First Time Selling Christmas Trees – We Get Some Help

Monday the two new guys showed up around 11:30, and they are big guys. (Big doesn’t necessarily mean buff and strong. Sometimes big just means big. These guys are just…big. I saw no discernible difference between their ability to lift heavy things and the ability of our two younger smaller guys. Strike one. – Lee)   I was told they would want to work 7 days a week, 9-10 hours a day, but I was a little dubious. Most of the folks we have worked with can handle a solid 5 hour day and a couple can handle 7, but no one has been able to hack more than that.  When I talked to the owner about my concerns though, he said he was working a 12 plus hour day and I just didn’t have strong enough people, and since we were also working long hours I thought, “Well, maybe he’s right.”.   When they came in we had about 27 trees on the ground and after some initial introductions and orientation to our tent layout they started working.

Things started pretty well, and they processed the biggest trees, but as soon as we stood the big ones we were selling them. Seriously, Monday we sold five trees over 9′, and a 10 1/2′. Getting those out to the truck requires all hands on deck so I kept having to pull them away from processing and after a few hours I noticed everyone was getting pretty tired. The good news was Lee for once could take a more hands off approach, and he managed the process rather than performing it.   I gave everyone a break, made sure they drank lots of water and got something to eat, and then the next truck came in. We received an additional 68 trees, which joined the 14 or so that were left on the ground.

At this point both Lee and I were getting concerned.  We had been told two strong guys could process 20 trees an hour, but obviously that wasn’t the case.  But we also understood that even though we only sold 17 trees that day it was steady busy and we did $2,700 in additional revenue.  I called and talked to the owner and his second in command a bit about the situation.  It was a good conversation and I learned quite a bit about managing Christmas Tree labor.  Essentially, two strong guys can process 20 trees 6-8′ trees an hour if they are not interrupted.  That’s pure task time.  Larger trees are more time consuming and frequent customer interruptions cause a major loss of efficiency.  The larger lots are able to have separate staff for processing trees versus helping customers on the floor so are able to achieve those higher efficiency levels.  Because we are small, everyone does everything, hence it takes longer.  I felt quite a bit better after the conversation.  Not only because I learned something, but also because I firmly established with the owner that our situation as a small volume tent selling many large trees was somewhat unique.

I also spoke to the new employees at the end of the shift and asked them point-blank which tent was harder to work.  They said ours was much harder, because the other tent had more employees, so this corroborated what I was seeing with my own eyes. I thanked them for the feedback and assured them I was committed to letting them completely focus on processing trees the next day and had even called in extra staff to cover the floor.  I also said we might have a delivery and once the trees were processed and the delivery was done, they could take off early if they wanted to. They wanted to have at least one day off and were totally OK with that.

On Tuesday I actually left the lot in the morning for the first time since Thanksgiving to run a few errands. I had to get fingerprinted for the gate guarding job, I needed more bottled water for the employees, and I needed to stop at the bank and get some one dollar bills.  It was heady stuff being out in the world, especially because I got to squeeze in a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich.  While I was at the bank though I received two phone calls.  The first was telling me we were getting 46 more trees in the morning and a second truckload in the afternoon. No problem.  What would have been a frantic emergency a couple of days ago was fine because of the two new guys.  I did try to find out when the third truck was coming though, because I needed to schedule them a day off. I was also concerned about my labor, because yesterday I ran $14 per tree, which is three times the “red” threshold, so I thought if I knew which day the next truck was coming I could give them their day off and save myself some labor hours.  Not five minutes after that call the owner called me.  He told me to ignore the red labor warnings on my daily spreadsheet and even went so far as to make the analogy of putting a piece of black tape on a warning light on a car.  That made me laugh and I was like, “OK, no problem, but you have to tell me when to take the black tape off and start paying attention again.”  He said at least through next weekend (which is the highest volume) not to worry about it, which is absolutely no problem!!

I made it back to the lot before 11am when we opened and our two new guys and another employee showed up.  They started processing trees, but let me know they had to leave by 1pm.  Ummm…OK.  Apparently they thought when I said yesterday I would let them go after the delivery that meant they had the afternoon free and had scheduled an appointment with their mother’s caregiver at 2pm.   I was pretty sure I was clear that no one was leaving until after the current trees were processed, but maybe they thought they could knock them out in two hours.  Unfortunately, that was not even close to being the case.  (Strike two. – Lee) Even though there were no interruptions and we had a third guy, there were still 19 trees on the ground when the next truck came.  This load had 45 trees and it was all hands on deck to get the trailer unloaded before they had to leave at 1pm.  We all helped and thankfully Greg was our driver so we got it done and I also managed to finalize the schedule through the weekend.  In order to make sure there were no more miscommunication, I scheduled them 11-7 every day, and when they asked when their day off would be I said I was sorry, but it would have to be today.  Next week I promised to give them a full day off, but I simply couldn’t spare them any other day because now we had 54 trees waiting to be stood and another big load coming in on Thursday.

Luckily we finally had the slow day we had been promised.  We had the longest breaks between customers I had seen to date and although we sold one 11-1/2 foot tree we delayed pickup until the next day.  Since it was slow Lee and I and our third employee filled all the holes on the floor with trees, flocked several trees (I am totally caught up and completed 4 more as demos), and oversaw the pickup of the flocked trees that were completed.  I was pretty happy about that.  I love flocking the trees and since everyone is different you never know what you are going to get.  Everyone was very happy, in particular a woman who got a Douglas which was her first flocked tree.  Since the Douglass’ have very light branches I wasn’t sure how that one was going to turn out, but Lee had me practice on a littler one first and I got the technique down.  It required a very very light flocking, but when it was done it looked really great.  She liked it so much we gave each other a big hug and it was a great moment.  I wish I had a picture of it, but she came to pick it up almost as soon as it was dry and I will always associate her look of wonder with this job.  Something about Christmas trees brings out the kid in most of us, and a custom flocked tree can be very special.  All in all it was a very nice day, and although Lee had to do more physical labor, we had a nice day. Of course we only sold 12 trees and made $1700 in revenue, but we were overdue for a day like that.

Oh, and in the evening a 6’4″ gentleman walked in and filled in an application.  He is a former teacher who is switching careers and becoming a nurse and looking for money until nursing school starts in January.  As I talked to him, I am not kidding, it was like a sunbeam shined on him, and a chorus of angels started singing.  The perfect employee walked into my tent and wanted a job.  I was a little cautious though.  I said we would start him on a truck and see if he liked it, but wow, I couldn’t have dialed up a better fit.  Since he is also incredibly attractive, Lee wasn’t crazy about me saying he’s the perfect man for the job, but hey, we all have our crosses to bear.

The next day was so much better.  We received 46 more trees (including an 11′ Noble and a 10′ Nordmann), but I had lots of staff.  Labor costs were $28 a tree, but the owner said don’t worry about it and I am not!  Jon was everything I had hoped for as he seemed to like the work and could lift many trees all by himself.  Again it was slow (10 tree sales and $1700 in revenue) so we were finally able to completely stock the floor and get most of the trees off the ground.  We had 25 left at the end of the day, but we also rearranged the floor to add more trees (something we would have been hard pressed to do without Jon’s help) and we feel almost ready for the weekend.  I also flocked more trees so now we have 6 ready to buy and that whole section makes me happy.  I tried different styles on different trees so people can see what their options are.  The only sour note for the day was when the two new employees called me and said they were getting medicine for their mom and would be 20 minutes late. That’s two lates and an early leave in a three day period which is not an auspicious beginning.  (Strike three. I’m all done with these guys. – Lee) Everyone else is really getting along well though and once we get past this weekend I will have the chance to reevaluate.

