulled early to help.  We also have to give breaks to our employees, which works OK if there’s a lull, but not so well if multiple people want trees taken to their car.  I will say our employees have been fantastic about this.  They take breaks when there is a lull like we do, and if they see it getting busy they come back.  We give frequent breaks to folks to make up for this, and so far it seems to be working well for them.  But they are also usually only working a 5 hour or less shift, whereas Lee and I are on all day.  Towards the end of the day it gets rough, as families with kids who come in seem crankier and so are we.  We have decided to try to give each other longer breaks and hopefully that will help.

So the pace seems to be a mini-rush in the morning before lunch, then steady until 4pm then another mini rush until dinner.  After dinner it gets busy again and stays pretty busy, all the way until 9pm, surprisingly.  The higher ticket purchases are happening in the morning which is great because we are fresher, and the evening purchases are mostly just trees with fewer sundries.  Dollar-wise though, we have more revenue in the morning because more sundries are sold, but the extra tree count in the evening helps with the labor.  I will also say that although I am sore it is nowhere near Beet Harvest sore, but I actually feel more tired.  This requires more mental effort, along with managing people and customers all day long.  The ebbs and flows of the business also seem to make me more tired, because at the Beet Harvest we had set breaks and here you snatch moments when you can.  For example, you might eat lunch at 11:30 or at 1pm, it just depends on how the customers are coming in.

We haven’t tried to do all this and process a truck yet, but tomorrow we need to.  We sold 76 trees in two days, and need more Nobles in particular.  We have a large delivery scheduled from 2-4pm and have several customers coming back to see those trees, so they will need to be processed simultaneously with customers on the floor.  I have a new kid starting tomorrow that I feel good about, and hopefully we will be able to handle it all.  Last year on Sunday they sold 40 trees, and since we are tripling last year’s tree count so far, who knows how busy we will be?  Well, I have staffed as well as I can.

The employees start watering around 6pm now so everything is watered, then they count the trees.  Lee will place an order for more trees if needed and at 9pm we shut off the lights.  We finish with the last customers (there is always at least one) and lock the gates, then send the remaining employee home.  Lee goes and eats dinner and I run a daily journal on the cash register, run a batch on the credit card machine, and gather all of the information I need for the mornings work.  This takes me 15-20 minutes and then around 9:20pm we can watch a little TV to decompress.  In bed by 10:00 – 10:30pm then back up again to start the next day.

More things happen throughout the day, of course.  We have deliveries, employee issues, interviews, phone calls from customers, flocking of trees, etc.  Those tasks are all woven in throughout the day, hopefully when there are only a couple of customers in the tent.   So far we like dealing with almost all of the customers, our employee situation has gotten way better, and we feel pretty good about how many trees we are selling, especially compared to what was sold last year. But it’s a long day, and the never-ending presence of customers means you can never really relax, even if you are in the RV.  It will be interesting to see how it goes during the week when things slow down, but for right now this is what it looks like, and I wanted to share it.  As things settle in, the blog may become more of a short daily report, I’ll have to see how things play out.

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10 thoughts on “First Time Selling Christmas Trees – What a Busy Day Looks Like

  1. Amazing, I just love all the thought and details you included! From Lee’s FB update it sounds like he’s losing far to much weight, and after all those steps you noted I see why. You need to keep him loaded with a high carb diet, may I suggest biscuits and gravy for every meal with a side of dutch apple pie! Happy Holidays Lee and Tracy, we really miss y’all! Hope to see ya soon!

  2. I bought a Nordmann tree once, it was the biggest thing I’d ever decorated! Mostly, I prefer Noble Firs. You guys are working so hard! Amazon will be a cakewalk after all you’ve done this year!

  3. Sounds like you are starting to get the hang of it. Retail is never an easy thing. Sometimes just closing your eyes for a minute or two and taking deep breaths can really help to clear your head and stay focused.

  4. When I worked in the video store it was the same – people would browse for anywhere from 5 mins to an hour but everyone came up to check out at once. Must be some prehistoric brain stem type human instinct – RUN before they’re all gone!
    My all time high steps on my pedometer is 24,000, but that was DisneyWorld. My all-time high working day was 22,000. I’ll bet Lee would have done over 30k on some shows at M/J. I work with a woman who dies 40k/day because she runs 5 miles every morning before work.

  5. Sounds like you have a fairly good routine and you are definitely sounding more confident – both good things! How exciting to be selling so many more trees! Cha-Ching! As Steve said above – awesome details – especially for those of us considering doing this at some point!

  6. We picked up a “kids tree” for our rig the other day. We have had real trees every year since we got married really love the smell and just the tradition of picking one out. It must be great to see the families making memories by picking out their trees.

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