Monday morning it was all of 56 degrees in the rig and 27 degrees outside. We were once again having the conversation about whether we should back out some of my hours yesterday from the final revenue analysis (Absolutely not. – Lee) when we got a phone call around 9am. They were on their way to pick up all of our baled trees (On stands and in water, but still tied up with twine) this morning and would be here in 30 minutes. Neither of us had showered, and Lee was just getting ready to run to the post office and pick up our mail. So obviously that was out. I asked if they wanted us to call in employees, but we were told no, so Lee and I both layered up in long johns and went outside to help. Not optimal in the 27 degree weather, but it did make his point once again that in the end, we are working a lot more hours than it appears, and that needs to be reflected in the final “Is It Worth It” analysis.
Theoretically we could have left it to the two guys they sent, but since both of them have been hurt this season, we couldn’t in good conscious do that do them. One thing Lee and I have managed to do (along with our staff) is avoid injury and it was only decent that we helped with loading the trees. The two guys that were sent aren’t to blame and at this point we frankly don’t want to make anyone mad because the bonus is still hanging out there. That’s been sort of an ongoing theme, by the way. Every time we think about setting some boundaries, the fact that our money is being held slows us down. There is no doubt that this payment structure is by design, and I will even concede that it may have evolved over time because of bad behavior on the part of other managers, but personally I have never worked this long and hard without seeing something in my bank account. For us that has been unsettling.
It certainly stops you from just walking away. At some point, you have invested enough time and energy that walking away with no compensation would be pretty stupid, and maybe even financially impossible for some folks. And that’s a pretty big deal actually. Many full timers take jobs that are lower paying and harder work than in their previous lives because they are temporary and they can walk away from them if things get to difficult. We have had several conversations along these lines with folks and the most common comments are “We can do anything for a short period of time,” and “If it’s too bad we will just walk away.” Personal ethics of course come into it, and some people find it very difficult to walk away from a commitment, but we all at least have the illusion that if we wanted to we could. Not so much with this job. The contract we signed is pretty clear on how long we have to stay. And since the payment schedule is all at the end, I am assuming there would be stiff financial penalties for leaving early. It’s not clearly stated in our contract one way or another, it just says if we leave early the owner will replace the positions and the cost of that replacement labor will come out of whatever money we have made to that point.
Don’t get me wrong, at this point we are certainly going to play this out and see what happens, but as our hourly rate at this point, based on the base pay we were promised and the commission we’ve earned on sales to this point, is $ 6.64 each, we know we are going to be relying more on the bonus to make this an equitable situation. The owner was pretty clear that when everyone had a good year, he spread that around and based on what other managers have told me I have no reason to believe that would not happen. But sales were lower than expected everywhere and generally in my experience this correlates to less bonus. That may not be the case here, but I would be surprised if it was not.
I’m trying to be positive. I am trying to continue with my wait and see attitude, but standing outside in 27 degree weather pulling frozen stands off trees and getting water on my feet and hands is not helping. It was also made worse when I called the office to get some information on something totally unrelated and was told we should have brought employees in to help with the tree loading because “We don’t expect you to do that Tracy.” Really? I asked, when I got the call letting us know they were on their way, if I should call employees in, and was told “no”, and for the record, I have been loading and unloading trees since day one. Most of the time I don’t mind. I am healthy, and no one gives me a hard time about lifting only what I can manage. But to be doing all that work and have people not only not know I am doing it, but also tell me it isn’t expected, like I did something wrong. Well needless to say I was pretty upset. I bit down on it though, and tried to keep those feelings in, but it was touch and go there for a minute. I am sure she knew I was upset, but at least I wasn’t hostile about it. I’m tired, my back is sore, and my feet are wet from moving 44 trees. Please don’t give me a hard time on top of that.
Oh and something else I should probably talk about that is totally unrelated to this job but relevant to RVers. We applied for the Affordable Care Act a couple of months ago, and even though I have paid the first month it still isn’t finalized. First they asked me for proof of income to match the estimate we made, and when I called the help center and said I didn’t have one pay stub that would show that, I was told just post any of them and nothing would be done with it. So we took one from the beet harvest and submitted it. I received a phone call from another group who said that because it didn’t match, they would need to make an adjustment and immediately explained things again. We are starting a new business and working a series of temporary jobs so no one pay stub will show our annual wage. Thankfully this person understood the situation and said I needed to submit a letter of explanation stating exactly that, and then they could process it. I was under the impression based on everything I had heard that you estimated your income and they adjusted at the end of the year up or down. Well, apparently that is not always the case, so I thought I would let people know in case they were going to apply soon. If we had a representative pay stub we could have used that for the whole year, but this year in particular our wages have been high and that would have overestimated our income. If you underestimate your income then you don’t qualify for ACA and they want to put you on Medicaid. Using a paystub also presupposes that you make that amount of money all year which is obviously not the case for most full time RVers. Basically it can be tricky, so just forewarning you.