So I am going to leave it here and since I feel like all I do lately is complain, I thought I would leave you with some pretty pictures of our Christmas trees.  All that hard work has definitely paid off, visually at least, and I feel proud of what our team has done.

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Flocked tree area

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My “practice” Douglas. Tends to clump so have to keep it super light

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We flock trees that have a broken leader and mark the tag repaired.

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The heavy flock at the top covers the zip tie that secures the leader to its stump

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This was my “Charlie Brown” tree totally transformed by a light flock. It’s now my favorite tree on the lot

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This is a pretty standard medium flock. Some lots do all their demo trees this way, but I wanted to show people their options

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This was my one attempt at a heavy flock. It’s a pain in the butt and doesn’t hold up well during transport so we discourage folks from getting it

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Our new configuration allowed us to put up two more rows of trees. Makes the aisles a little tighter but opened up much needed back stock area

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We got some beauties in the last order

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This row has 9 footers on the left and 10 -12 footers on the right

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Lee had the great idea to add a little cluster of 5 footers in a space we won’t be filling. Hard to tell in the pic but the size difference is dramatic

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Big tree back stock area. These are almost all 9 foot and up

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6-8 foot back stock. The tent sloping requires us to put 6’s and 7’s on the right wall

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The best view I could get of the entrance. I am standing by the flocked trees which are right in the front

 

 


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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – First Weekend Complete

Saturday things seemed to be turning around, but Sunday it became very clear that that was not the case.  Just so you don’t think I am being overly dramatic here, let me walk you through the day.  We didn’t open until 11am and we had a delivery scheduled at 2pm.  I scheduled two employees in at 11am, a brand new one at 1:30, and the fourth at 2pm.  Since  our team was exhausted at closing time the night before, we had several “holes” on the floor to fill, and we set the first two people working on that as soon as they came in.  This process is taking a tree that is already standing up, but not untwined, moving it to the appropriate hole (often with a dolly) and then cutting off the twine and putting the pre made tag on it. Not that difficult when nothing else is going on.  We started getting customers right at 11am though, and once again we had steady traffic throughout the day.  That usually is  2-3 groups looking at trees (often with 2-4 small children) so we need to be very careful how we are moving trees around them.  We also have to stop the moving tree process to help take their selected tree out to their car.  It’s extremely difficult (with the size and experience of the staff we have) to stay ahead of that curve.  Once you fall behind you can only wait for a lull to get caught up.

It takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes to get a tree out to a car because of a variety of factors.  Does it need netted?  Extra time, and requires two people. Are we putting a new stand on?  Extra time.  Does the customer need bottom branches trimmed?  Lots of extra time.  These are all services we offer, and we never know until the time of sale what the customer would like. There is also a huge variation in time based on what kind of vehicle they are driving.  Generally trees going in a pickup are super easy, just load it in the back. But if they have a car the tree needs to be tied on, and it can take much longer. If they have a tall SUV, we need to take a ladder out and that could actually take three people depending on the size of the tree.  While this is being completed the hole stands empty, which is totally fine, unless you sell 5-7 trees in a row like that and then you are looking at 5-7 holes.  The third person can fill solo with some of the smaller trees, but we definitely trend towards the 8 and 9 footers which require two people.

If we sell a 10′ or larger tree everything has to stop while we focus on that.  They are never netted, but require 3-4 people to lower them onto the mule (A custom built type of dolly) and then extra time to place them in the truck.  We have put 10′ trees in a 5′ truck bed successfully, but it requires some careful placement. Generally we try to sell these with our stands on them, but if the folks absolutely don’t want them, we need to remove the bolts holding the commercial stands in place. Plus I need to make sure anyone with small children stays clear of the center of the tent in case the tree would fall or roll.  It’s never happened, but we don’t take safety risks.  Those trees take at least 20 minutes and sometimes Murphy’s Law says those sales always come in the middle of a rush.  Once we take care of the big tree, and the 4-5 smaller trees that have stacked up by then, we now have several holes to fill, and a very tired staff.  There are people who can do this type of physical labor for hours on end with minimal breaks, but none of them have applied here.  Trust me, I would have hired them.  I hear they exist though, and apparently this is what we need to solve our problem.

Anyway, we were holding our own until 2pm and then the truck came in.  It had (25) 6′ Nobles, (3) 8′ Nobles; (15) 9′ Nobles/Nordmann’s; (4) 10′ Nobles/Nordmann’s; and (2) 11′ Nordman’s.  I also received 10 more wreaths.  Greg came with the delivery and by this time I had 2 experienced guys and a trainee.  I am going to be perfectly blunt here, the next 4 hours were a complete shit show. We had a steady stream of customers from 2-5 and between servicing those customers we could only unload the truck and then get (3) 11 footers and (2) 10 footers raised.  None of the smaller trees were processed because we needed the big ones out first to make room in the processing area to work on the others. We also sold 3 of the big trees within an hour of when they were placed, and since one was immediate processing everyone had to stop to get it out the door. This left me with very few Nobles on the right side of the tent and we lost some customers because they could see them laying on the tarp, but not being processed.  Greg had to leave at 5pm and then we had to fill holes on the Nordmann/Douglass side, because many folks did buy those trees since that side was pretty full.  By the time all this was done around 6pm we only had 4 trees left in back stock, and still had all the Nobles waiting to be processed.  Oh, and did I mention that the new guy I brought in, who seemed so promising, within two hours very politely said he didn’t think this was for him because he would rather play music downtown for tips?  Yesterday he told me he was a starving artist who desperately needed the money and was not afraid of hard work, and after 2 hours apparently decided he was OK with “starving.”  At least he was polite about it.

One of our guys stayed 2 hours after his shift, but then he just couldn’t go any longer, so after calling every person I finally found someone to come in.  This guy is pretty slow, but at least it was a body, and we still had 2 people from 6pm- 9pm.  At this point I had to take a minute.  I gave Lee the register keys, went and ate what was left of the leftover turkey, and then called Cori and completely unloaded on her.  She was nice enough to listen and at least that released enough steam that I was able to continue.  Plus, right after that call I received a call from a lot 20 minutes away who said he had 11 experienced staff and had two good guys he couldn’t give enough hours to. Could I use a couple? Uh, yeah! It’s not a perfect solution.  They have to work together, because only one drives and they have to work at least 5 hours to make the drive itself worth it. He was sending them over 11-4pm tomorrow to see if they were a good fit and they could help us process the remaining 24 large trees laying on the tarp.

Simultaneously Lee was getting things under control in the tent.  The pace had slowed back down to only 1-2 families in the tent at a time and Lee was working with the two guys to process the smallest 6′ Nobles.  This was actually brilliant as it quickly filled the right side of the tent and these are small enough and light enough that one guy can handle them, so it went twice as fast.  We still had to stop frequently to load larger trees, but fewer people left the tent once they saw the trees were going up.  Many of them actually bought them as we unwrapped them, but again, since they were little that was OK.  Relatively easy to fill the hole.  We left the bigger ones alone, knowing we would have more help tomorrow and the tent itself looked pretty good by the time they were done at 9pm. Once again (third day in a row) we had only sold 38 trees, but again we did close to 5K in sales.  New stands, lots of garland, several big trees, and some flocking brought in the revenue.  The office was a totall wreck, but I just gathered everything up and decided to deal with it in the morning and then I called the owner and left a message for him to call me.  I admit it, I am in over my head here, and have absolutely no idea how to schedule in this environment, especially because I have no clue when the trucks are coming in.  Lee can’t keep working like this, and the scheduling problem needs to be fixed ASAP.

