Thursday I woke up to a cold and blustery wind. This tent is very heavy-duty and it’s tied down securely, but wind gusts are wind gusts and the side were flapping. Throughout the week I had been waiting on a pretty big order, which as we continued to sell I kept adding to. Lots of big trees, more seven footers, more Grands, and more Douglass’ were on their way. I had everyone on standby to help with the truck, but once again had no idea exactly when it was going to come. At this point, I just wanted to get it so we would have plenty of time to process before the weekend and my hope is this last order would carry us through. I wanted to avoid processing trees during peak days at all costs and was fine with over stocking a little to avoid that.
I actually gave this order quite a bit of though prior to placing it, because it’s very possible that after this weekend our busy could significantly decrease and then we have a ton of trees that will need to be moved to a different location. I tried to look at it from the perspective of the owner and made the order based on that. From a cost standpoint drilling and standing them will be roughly the same no matter who does it, and sending stood, wrapped trees to someone else would only help them. From a commission standpoint, it’s the same regardless of who sells them. Transportation will be more difficult if they are stood up and wrapped, but transfers between lots do happen frequently and there is even an internal paperwork process in place to handle this scenario. And since I need to have at least one employee here when we are open for business, processing these trees will give them something to do throughout the day, which might actually save labor costs long-term.
Where it gets more challenging is the unwrapped trees. They are harder to move and you risk damage during transport, so how many unwrapped trees should we have on the floor. So I thought long and hard about how many open trees we should have. The owner has been very clear he is trying to establish a presence in this area, and every customer we make happy this year will return next year with friends. That’s how new tree stands gain momentum. Word of mouth and quality of service and trees. That means lots of choices, especially in the larger sizes, and the staff to help deliver them, tie them on cars, etc. I’ve been super lucky with the deliveries, being able to accommodate almost all of the customers with same day/next day delivery and thus far we have only had to ask people to come back and get their tree the next day a couple of times and those were the 11 footers.
Filling this tent up with these big trees could mean more problems on the back-end with what is left, but will maximize our chance for profit on what I believe will be our busiest weekend. Plus, selfishly if I have to sit here day after day I would rather not do it in a half empty tent, listening to people complain about the lack of selection. It may come to that. It probably will come to that, but maybe not. I have seen a willingness on the part of people to drive extra to get the selection they want. I made a couple Grand sales that way, when others ran out and sold a flocked tree yesterday, because no one else close had pre-flocked trees ready for sale in their tents and I had several. We have a text group where we ask around if a customer is looking for something and we don’t have it, so maybe as the season progresses, I can be the place that has it?
Lee thinks I am nuts by the way. He’s focused on just finishing the season as painlessly as possible, and my constant tweaking was driving him crazy. My compromise has been to leave him out of it. I, and the one or two employees we have (I often do this on shift change and keep once person a little long so we have two people) are moving the trees and rearranging so as the stock diminishes the tent doesn’t look empty. I am actually enjoying this very much, but every time we make a change trees have to be moved, so I have to be very careful to not require too much of the folks working for us. It’s kind of like a puzzle. Figure out a way to get the new pattern locked in with the least amount of moves. Again, Lee thinks I am nuts, but I can’t just sit there. Wednesday we sold 12 trees which is a little over one an hour. Seven of the twelve were 8 feet or higher though and we really need another strong person to handle those. We dealt with two in the morning and the second 8-1/2 footer was really heavy and I could barely handle my end. And no before you ask the person who bought the tree didn’t offer to help. That rarely happens, even when I am loading the trees. So on these slow days, we still need to have an employee but because they aren’t allowed to run the cash register one of us has to sit outside with them. We out a heater in the little office so it’s not super cold, but it can be pretty boring. Lee would rather sit outside with a book than get into something and get interrupted, so I am staying inside mostly until a third person is needed. It would be ok if I could actually leave and run some errands, but we never know when it will get busy, so we both have to stay. Not the most optimal circumstance, but I have managed to keep my labor around $6.50 a tree, which I think is pretty good considering the circumstances.
Thursday we got our truck in and it went great. I had my four full-time employees and one extra that I was trying out and they rocked it, processing 88 trees in about 2 1/2 hours. Totally amazing job and so great that we have tons of trees for the weekend. Even more amazing considering how cold it was. The wind was blowing very hard and it was in the 40’s all day. I kept hoping it would warm up, but if never did. Everyone kept working though despite the conditions, and it was a true team effort. We did totally blow our labor ($35 a tree), because we had one of our slowest days ever and only sold 9 trees So even though we are not sure how busy we will be this weekend, we will be ready. It’s also a good sign that as soon as we put up a new 9 foot Nordmann it sold. We received ten more of those on the trailer and if nothing else I am pretty confident all of those will sell. Unfortunately there are no large Nobles left in the warehouse, so we will need to make due with 8 footers, but those are nice and fat and look beautiful. Should be a fun weekend and we feel totally ready. Hopefully we aren’t all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Friday morning I drove down to the bank and got some change for the weekend and went into HEB for some deli chicken. They do have trees, plenty of them, but most are wrapped up and their prices aren’t that much better than ours. This part of town is growing, but there is still a relatively limited customer base so Lowes and HEB could definitely impact our sales of low-end trees. Still, I feel extremely confident that we have the highest quality trees around. The question remains how many people in this area are in the market for a quality tree? My understanding is the closer you get to Christmas the more price becomes a factor, so Lee and I both believe this weekend will be critical to our success one way or another.
My confidence felt well founded when we sold 3 trees and two stands within the first hour of opening up. The weather is decent, chilly but not windy and not nearly as cold as yesterday. Folks have waited this long because of the weather and now seem to be coming in. It was busy in spurts all day and we ended up selling 20 trees along with some big ones. It was fun while people were there, not so much when it was slow. One of my new guys did call and say he had gotten a job offer out of the blue in his field and had to leave immediately to work in a fish hatchery (yes that’s true), but he was so nice and so apologetic I really didn’t mind. Plus I had another guy who helped with the truck waiting in the wings so I just switched the hours. I made the schedule a whole week in advance this time and this is the third person who has picked up this particular set of hours. I also had someone who had quit on me come back and ask if they could still get the free Christmas tree deal. The company offers a free tree to any person who stays through the season and we hold the money back in an envelope for them until the end of the season. Although this guy has little two kids and I felt pretty lousy about not just giving him a tree, my firm answer was no. He left me in the lurch, with no notice, and it takes a particular kind of hubris to think I would still give him a tree after that. Crazy.
So Lee thinks these blog posts have been a little dull of late and I guess they have been. Sorry about that, Our live has been pretty monotonous and it’s hard to jazz that up. Besides it’s an accurate representation of what’s going on, so you should probably see that as well. Everything shouldn’t be drama all the time. I realize as I am saying this I am probably jinxing myself. Oh, and somehow I got a pine needle stuck in my thumb. It is on my right hand and it’s swelled up a bit trying to push it out. Since I use my right thumb quite a lot, it’s driving me crazy. How’s that for drama…
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