I also called about my life insurance which is a carryover policy from my employer. They want a check payment or automatic checking account deduction and need a cancelled check to set that up. Well I don’t have cancelled checks and I can’t believe in this day and age there is no online method to pay. (I also find this incredibly bizarre. We haven’t had checks for about twelve years. We reached the point where the only thing we were using checks for was to pay a babysitter, and once our youngest never needed a babysitter, we just got rid of them. It’s truly amazing that there are still large organizations that don’t have an alternative way to accept money. You know how most people pay babysitters now? Paypal, Venmo, or some other phone based app. – Lee) It’s almost as if they don’t want my money. I was going to shop around anyway since I am an AARP member, so I told Lee not to do anything dangerous until I get this life insurance thing sorted out. Honestly it should not be this hard to give people your money. Man I am cranky. (I don’t blame her. I’m getting pretty cranky, too. – Lee)
And to continue with my great day, we had another tree returned. This guy was super nice about it and since I remembered the tree specifically I think it was just one of those things. Luckily I still had 10 foot Nordmann’s on the lot and let him pick his favorite for an even swap the next day. As I was walking back to the RV to tell Lee, I tripped over the orange rope we use to separate the customer area from the work area (you know, for safety) and fell backwards into the work area of the lot. I went down hard and my shoulder hit a piece of rebar from a stand before I was able to stop myself. Thankfully I had grabbed the line and the jolt stopped short of being a puncture, but I could have seriously hurt myself. Those metal legs on the stands are no joke. That put things in perspective. Yes, I was having a not so great day, but it was warming up and things certainly could have been a lot worse. Definitely time to get a grip. (But I’m the one who is supposed to be careful while she sorts out the life insurance. I’m just saying. – Lee)
Monday ended up being a weird day. We only sold 2 trees, but we did sell some wreaths and garland at the 50% off price. Since our bonus is based on quantity sold on these items, that actually helped us, although my labor was $40 a tree for the day. I always take the last hour of the day, and Lee goes in and eats dinner, and for the last several days we have had no customers between 8pm -9pm. Since it was so slow, for the first time I called my daughter and we were in the middle of a nice chat when some folks pulled up at 8:37pm. I immediately got off the phone and greeted a group of six slightly drunk people who had come in a beat up pickup truck with a beer keg in the back. They were all in a jolly mood and pretty quickly picked out a beautiful 1o foot Nordmann. I also sold them a stand, so they spent $350 in no time. That’s one reason (other than common decency) why I treat everyone who walks in the door the same, because you never know who has money in their pocket, and more importantly, who is willing to spend it. Since that tree was way too big for me to handle, our employee went and got Lee. He stopped eating his dinner and came out to help. He was a good sport about it, and the customer’s positive energy was infectious, but it is another example of the fact that no matter how slow things are, our time is simply not our own.
We received a text late Monday night and were told they were coming to pick up more of our trees at 10am on Tuesday. I appreciated the notice, because it allowed me to schedule our one employee to come in at 10am. My back is still pretty sore from loading the trees and my fall yesterday, so I would love to not have to load this truck. From this point forward all trees that go out are unwrapped and those are much harder to manage. I can solo handle most 6 and 7 foot trees when they are wrapped (Where 6-7′ = 3-4′ – Lee), but the unwrapped ones are much harder to grab hold of, because my arms are short. Plus after getting chastised yesterday, I am perfectly happy to leave the work to the menfolk. Yes, I have still not quite gotten over that. We did have a nice moment when the young woman who has worked with us all season brought us a Christmas card. It was so sweet and the note inside said “Sorry the weather down here is so bipolar. Merry Christmas”. It was so cute, it made me laugh.
Despite our hopes to the contrary, it was still pretty cold Tuesday morning although it did warm up a bit as the day went on. We were also told that all trees were 50% off. From what I understand this is the first time in 20 plus years that these trees have been discounted, so it’s a pretty big deal. I posted the 50% off prices on the local Facebook sales group and also walked over and told the Fire Department that was behind us how much we appreciate the fact that they didn’t run their sirens late at night and let them know everything was 50% off. Since most of our potential customers have been complaining about price over the last few days, I was thrilled about the discount. Not sure it will translate into more sales or not, but at least I don’t have to have the “can
I get a discount” conversation with every single customer anymore.
Then I had a nice long chat with my grandfather. My grandparents were full timers for three years (first in a Class A and then in a Class C) back in the 80’s and visited every major national park. My grandfathers memory of those parks is absolutely amazing and it’s really cool when he talked about walking trails that I walked 20 years later. He even shared a couple of bear stories from Yellowstone, which rival anything we have experienced. Apparently bears have always been a major problem there. It was a really nice chat and I enjoyed the fact that we always have something to talk about now.