The conversation went pretty well.  He was tired and I was tired, but he was genuinely concerned and trying to help us solve our problem.  Initially he had a little trouble grasping the unique nature of our situation, but once I laid it out (pretty much the way I did above but with fewer words and less emotion) he slowed down and really thought about it.  I didn’t feel so bad when he really had to think it through and he stressed that we couldn’t possibly know how to schedule labor in this situation because it was unique.  Ultimately he suggested we work the two new guys 1pm -9pm 7 days a week and use our other labor to fill in. Because they have a small warehouse and have to run very lean, he simply cannot tell me when I will be getting trucks so the only solution is to have these guys available every day.  Now I have to figure out how to do that and give a couple other employees enough hours to keep them with us, because putting all our eggs in any one basket makes me nervous.  He also said these guys should be able to process the 24 large trees on the ground in two hours.  We haven’t even come close to that level of efficiency, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out tomorrow.  I picked up a second delivery, which I can throw their way as well, and at this point I am willing to give anything a try. Plus of course there is the added benefit of following the owners instructions, which is never a bad call in situations like this.

One thing though.  I was given an initial target of $2400 – $2700 in labor and so far my scheduling has kept us on track with those numbers.  It’s also kept our per tree labor cost under $4 which is “green” or good.  Doing some quick math having these two guys here until Christmas eve would cost us $3450 in labor for them alone and assuming they can always handle our volume with just the two of them  I still need additional coverage for weekend days and some weekdays.  Those labor costs will be double the number I was originally given.  Maybe that’s OK, I honestly don’t know, but since our bonus is weighted  heavily on labor costs, I absolutely care. Short-term though, I need to fill my floor and fill up backstop, and cover next weekend which is supposed to be the busiest two days of the season.  I will definitely use them 8 hours a day through Sunday and then stop and see where we are at.  The owner wants to talk daily for a while and I am thrilled to do that.  Frankly I think we should have been doing that all along. I’ve talked to his wife every day and she’s been wonderful, but his expertise is needed on staffing and stocking trees.  I will give him daily reports on the labor figures and if he approves the additional labor we are good to go.  If, however, he wants to cut back on labor I can accommodate that as well, but then I will need some sort of delivery schedule to make that work.

In this lifestyle and these new jobs we have had, we have become fond of saying “not my circus, not my monkeys.”  This is our short-hand that ultimately whatever problems there are aren’t our problems.  That is one of the benefits of making less money and having less power in our positions.  This is different though.  It is our circus and our monkeys (and yes I see the irony that we are working out of a circus tent) and our compensation is based on how well we manage it.  It’s not only the money of course, we also want to do well for both our employer and our customers.  The owners have both said we are working hard, we’re trustworthy, and doing a good job, considering it is our first year.  That is no small thing. But all that being said, you stand in the tent that is just decimated after a long day and see the look of disappointment in people’s eyes who have bundled their kids into the car to go pick up a Christmas tree so it can be decorated, and the tent is is half empty, or worse, and that’s rough.  Some people absolutely would not care, but we do.  It’s just who we are.  Every job is worth doing well, but it feels like with the circumstances we have been given it is nearly impossible to do well.  The owner says having two strong employees will completely make the difference.  I hope so.

And let me just say one more thing.  The worst day I ever had on any job was when I was 22 and managing a fast food restaurant in inner city Columbus.  About 9 hours into a 10 hour shift, a woman ran her car into our walk-in cooler.  Thankfully no one was hurt, but the food was all damaged and worse, the building was no longer secured. My General Manager and my Area Manager were both out-of-town and unreachable (this was before cell phones) and I was left trying to figure out what to do.  Needless to say I was completely overwhelmed and did not handle it very well.  This weekend cumulatively was not that bad, but evoked images of that event, so it was bad enough.

And let me be clear here, I love selling Christmas trees.  Seeing people’s face light up, helping customers, that’s been largely great.  Unfortunately I spend little of my time doing that.  I unload trees, stand up trees, unwrap trees, place them on the floor, and water trees.  I do paperwork, inventory, and ordering supplies/trees. I also spend a ton of time managing employees which includes hiring, scheduling, and day-to day management.  I do get to flock trees a few times a day which I also really love. As bad as it is for me it is worse for Lee, because he spends 95% of his time dealing with trees.   I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault, but the job I thought I was taking was selling Christmas Trees.  That’s simply not the case.  This job is managing a Christmas Tree lot which is not the same thing.


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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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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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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Sold our First Trees!

On Sunday, I woke up to a text from my oldest daughter Kyrston that said “Please don’t hate Christmas after this!”.  She knows me.  I adore Christmas.  I was one of those people with boxes and boxes of Christmas stuff, and we would always spend an entire day decorating every available space in the house. I also for many, many years made Lee get a real tree.  I should mention here that he never liked getting a real tree.  He liked the concept of them, but hated wrestling with them to get them to stay in a stand, and he was always concerned about the fire hazard. So it’s funny and at the same time not so funny that I signed us up for this, since that is what he doing all day long.  Of course, with these trees and the specialized drilling machine, the stands with the 6″ stainless steel spike, and the grommet process, they actually stay on the stand and are straight, but it is still funny to me.  Not so much for him though.  He’s been a great sport about the whole thing, but when we are having a particularly rough day, he will give me that look.  All you wives know the one.  It says “I can’t believe you got me into this, but I love you so am sticking with it, but you owe me.”.  Yeah, that’s the one.

Thankfully though, things have started to turn around.  We had three employees on Sunday, because one of our employees brought her boyfriend to help.  He works a full time job, but offered to help and since I am allowed to pay casual labor the same day they work, he made enough to take her to dinner.  Plus I think he had fun.  He’s 6’1″ and a big guy, so he could handle many of the trees by himself.  Lee also, for the first time, didn’t have to lift as much during the processing, and his back was very thankful.  We processed the rest of the Nordmann’s and then had the three of them work on other tasks.  I am trying to switch things up for folks as much as possible, so the couple shook out the trees and used a leaf blower to remove the loose needles and anything picked up by the branches between being cut down and transported and processed. My other employee helped Lee change out our parking lot light bulbs to red/green LED’s bulbs and helped me measure and unwrap the trees we had just put on the floor.

The best part of the day was that I hired three people!!  Two were scheduled interviews and one was a walk-in, and they all had open availability.  Thank heavens.  I also finally got several more walk-in candidates (where were these folks when I needed them earlier in the week?) and soon I actually took down the Help Wanted signs from the gate.  The vibe I am going for here is “tree boutique” and once the customers started coming in, I didn’t want them competing for my attention with walk-in applicants.  I did tell everyone who came to check back Dec 1st to see if we had openings.  Now that I am staffed I don’t want to get into that situation again.  I also put together my first schedule this week and everyone said it was fine.  That was a good sign!! The new people I hired are “on call” until next Sunday when I will put them on the schedule.

But back to the customers.  Our first couple had an adorable little two year old named Savannah and the wife was VERY pregnant.  She said they had never gotten a tree this early before, but since she was due any day wanted to get the tree up now.  Smart, and since our trees are in water and guaranteed through the end of the season we are a perfect choice. It was fun watching them pick our their perfect tree and then Lee and the young man who has been with us since the beginning took it out to their truck.  Matt got a $5 tip, which I was thrilled to see for him, and actually turned with the money in hand to see if Lee wanted half of it.  We immediately said, nope the tips are all yours unless a second employee helps you and I was glad he got a little something extra.  Since many people here in Texas have pickup trucks loading the trees is pretty easy, but we also remove them from their stand and shake them in a machine to get the last of the loose needles off them.  I gave the little girl her coloring book about a Christmas Tree farm and a Christmas lollipop and felt great about the whole transaction.  I did stumble through the credit card piece though because the new program I am testing didn’t work right, but they were super cool about it.

