First Time Selling Christmas Trees – The Almost Busy Weekend

Once again we were all excited about the weekend and it started off really well.  On Saturday we had sold 32 trees by 7pm along with 3 flocked trees (my 9 foot flocked tree sold which was awesome!) several wreaths, some garland, and many stands.  We were definitely on pace for a record setting day, when the rain that had been threatening all day started and business just died.  We didn’t have one customer for the last hour and a half and the day ended with a thud.  It was respectable.  34 trees and $4100 in sales, just not what we were hoping for.  And worse it kept raining through the night and we woke up to rain on Sunday morning.  Thankfully it also got a little warmer and it was a light drizzle rather than a windy downpour, but as we have seen, the rain has a significant impact on everyone’s sales in Texas.

The hardest thing is knowing whether the sales are just lost or once again pushed to another day.  I still have people coming in regularly who say they were going to skip the real tree this year, but changed their mind and I have to believe those folks could go either way based on weather.  Then again, many of the people coming in are bringing reminder postcards, which means they had every intention of buying, they have just waited until the weather cleared.  One exciting thing is I am seeing a renewed interest in flocked trees.  We still have several for sale on the floor, and I continue to flock trees to fill those holes because folks have an interest in them. It’s an excellent way to jazz up a less than perfect tree, and I really enjoy it.  I’d flock all the trees if time allowed and people wanted them!!  The rain is a bummer for the flocked trees though, because they can’t be transported in the rain, and most folks aren’t willing to wait so buy a regular tree instead.  Ah well, what can we do?

Thankfully the rain held off all day and we had a decent day.  Sold 30 trees and did some nice garland and wreath sales making plenty to cover our labor.  Then at 5:00pm we got a call saying we were getting more trees.  Apparently a truck came in from Oregon and the contents were being equally divided between the 15 locations.  We didn’t need any more trees, and didn’t have the labor to cover it, but were given no choice.  40 trees were on their way and we had to accept them.  Luckily I was able to get a hold of our one guy who didn’t work on Sunday and he was kind enough to come in. He showed up at 5:30pm but the truck didn’t get here until 8pm.  It took our three guys and Lee about a half hour to unload the truck, but we ended up paying an additional 3-1/2 hours of labor.  Why do we care?  It took our labor per tree from about $5 a tree (which is already over our target) to $6 a tree.  And all for trees that we really didn’t need.  I had a plan in place to change the footprint on the floor going forward and we could have coasted on the back stock we had until the end.  Heck, we don’t even know if they are going to keep us open to the end, so every tree we processed was probably going to another location anyway. The fact that we were doing it after already working 9 hours added insult to injury and Lee was about as angry as I have seen him over this job yet. Since we are cutting labor so close, he is doing a lot of the physical labor (I am also doing what I can), so we are working hard these 10 hour days, not just sitting around.

We also had to schedule extra help to process the trees Monday morning, and about the time the processing was done the phone rang.  The owner wanted to know if we had extra trees we could give to other lots.  Interesting question, especially since no one asked us the day before.  My answer was a polite “We are finishing processing the trees you sent last night as we speak and once they are done I will do an inventory and call you back.”  And just to be clear, I don’t mind being the storage facility for trees.  I also don’t mind us processing them for other lots.  What I do mind is our commission is impacted by the amount of labor we are using and I have no idea if all these extra hours will be taken into account or not.  I also mind that it puts extra pressure on Lee as he has to do the physical labor himself to process them and since we aren’t selling them we will not be the ones to get the commission.  I was assured in the beginning of this that the owners would “even things out” at the end of the season and that may well be the case, but since we have absolutely no idea how that bonus is being calculated it’s taking a lot on faith.  To be honest, since my bonus from the beet harvest was taken away with no explanation or recourse I am a little gun shy about the whole bonus thing.   Our low sales coupled with the hours we are working and the physical labor we didn’t expect, makes the bonus more and more important.  And in case you think we are being alarmist,  up until this point we have only made $2060 in sales based commission.