Lee spent the time disassembling the flocking room and getting our rig ready for the RV tech to come. We have been trying to get a mobile tech here since we arrived, and finally he texted he could come today around lunch time. We definitely need to get the furnace working before we head out of here and it is much easier to get the work done while we are onsite. Our backup plan is to visit the Camping World nearby, but they do not allow full timers to stay in their rigs on location because of problems they have had in the past. It still might be our best option though if the mobile tech doesn’t work out because they understand the full timing lifestyle and work their scheduling around it as best they can.
If it hasn’t become clear by now, we are trying to take care of the many chores that have built up during this job assignment. One thing about working 10 hours straight, multiple days in a row, is there isn’t much time for housekeeping tasks. Those things need to be done, and in particular rig related issues can really cause a problem if you let to many of them build up. One of our biggest issues is the furnace hasn’t worked since Alaska and since Lee diagnosed the problem enough to realize the furnace would need to be moved AND we have a warranty we have never used, we have been trying to get a tech to come and see us since November 15th. Finally, the tech had an opening in his schedule and came out around 4pm on Tuesday.
The job was no joke as he and his son each had to crawl into two different very small spaces and disconnect all 8 of the heating ducts, and the gas line, and unbolt the furnace from the camper. The issue was that two screws that hold the blower motor housing to the furnace came loose (technically one came loose and one just fell out completely) which allowed the blower to push the housing away instead of maintaining the air pressure inside, which prevented the sail switch from ever engaging, and stopping the heating cycle at the first step. Simple problem, VERY difficult to fix as they had to work together from two different places simultaneously to move the furnace to get to the screws and then replace the screws and put it all back together. From the expletives the tech was muttering, it was not fun, and he was pretty open about how poor the design was in these models as it related to accessing the furnace. (If you happen to have an exterior panel to access your furnace, consider yourself a very lucky person. – Lee) Afterwards, they adjusted the cables on one of our living rooms slides, and replaced a broken cable on the other living room slide. Again this was a job Lee had diagnosed and even got the parts for, but it required two people to do (one inside the rig and one outside) and was not easy. Lee, who was feeling a little guilty about not fixing it himself, felt quite a bit better when he saw the level of difficulty and the two jobs all together took about four hours being done by someone who has been doing this for twenty years. (If it had been me, I would have lost my mind about an hour in, and told Tracy that she would just have to live without heat, and slideouts that don’t slide out. And then probably burned the rig to the ground to teach it a lesson. For whatever reason I have zero patience when I am working on my own stuff. – Lee)
Then to top off the evening Cori and Greg came by and Cori, who knows my husband well, brought him two mini pies. I swear if she keeps feeding him like this he is going to leave me for her. Lee loves his pie. We had a wonderful chat and since it was so very slow (only 2 trees sold all day) it was a great end to the day. The combination of better weather, the trees going on sale, starting the tear down process, getting our rig fixed, and their visit has really cheered me up. Cori and I even scheduled a tentative date for pedicures tomorrow since things have been so slow!
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So glad your fall did not result in a serious injury💕 Your commitment to see this job through to the end is commendable and I eagerly await the final “numbers”😄
Nothing worse than a hard fall like that, Trace. They come out of nowhere and they have a way of messing with your equilibrium. On the bright side: the furnace is fixed, the tree gig is almost over and your blog went over 200,000 views! 😉
Oh nice!! Thanks for noticing. I thought we were getting close. I need to thank everyone !!
Wow, what a crazy time in Tree Sales! We’re so proud of You and Lee and your stick-to-it attitude!!! Your ability to paint a clear picture of each work experience is so beneficial to many who are seeking a work camping lifestyle! Hang tough little Huckleberry cuz what doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger! Take care as that tumble over the work area lines was a close call, and we never want to hear about injuries to our friends! Love the cute pictures of Lee and his Cherry pie, that made a wonderful Happy Ending! You and Lee have a Very Merry Christmas! We can’t wait to see y’all soon!
Thanks Steve…that’s so sweet. We miss you too. Need a giant bear hug pretty bad about now.
Yikes! That is why in construction sites they cover the ends of rebar with those big orange safety plugs. So glad you weren’t seriously hurt. I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about as I have never owned and operated multiple xmas tree lots, but I cant see why it is so difficult to always provide you with adequate notice of arriving trucks, etc. I mean that is just poor management on the part of the owner to me. That would drive me crazy.
It’s driving me crazy too. My number one complaint. A big part of the problem is small warehouse and inconsistent truck deliveries which is somewhat out of the owners control. Take those out of the equation though and there are still plenty of incidences that could have been avoided. He was short staffed this year that certainly led to the pressure in the supply chain, but since all of those issues roll downhill to the managers it’s tough. I would love to discuss it in the general meeting that is coming up, but since my commission check will still be outstanding at that point, not sure how much feedback I will feel comfortable giving. Will play it by ear.