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Lee putting a tree on the shaker.  We do this before customers take them home or before they are flocked

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You can’t tell from the pics but the tree really shakes and all the loose stuff falls to the ground

Not long after that a cardiologist from the local hospital came in and bought a Gift Certificate. I was told I might never sell one, and my second transaction was for one.  I had to pull my instructions out, but he was very nice about it.  He buys a tree for a local family in need and gets the gift certificate so they can just come ind an pick one out.  So nice.  Plus we had a nice long chat about how he retired from the Air Force and they paid for his education, which we are definitely passing along to our youngest Kay.  At 46 he is debt free, fully educated, and receives a pension from the Air Force for his twenty years of service.  Really smart guy and a nice man.

After him was a great couple who had just moved to the area.  They both work from home, and wanted a beautiful tree flocked.  They also bought tons of extras.  We walked through the flocking process for the first time, put the tree on hold until it could be done in the morning, and they were a thoroughly pleasant couple.  Plus since we make commission on all the extras I was pretty excited about the sale.  My take is to allow people to look at trees, answer questions, but no selling, and that’s what I have told my people.  These trees are so beautiful they sell themselves, and we just need to educate folks on why they are special.  Since this is a high-end area, no one even blinked at the prices, and I am feeling good about executing my business plan.  We are a small lot, off the main streets, so we are never going to sell the most trees, but we can sell lots of extras and more of the higher end trees.  We receive the same set rate regardless of the price of the tree, but we get a bonus on overall sales at the end.  The bonus is subjective and decided at the end of the season by the owner, but I have no reason to believe he won’t be fair with us.

Lee wetting down the couples tree

Lee wetting down the couples tree

His first solo flocking

His first solo flocking

Despite the malfunctioning machine, I think he did a beautiful job

Despite the malfunctioning machine, I think he did a beautiful job

Finally, we got a fourth couple with two kids and they went back and forth between two trees for some time.  Earlier in the day I had everyone pick their favorite tree and put a little sign on it saying “Tracy’s favorite” etc and they picked “Lee’s Favorite”.  It really was a beautiful tree, but the family had some discussions because it was a little smaller than the tree they normally get.  Once the decision was made (and so far Mom is always the deciding factor), Lee and I shook it and loaded it up into their truck.  No tip on this one, maybe because we are obviously the managers but that didn’t matter since it was fun.  The tree shaker is my favorite part.  They had a discount postcard from last year, so once again I was pulling out my cheat sheet, but they were very nice about it.  The kids were pretty well behaved, but a little bored and at one point I saw the 9 year old boy crawling on the ground between two 8-1/2 footers.  I immediately said, “Oh No” and explained seriously, but politely that the trees were extremely heavy (taking two big guys to lift) and if they fell on him they would smoosh him flat.  That got his attention and he stayed in the aisle  from that point forward.

So it was a good day from a sales perspective and the $555 in sales totally covered my labor for the week.  I completed the batch process on the credit card machine, the Z tape on the cash register, and the daily recap excel spreadsheet.  I did well for my first time, and was really glad that I had the opportunity to “soft open” and run through all these tasks in a low volume atmosphere.  We will be open again on Monday and then again maybe all day on Wednesday.  Since technically we don’t open until Black Friday we get to choose our own hours.  It is cold in the tent though, especially when the sun goes down, and we really need someone “on the floor” at all times.  My schedule this week has 1 person with us Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and I can call more people in as needed.  I don’t want to over staff until I get a feel for what the traffic will be like, but based on today I am feeling good about it.  I do need to teach Lee the cash register though.  None of the employees are allowed to use it, and occasionally I may need to use the bathroom 🙂

I feel so much better abut the whole thing and even Lee thought selling the trees was fun.  My major Lesson Learned though would be to put out a Craig’s List Ad Day 1 on arrival and start hiring.  Don’t wait for last year’s employees to show up, as you need strong help as soon as possible for the multiple loads of trees.  Speaking of which, we still have several loads to go.  We can take about 30 more Nobles, and we need tabletop/kid’s trees (under 3′), wreaths, and garland.  I had a couple ladies come in and ask when that would be coming yesterday, and that all has to be in by Black Friday.  We also still have those 4 big trees I need to get up as soon as I get the stands, and that will require at least three strong people.  Still feeling good.

Lee getting us organized. Love that guy!!

Lee getting us organized. Love that guy!!

OK, so maybe my cheeriness from this morning was a little premature.  Our first employee this morning no called/no showed (after texting us a few days earlier that he was fine with the schedule) and that set the tone for the day.  Lee and I decided not to call anyone else in (because we found out we weren’t getting a shipment of trees after all) and moved the tree from yesterday to flock it.  It was tough though because the machine is just not working right.  Or maybe it is and we don’t know better, but we fussed with that tree for the better part of an hour.  I woke up with one goal today, getting a haircut (can’t run a tree boutique with shaggy hair), but I couldn’t leave at 9am because the employee no showed and then when I tried to leave after flocking the tree two customers came in.  Plus I got a call from the YMCA and they were coming in to pick up their donated tree.  I trained Lee on the basics of running a transaction this morning, but the donated tree was complicated.  They also bought a stand and were tax exempt so that was all new to me as well.  After the YMCA was taken care of it was lunch time and then I decided to just wait until tomorrow.  One customer from this morning was coming back with the stand they bought last year and I wasn’t sure when.

They ended up arriving about 2:30pm and bought a beautiful 9 foot tree and wanted very heavy flocking.  Oh boy.  We worked through that and when I rang her credit card on the new program we are trying, somehow she voided the transaction.  That was scary because I barely noticed it and when I tried to rerun it on the old machine the card was locked out.  Thankfully she had another card and we were able to process the transaction.  But she then said she wanted delivery.  That’s OK, because it’s paid for at the time of delivery, but a whole other new form to fill out and then discussion around when we can deliver.  Thankfully she wants it next Monday so we have plenty of time, but we are both pretty nervous about the heavy flocking.  Plus, who am I going to send to do the delivery and setup? Straight delivery is no issue, but I am sending people into this woman’s home and aside from two employees, I barely know them.  Oh and that tree we flocked earlier in the day still wasn’t dry and the people were supposed to pick it up today.

Finally I just called Greg and asked him if he could stop by on his way home.  I hated to ask that as he will already have put in a twelve hour day, but these trees are worth several hundred dollars each and the last thing we want is an unsatisfied customer.  Lee wasn’t trained on these processes, because there were no trees to train on, so to do a beautiful job and screw up the bagging and loading onto a vehicle is the very last thing we want.  Thankfully Greg said yes and I am sure we will be fine after we see it once.  There’s just a lot to learn here and through my dumb luck I got all the weird ones first.  I said to Elaine earlier, I would just like to sell a regular tree without the fancy stuff 🙂 It’s a good sign though that we are selling the high end stuff, and I am sure things will settle in once Lee and I have done everything once.

Greg got here at 8pm and we spent an hour learning how to wrap a flocked tree, properly tie trees to cars, poly wrap a flocked tree and heavy flock a tree.  Turned out the motor went bad on on the flocking machine, so Greg is bringing a backup tomorrow.  We were open the whole time and got a couple lookers but no buyers, and by the end of the night I was exhausted.  Greg and Cori stopped by briefly, which was the high point of the day, but really I am feeling super overwhelmed.  It’s so much to learn and we are learning it in front of customers, which is extra hard. And it’s not just mentally tiring.  Lee is walking  10,000 -15,000 steps a day and has lost 15 pounds since we got here.