I should add here that almost everyone’s sales are lower than last year.  The heavy rain on the weekends has impacted business and some folks are down 30%.  The other lots are still selling much more than we are.  On my 30 tree days they are selling 100+, and although I don’t know what the percentage of sundries associated with those tree sales are I have to guess they are higher than mine.  Plus of course we get paid a small amount per tree, so even just selling more trees would put more money in our pocket.  By the way this is the first commissioned based job I have ever worked in my life, which is adding to the general unease.  I had many opportunities when I was young to go into sales, but I never felt confident or secure enough to have a job where the income was that variable.  If you are a person who has experience working a job that is commission based, this would probably bother you less, but if like me you never went that route you should definitely take that into consideration.

On Monday I also had my first returned tree.  The trees are 100% guaranteed ONLY if they get them in water within 30 minutes of leaving our lot.  We, of course, have no way of verifying that, so they need to bring back in the tree and the receipt.  I heard other people talk about this during training, but was frankly unprepared for how angry the guy was.  I get it,  He went out of town for two weeks and came back to a dead tree.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have the receipt or the tree, so I was reduced to verifying the tree was dead via a facetime conversation with his wife.  Then he has to fill out a form, because believe it or not there are people that return these trees every year.  The whole interaction was pretty unpleasant, but we did at least make it right and replace the tree because I was able to verify it was one of ours.  And no, I’m not allowed to tell you how we know it was our tree. Crazy.  And hopefully not something I will be dealing with often.

After the customer left I called a person at another lot and was told they only had one refund last year and that person was very nice.  OK then, let’s chalk it up to just “one of those things”.  I also talked a little bit about our situation with the labor and commission and essentially asked if they felt the owners were fair at the end of the day.  She immediately said yes, she felt they had been, so armed with that (and my personal ethic) we went and did a count of trees and I figured out what we could spare.  Some people might hold onto the trees in the hopes they would sell them, but then another couple wouldn’t have the opportunity, so that just didn’t seem right to me.  We completed the count and gave away twelve 4′ Nobles,  and fifteen 7′ Douglass’.  The Dougs in particular I know will sell on other lots, I  just hope whoever comes and picks them up brings some help with them.  I know this is just the beginning of the trees leaving though, and I appreciate the fact that the owner gave me some choice in what I was willing to send off the lot.  My understanding is that soon they will start moving trees around to lots that are selling and then my job will be to try to hang onto the trees I feel will sell.  For me the whole thing is rather deflating.  I would like to sell all the trees.  Lee though would be fine with getting done a few days early and having some time off.  Either way we will just have to see what happens.  I know I am saying that a lot, but there really is nothing else I can say.  We never really know from one moment to the next what will be happening.  I guess that’s just the way the tree business works.

We ended the day selling 11 trees (three were big ones) and about $1400 in sales.  Not a horrible day for a Monday, but not the boost we were hoping for since it was an absolutely beautiful day. They did come and pick up the 27 trees I gave up and since the folks who got them have been super helpful to us, I didn’t feel that bad about it.  In an odd way I knew they were going to a good home.  And yes, I know that seems a little nuts, but we have watered and cared for these trees since the beginning and I want them, as Phoebe from Friends says, to “fulfill their Christmas purpose.”  If they can’t do that here, so be it.  I just want them to go to a good home.  I know, crazy right? But when I heard two of the trees I sent were purchased before they were even unwrapped at the other lot, I felt better.

(In case you’re wondering, I’m keeping track of every hour we work, and every penny we make on all the various items we sell. I have a running spreadsheet that I update each day that tells me how much money we’ve made, and how that translates into how much we’ve made per day as a couple, and how much we’ve made per hour as a couple. The information is useless right now, because I won’t know the final tally until we find out what the bonus is. We believe that information will be given to us on Christmas day, although it’s possible it won’t be until after we’ve taken everything down and packed everything up, which could be New Year’s day. Whenever it is, we certainly will publish that information, because while all the experiences and narrative is helpful, I’m sure what anyone considering doing this will want to know is at the end of the day, was it worth the time? – Lee)


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2 thoughts on “First Time Selling Christmas Trees – The Almost Busy Weekend

  1. Tracy, is there a possibility for a fulltime RVer to work for you, or another such tree seller? Maybe set up my RV as near as I can, and work for you as one of your hired workers? What does it pay? Are your workers “independent contractors” who will receive 1099s? Thanks, Gerard

    • Hey Gerard. There isn’t really room on the lot for more than one RV? Since the lot helper hours are variable and not guaranteed, I’m not sure most full timers would want to do it. I do have a couple of kids who travel and live out of their vehicles with truck caps, but their requirements for income are seriously low.

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