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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Hiring Employees and More Trees

One of the most difficult things about this job so far has been the hiring of employees.  Since Lee was specifically told in the interview process that “employees would just show up” and that has definitely NOT been the case for us, I want to walk you through what has been happening.  It’s important, because many people simply don’t want to deal with this sort of thing and since I have spent most of this week doing exactly that I think it’s worth a deeper look.  Here’s a chronological list of how this has played out.

  • We unpacked the trailer and put up our help wanted signs.  Once the signs were up we started to get some walk up traffic.  Since the gates weren’t always open though people came and didn’t know how to get our attention.  I ended up putting the cell phone number for the phone we were given on the sign, so people would have a number to call and let us know they were outside.  Just to be clear though this was not hordes of people.  We had maybe 6 people walk up, but you needed to be vigilant for it so you weren’t surprised or didn’t miss anyone.  Other more established lots had as many as 30 people walk up though, so this can definitely vary depending on where you were located and how years the tent has been in that location. I hired 2 walk-ups, one of which eventually told me he was going to get more hours at his regular job and couldn’t work.
  • We were given all of last years applications.  There were only 7 and eventually when people didn’t come I called the numbers.  3 numbers were disconnected and I left 4 messages.  One returned phone call resulted in a rehire, one returned the call stating they had moved, but I never heard from the other two.
  • When we received our first shipment of trees and I only had two people, I started to get panicky.  I was directed to put a Facebook ad on a garage sale site for the local area and a craigslist ad.  The Facebook ad resulted in numerous phone calls and 1 hire.  The quality of people I was talking to was generally very good through the Facebook Ad and usually they weren’t interested because the amount was to low.  We are paying $8 which is on the high end of the scale, many others are only paying minimum wage.  The other reason was availability.  It was hard for me to be very specific about the hours at this point, and since most of these folks had another job, I really needed weekends at least for availability.
  • That takes me to the Craiglist Ad.  The first couple of days I was inundated with texts and phone calls.  In general these folks (at least in how they communicated) less appealing.  There were exceptions of course, I made one good hire this way, but I talked to tons of people who were in some cases borderline rude.  For the phone conversations there were kids in the background, loud TV’s, and folks having multiple conversations.  They wanted to know pay and hours and I wanted to know availability and good they lift over 50 pounds consistently.  Many of these interactions never got beyond this point, but they were still time consuming and the calls/texts went from morning until late evening.

Once I had vetted a person out on the phone I set up an interview.  I scheduled at least 10 in the first couple of days and at least half never showed up.  One missed the first interview, called to reschedule, I gave him a second chance and then blew me off a second time.  This was a problem, because it tied me to the tent during the time periods the person was supposed to be coming in. Since I had to stagger the interviews, I was “stuck” in readiness mode for several hours.  One morning all three of my interviews just didn’t show up and although I filled the time with inventory, watering trees, and organizing, I couldn’t just go into my rig and work on other things.  I also hired a couple of people who then blew me off when I tried to schedule them for their first day of work.

Again, I mention this because some people would have zero interest in this.  I think we might actually have packed up and left if Lee was having to do this.  I have some early work experience as a fast food manager so have done this sort of thing before, but it is not fun.  And it is especially not fun when you are under time pressure. At this point on Friday morning I have 4 hires and one more interviews scheduled.  I am still getting some calls from the Craigslist ad but only a couple a day and none of them were worth even scheduling an interview.  4 probably won’t be enough people, but I am honestly not sure.  I want to make sure I give enough hours to the people I have hired and if I over hire this could be a problem.  I also have no idea if they will actually stay with me until I see them work.

This has also been a problem as I need to know when trees are coming so I can schedule folks to train.  For whatever reason it has been extremely difficult to get solid info on when trees are coming so coordinating a training session has been tough.  Finally, I managed to communicate my problem to the owner and he worked with me to schedule a tree delivery later in the day.  So today at noon I have all 4 employees coming in and a load of trees.  It really shouldn’t be this hard to coordinate something like this, but I do understand I am only seeing things from my end. Still, I don’t have enough labor dollars to have people just waiting around and with limited availability can’t just call people with little notice to come in.  The larger lots have staff on hand most of the time during the setup process, but since we are a smaller tent, I didn’t feel right about having people here with nothing to do, plus I need to save those hours until we are actually open for business.

So this is our situation.  There is a lot of work to do. We have minimal employees to do it.  The two we have have been absolutely fantastic and I am so grateful for them, but it’s a ton of work even when I can get both of them at the same time.  I don’t know when to schedule people because I don’t know when deliveries are going to come.  And I am trying to hold onto my labor hours as much as possible.  The only way to solve this problem is for us to do most of the work.  Interestingly enough, I have heard that the other new couples are taking a different tact.  There are four new couples all together and they are all different in what they are willing to do themselves.  One couple in particular seems to have drawn a line in the sand and is using the warehouse staff to complete most of the tasks.  I get it. The only reason we are not doing that is Lee has the skill set to complete most of the tasks, I am not afraid of physical labor, and we really like the warehouse people they have sent us and it is not in our nature to stand around and watch other people work.  Still this whole thing could have been avoided by setting clear expectations regarding the setup workload, hiring of employees, and how many man hours we could use during the setup process.  I can understand why people would be frustrated.  I am frustrated.  And again please keep in mind none of us has any idea how much money we will ultimately make. It’s hard not to feel like we are being taken advantage of at this point.

An to further illustrate here is how Friday went.  We got the load of trees in at noon as promised.  One of my four employees got a flat tire and never came.  One of my four employees came briefly for training but had to leave because her other job had called her in.  The other two did fantastic, especially the young woman we hired who grew up on a ranch she was amazing.  The four of us unloaded the trailer which had roughly 42 trees on it which is harder than it sounds because these were the Nordman’s.  The Nordman’s are very dense and heavy and many of them were in the 8 foot range.  Once the trailer was unloaded we started processing them and with the four of us it took until 4:00pm to get 2/3 of the load done.  One good thing is it was 85 degrees with 87 percent humidity right before the delivery came and then miraculously the heat broke.  The temperature dropped significantly and the humidity feel to a reasonable 35 percent.  Thank heavens because even with some flaps up it is HOT in that tent and doing that in the heat would have been rough.

HEre's the batch of trees we received. Lifting some of these required two people

Here’s the batch of trees we received. Lifting most of these required two people.

And what our initial row looked like

And what our initial rows looked like once they were stood up

We sent one person home (she had started working her other job at 3am that morning) and then finally sent the fourth home at 5pm.  Lee and finished unbinding, measuring, and tagging the trees on the floor and were done by about 6pm.  Lee walked 13,000 steps today according to his Iphone app and my back is really unhappy with me.  At 5’4″, 130 pounds I am not really built for heavy lifting and some of those trees were very heavy.  I did the best I could though and we stopped when we had all had enough. I also managed to setup another interview for tomorrow and conducted an interview and hired someone in the middle of all that.  If we continue with the current rate of attrition though I don’t see the interview/hiring process ending anytime soon.

Then we got a call that said at 8am they would be dropping off 9 large trees all at least 9 feet and one 11′ and one 12′.  Based on today I knew we would need an employee and thankfully one of ours can come in, but it was a close thing.  Hopefully once these trees are up this will will get easier as we will be filling holes rather than an entire tent, but for right now it’s tough.  We are supposed to get at least two deliveries tomorrow, so should be a long day.

Well it’s the end of Saturday and instead of trying to explain how big these trees are why don’t I just show you.  The two biggest were 12-1/2 feet.  So here’s the pics. So for the quality of some, I was fighting the light and grabbing the shots in between working.

12-1/2 footer getting a D15 stand. The stand alone is over $150.

12-1/2 footer getting a D15 stand. The stand alone is over $150.

The stand is drilled into the tree

The stand is drilled into the tree

The guys pulling it out of the trailer. Around 250 pounds Greg thought

The guys pulling it out of the trailer. Around 250 pounds Greg thought

When it was stood up

When it was stood up

Then loaded onto a tree mule, which worked pretty good once you got it on their

Then loaded onto a tree mule, which worked pretty good once you got it on their

Wheeling it into the tent

Wheeling it into the tent

Moving to the front center of the tent

Moving to the front center of the tent

HEre's me in front of it

Here’s me in front of it

We had enough stands for 4 trees to go up and they were all absolutely beautiful.  Two went on the D20 stands and two on commercial stands with bracers that Lee drilled into the tree trunks. Once again Greg did a great job teaching us.  I have absolutely no complaints there.  Actually the whole big tree thing went well, although we could have used one more big guy.  It forces you to go slow (it took us 2 hours to process 4 trees) and everyone was super careful.  Plus it really makes the front of the tent a showplace, so even if we don’t sell any of these I am glad we have them.  Some folks don’t like them though because we get the exact same amount of commission on a 5 foot tree as we do on a 12 foot tree.  The sales of course get credited to you, but no extra for selling one of these big guys.  Still I am glad we have them, because I think lots of folks will have tree envy for the big ones and spend a little more on a smaller one.

Commerical stand on bracer

Commercial stand on bracer

HEre's an 11 footer on the drill machine. This was hard and took careful coordination

Here’s an 11 footer on the drill machine. This was hard and took careful coordination

Our four big ones all together

Our four big ones all together.  We have 5 more left to process but need to get more bracers

After that we all took a break and our 2nd employee came into work.  These two have been a godsend and are doing a fantastic job, but I am a little worried that we haven’t had more interviews.  I’ve fielded some calls and tried to set interviews up but nothing scheduled until tomorrow and Monday.  We all worked on finishing the Nordmann’s from yesterday and things were really starting to take shape when our next shipment came.  Unfortunately instead of getting the lighter Nobles we got 33 more Nordman’s which we really didn’t have room for.  So we had to start standing them in water in the back corner in a “back stock area”. Our tent is 20 feet shorter than most of the other ones, so we really don’t have much extra room and we had to call and tell the owner to not send another shipment that day.  By this time we were all pretty tired (the driver on the second trip wasn’t Greg and he doesn’t unload trees so it was just the four of us) and we stacked them, finished opening all the ones on the floor, and then I sent the employees home for the day.  You simply can’t have people doing this physical of labor constantly for more than 5 hours and frankly Lee and I couldn’t keep up the pace anyways.

Starting a Backstock area

Starting a Backstock area

More Nordmann's for tommorrow

More Nordmann’s for tomorrow

Lee and I took the time and went and visited both of the tree tents that were near us.  We were happy to see we were on the right track and neither one had made much more progress than us and they had more employees.  We both felt better and stopped at Applebee’s to celebrate.  I’ve been caring around a gift card for over a year, so it was a cheap meal and then we were back on the lot and opening for business by 5pm.  It’s not required that we open, but the other two lots were and I thought having the lights on for a little while would be a good thing.  No one came into the lot, but Lee did get the spotlights put on the sign and hopefully people saw the lights and will come in tomorrow.  From this point on when we are working, we are also open for business and we will see what kind of traffic that generates.  Our official opening date is the day after Thanksgiving, but most folks start a little early.  Anyways it was another long couple of days, but I feel really good about what we accomplished and the people we have so far.  Just pretty worried about getting more folks working soon.  Again, we will see how it goes and we four start again at 9am tomorrow to process more trees.

Open for the evening

Open from 5pm – 7pm


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog. Thank you.   Search Amazon.com here

First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Trees Arrive

After the big group meeting the next several days were very busy.  We were told at the meeting that we would probably be getting trees either the 17th or the 20th, so even though I had only hired two people I felt like I still had some time.  Then we got a call on Monday morning saying trees were coming first thing the next day. WHAT??  Lee called the owner immediately and explained our employee situation and he agreed he should hold the trees until we had at least 4 people hired.  He gave me the name of a fellow Lot Operator of a couple of fellow Lot Operators to talk to and I sprang into action.  I spent the day setting up a Craigslist Ad (not as hard as I thought it would be), advertising on a local Garage Sale Facebook page (this was pretty easy), and calling a couple nearby lots to see if they had any extra helpers (they did not).  It took most of the morning because I needed pictures, to be accepted into a closed Facebook group, to set up a Craigslist account, and specific language, which thankfully Leia from another lot helped me with.  And I have to say it worked.  I started to get calls/texts (yes people text now for job inquiries), and I spent the afternoon and evening fielding those calls and setting up interviews.

Lee spent the time finishing putting in a PVC pipe system for the water and we both cleaned and organized a bit in whatever downtime we had. I also worked with one of the other Lot operators to get a macro-ladened excel spreadsheet (my daily report sheet) on my computer and get trained on it.   I had been warned that a Craigslist Ad would open the floodgates and that was true. Plus some people just showed up at the lot, which was fine, but required at least one of us to be onsite.  We had walked away from the meeting with a small list of items we needed to purchase (we buy them and are reimbursed later), but Lee didn’t feel comfortable leaving me on the lot alone with people just showing up.  By 5pm I had hired one person, the assistant manager from the Shell station next door, and setup several interviews for the following day.  Then we got a phone call from the delivery driver that our trees were loaded and he would be onsite at 8am.  WHAT???

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PVC pipe for water

OK,  at this point we were both getting pretty annoyed. We had a clear plan with the owner and I had worked my butt off all day to get more people, but still only had three.  Of those three, only one was available in the daytime and could I even get him there at 8am on such short notice? So the driver went back to the owner who admitted he had dropped the ball, but now the trees definitely needed to come because they were already loaded up, and he would send an extra person to help us unload and train us on prepping the trees, which we still hadn’t been shown.  Wednesday, folks were on our lot at 7:40am (we were up and ready to go) and the trees arrived at 8am.  The guys jumped right in training us, and I have to say they did a great job working with me.  Despite my post the other day, every one of them worked with me like I was anyone else, and the training went well.

The process for prepping the trees is basically as follows:

  • Trees are unloaded from the trailer and stacked lying down.y003
  • Then a small (about 1/4-1/2″) slice is cut off the butt of the trunk using an electric chainsaw. This opens the tree up to accepting water (When they are cut they “seal” themselves, and can’t drink water, but this also helps them stay fresh. Once you make this cut, you have 30 minutes to get it in water, or they will seal over again. Because of this trees are completed in groups of 5 through the whole process, to make sure they don’t stay out of water too long.  I learned how to use a chainsaw and for the first time ever used one.  I felt OK about it, although I don’t think it will ever be my favorite thing, but it is hard learning a new things with three guys you don’t really know watching you.  Still, I hung in there and they were very helpful.
  • Once the trees are cut, they are carried to a drilling machine and stood upright.  You put your foot on a pedal and it opens four bars and when you release the pedal the jaws close around the trunk to center the trunk over the drill hole. The jaws don’t hold the tree up, just keep it from sliding on the plate. Someone still needs to hold it upright, but all the weight is on the plate. Above the tree is a pointer that is adjustable, so you can line up the top with the drill hole. This is a two person (or three if the tree is big) job, and then once you make sure the tree is straight (what constitutes straight took some explaining) you push a lever slowly which pushes up a drill through a hole in the plate. That makes a 6 inch deep hole in the trunk that’s perfectly straight.
    y004

    Drilling Machine

    y001

    Closed

    y002

    Open

  • The tree is then removed from the drill, and held while a stand with a serrated stainless steel spike and a bowl with a hole in the center and a rubber grommet is hammered onto the tree.  The hammering requires some force, because the hole is slightly smaller than the spike. I didn’t do so great at this because the angle is weird, but I learned the principle and could do it in a pinch. Once the tree is on the spike, the tree will swell up around the spike and it gets very tight.

    Stands for trees

    Stands for trees

  • Then the tree (which is still wrapped in twine) is taken to a specific area of the tent.  The tent is divided into four quadrants(one for each type of tree) and placed in a row based on size, with the tallest trees being in the middle of the tent and the smallest near the edges.  The initial spacing of the trees was a bit of a challenge because we had never done this before and every tent is a little different.  Thankfully our one daytime employee had shown up and he is also our only returning employee.  With his help, our lot mentor, and the driver we were able to at least get the pattern started, but it was pretty chaotic trying to figure out where everything was going to go.  This whole process gets more complicated as trees fill up the tent, but having a complete open space and not really understanding how it would work when it was done was also tough.

    Row of trees with twine

    Row of trees with twine

  • The trees are immediately given water (very thankful Lee had the watering system completely done by this point) and then they are measured, untwined, shaken, and tagged.  This whole process (for 32 trees) took a couple of hours mainly because we were learning and figuring out where everything went, and just coming up with a system.

    Tree in twine with water

    Tree in twine with water

So it was all pretty stressful, and although everyone they have sent to help has been very nice, Lee and I feeling were left feeling uneasy.  Because we are a small lot, I am only hiring around 6 people to start and so far it looks like only two of them will have daytime availability. Plus, based on our labor projections, I can’t afford to always have folks on the clock and really need some advance notice on when these deliveries will be happening or Lee and I will end up doing the bulk of the unloading.  From what I am hearing though, this is all pretty common, but hopefully they will get things more organized in the near future.   We kept our employee for a couple of hours, worked on re-organizing the lot, and I fielded numerous calls from potential employees and set up more interviews.  I also hired my fourth person and let the owner know that we were staffed enough to take another shipment of trees.  Everything finally calmed down around 2pm so Lee and I left the lot and started running the errands we had. We also made arrangements to visit Kate’s tree lot, because more than ever I felt I needed to see what all this was supposed to look like.  We were getting feedback from the people who came to train us, but it has been somewhat contradictory and seeing it in person would really help.

Our dancing Santa is up, although he doesn't really dance yet

Our dancing Santa is up, although he doesn’t really dance yet

First row of trees unfoilded

First row of trees unfolded

Really pretty trees

Really pretty Noble

Less than an hour later, in the Home Depot parking lot I received a call from the driver that they were sending a trailer full of supplies and would be at our lot in 45 minutes.  OK.  I would love to say I was surprised at this point, but we weren’t.  So we cancelled the lot visit, cut our errands short, and drove back to the lot.  And since calling in an employee just to unload a trailer would have been difficult, the three of us unloaded it.  Of course, I had a walk up applicant at the same time, so we are unloading, learning about what we were taught, and I was managing a person filling out an application at the same time.  Not cool.  The one good thing, is our driver Greg is a wonderful guy.  He has been super helpful since the beginning, and since he used to run one of these lots, and helped at ours last year, he has been our best source of information.  And the applicant was great and more importantly can work anytime.  So I had my trailer of stuff, I had my fifth employee, and we learned a little more.  But neither one of us was happy about the way it played out.

Since we got here, 11 days ago, we have left this lot together (except for the scheduled training sessions) in the daytime only twice.  The first time we went to breakfast and received a call during breakfast that a trailer was coming and needed to return and the second time was today.  Keep in mind we haven’t received any wages (returning managers get $1,000 bonus their first day, but we don’t get paid until the end) and I have lost track of how many hours we have worked up until this point.  Whether or not we are actually working though, we are definitely “on call” and those calls have come as early as 7am and as late as 7pm at night.  Also, because we did not have returning employees the bulk of the labor so far has been done by us.  Yes, we have had some help to get started, but most of the work has been on us.  Once we get going, that may change, but the amount of time and effort in this setup stage is way, way, WAY more than we understood it would be.  And just to be clear, it’s not so much about the work.  You know by now that we aren’t afraid of hard work.  But the combination of work without compensation and feeling like we are on call 24/7 is wearing us down a little.  We have no idea until the end how much we will be making, but just based on the base pay we know we will receive ($2,500) and 58 days of being here we are making as a couple around $43 a day.  That’s total as a couple, not each. Of course that may all change if we sell a lot of trees or receive a healthy season bonus, but for right now we are taking quite a bit on faith.

After I wrote the above, I took a shower, went down the street for a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich, and by 6:30am was settled down learning the cash register.  I worked on one of these back in the 80’s and thankfully it hasn’t changed much.  Plus the instructions were excellent and the training mode option allowed me to “play”.  In about an hour I felt comfortable and asked Lee to move the register to the booth.  After that I started checking the trees for water (this is done every morning and every night…thirsty little buggers) and while I was doing that Lee was trying to find out where our package was sent to. We placed an order at Amazon and were told UPS would deliver to our lot.  Instead they sent it to the US Post Office and now it is in no man’s land, because the post office won’t deliver here.  Lee told me he was going to drive over to the post office and try to find it when he got a call from Greg.  The owner wanted us trained on flocking trees today and Greg would be here between 8:00am and 8:30am.  This text came in at 7:05am and once again, we were changing our schedule.

I have to say once again though that Greg is great.  He’s super helpful and the flocking process was pretty cool.  First you shake the tree on a shaker and then you put the tree on a revolving platform.  Then you spray the flocking on and voila you have a beautiful “snow-covered” tree.  We can flock lightly or more heavy and the drying time depends on how humid it is. Once it is dry, we polytube wrap it for a customer and then it is delivered to them.  This process is not cheap (starts at $8.50 a foot for the smaller trees), so it’s important the tree is handled very carefully after flocking.  One of the major benefits to the customer though is the tree doesn’t need to be watered after flocking and it locks in the smell, which is good for folks who have allergy issue.  Speaking of smell, the first group of trees has opened up and the tent smells great.  They really are very pretty and a couple of them are absolutely beautiful.  I’ve decided to mark my favorites with a tag of some sort to call them out.  Not changing the price, just saying the manager thinks this is a pretty tree.

Lee on the rotating flocking stand. Isn't he handsome :)

Lee on the rotating flocking stand. Isn’t he handsome 🙂

Tree before it is flocked

Tree before it is flocked

This mist with the paper based flocking is pretty widespread

This mist with the paper based flocking is pretty widespread

The final result is really pretty

The final result is really pretty

This tree took 4 hours to dry because it was so humid but the end product was great

This tree took 4 hours to dry because it was so humid but the end product was great

But although the day started out well, the rest of it was pretty frustrating.  We finished inventory of all of our For Sale items and found places they would live. Then we sat around and waited for UPS to arrive with our awning screen.  UPS had told us they would deliver to the lot, but around 4pm we received a text that the driver couldn’t deliver because it wasn’t a “valid address”.  So we wasted a whole afternoon and still didn’t receive the item we needed.  We have talked about a sun screen since the beginning, but held off because of price.  Here though we are facing directly into the sun all day (no choice about which direction we are facing) and it’s been as high as 92 in the daytime.  We have AC in the rig, but the full sun is making it difficult for it to keep up and since we need to be outside waiting for applicants etc, a nice to have become a need to have.

This is where I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone.  Since January, we have earned $300.26 from our readers who have clicked on our links and made a purchase.  This money comes to us in the form of Amazon gift certificates and we have held onto them waiting for an expense such as this one.  Since you are helping contribute to our lifestyle, I thought it was only fair we spent the money on RV related stuff, and we wanted to wait until an expense came along that was an extra, but important.  So you just bought us an awning sun blocker screen, and we very much appreciate that.  They are not cheap at $169, but we will definitely get full use out of it here and in Quartzsite this winter.   And since Christmas is coming up, I thought I would take a moment and explain how the program works, if you would like to help but don’t really understand how the program works.  I didn’t so don’t feel bad 🙂

You can click on any link on our site (or the link at the bottom of every post) and it takes you to Amazon.  From there you can sign into your account (if it doesn’t come up with you signed in) and then navigate the pages just like you normally would.  ANY purchase you make within 30 minutes of going to Amazon is linked to our Associates account and we get a tiny percentage of your purchase(s).  It doesn’t cost you anything extra, you can still get free shipping if you are a Prime member, and honestly there are no hidden fees or anything.  It’s just a way for you to send a little our way, which as you can see does add up over time.  Also, I don’t have any visibility into who makes the purchases, I just get a report that tells me the dollar amount purchases made and my percentage.  If it’s not something you are interested in, that’s OK, too.  My take on blog writing is that it’s the modern-day equivalent of  being a roaming story-teller.  I compare it to wandering into a village, telling a tale or two, and getting a hot meal, a place to stay, or maybe a dollar or two.  I imagine the folks who traveled and told tales in the “olden days”, did it for the love of travel and the making of tales rather than any expectation that they would get rich from it.  I feel the same way. But I certainly don’t mind the occasional bowl of soup 🙂

Our new awning. Thank you again. It's not only a suncreen, but gives at least the illusion of a little privacy, nice seen when are facing the back of the tent

Our new awning. Thank you again. It’s not only a sunscreen, but gives at least the illusion of a little privacy, nice seeing as how when are facing the back of the tent

 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog. Thank you.   Search Amazon.com here

 

 

First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Group Meeting and Celebrating our Road-A-Versary

Saturday we had a group meeting with everyone at the warehouse, and I have to say I feel so much better about everything.  First of all we all were together and the meeting was largely conducted by the owner of the company.  Since our initial training session was in separate groups, I hadn’t really talked to him, but it was great getting to hear his philosophy.  He spent some time talking about what was important to him, which I really appreciated since knowing those things up front make it so much easier to be successful.  Also, since everyone was together it was clear we weren’t the only couple who was redistributing the job duties.  I would say about half of the couples were strictly dividing the roles, but many others (and it didn’t always follow age lines, btw) had divided things  differently. Best of all I started with a list of questions, but by the time we hit the open Q&A I only had two left, which were both answered. I felt both heard and respected, and this was reiterated when the owner told me after the meeting how impressed he was by Lee and I.

I’m a pretty straightforward employee.  A clear set of instructions and some positive feedback goes a long way with me.  I was also impressed by the other team members I met.  They are a smart, energetic bunch of people, and since employees can tell you quite a bit about an organization, both the attitude and longevity of the employees told me quite a bit.  Many of them were in their 4th or 5th year of selling these trees and although everyone stated it was hard work they also said we would have fun.  Works for me! The company is also in transition from a paper process to an electronic one and I really liked how they explained that it was a new process and asked for both forbearance and feedback.  Often, as a new person you aren’t told that, and as the inevitable kinks are worked out, you are left feeling incompetent.  Not cool.

One of our biggest challenges in this location is the lack of historical data.  This is only the second year they’ve had this particular lot, and it closed early last year. We’ve heard conflicting reasons as to why. Labor costs are built around how many trees you sell, but I don’t really know what that number will be.  The owner has 30 years of experience though, and when I asked him for an estimate he gave me one.  It is just an estimate, but we may sell around 600 trees.  That’s not really that many compared to the larger lots that are selling 1100 or more, but it’s not insignificant.  Plus, since we are in a very high end area we have the opportunity to sell both higher quality trees and more sundries. Personally, I am thrilled.  I have no issue with the first year being on a smaller lot, with less volume.  It’s a great way to cut our teeth on this whole thing.  Not all new employees are given lower volume lots though. I really connected with another newbie, Christine, and she and her husband are in Corpus Christi and are projected to sell 2500 trees.  Wow.  The main difference in that kind of volume is the number of employees you need.  They will probably have around 15 whereas we will have 4-6.  Fewer employees equals fewer headaches in my mind, so again I am cool with our first year being on the “baby” lot.

There are a couple of other things we have done this last week that I probably should mention.  First of all, I signed up for the Affordable Care Act, and since that is a huge deal for most people I thought I would talk about the process for a minute.  I’m not going to get into the politics of it, but I will say for us, at this time, it’s great.  I purchased some gap insurance this year when my COBRA jumped from $361 to $1000 a month and for $340 a month I have had a high deductible, catastrophic policy.  It did NOT cover wellness care of any kind though, and since I turned 50 this year that was a major problem.  I am overdue for a mammogram, Pap smear, and colonoscopy and no way could I afford those tests out of pocket.  It would wipe out our HSA account.  Thankfully, the ACA program covers all those tests with no deductible and Florida (our home state) still offers a plan, FloridaBlue, where those tests will be 100% covered under the national Blue Cross, Blue Shield network.  If I didn’t live in Florida, I would need to select a HMO and then make a trip back there for those tests, or the more likely scenario is that I would blow them off.  Even though I am in good health, I have always been a huge advocate of wellness care, and it bothers me that these tests have not been completed yet.  Now, hopefully, I can get them done this winter, either in Texas or Arizona.  Oh, and the costs (with an estimated $42,000 in annual income which was a huge guess as we really have no idea) will be a reasonable $340 a month.  In all fairness, those costs could go up (as high as $939 a month) if we make more than $67K this year, but if my income level stays in the sweet spot it should be OK.   It’s not perfect, but it is workable for us, and personally I am grateful the program exists.  I know it doesn’t work for a lot of people though, but I am hopeful  President-elect Trump doesn’t throw the whole program out the window.  If that does happen, we will still have options.  We could find mobile jobs with insurance coverage, continue to have a catastrophic plan and forgo wellness care, or leave the road and find jobs with coverage.  The last option is the least likely in my opinion, because we are thankfully in good health, but it is an option.  The main reason I mention all of this is I know this is one of the major stumbling blocks for most people starting this lifestyle.  I have always said, and still maintain, that our life will not be held hostage by healthcare.  Again, I am fully aware that we can say that because we have no major health issues, but for us it is still valid.

Along these lines, we also finally bought the Phillips Ultrasonic Toothbrushes that the dental hygienist in  Alaska recommended.  We got an excellent deal at Costco (two pack for $110) and I was able to purchase them using my HSA account.  I’ll be honest, I am not crazy about the way the vibration feels, but wow my teeth felt clean when I finished using it. I can understand why she said this was comparable to getting a cleaning. I actually worry more about dental care than anything else, since Lee has a family history of gum disease, and these tooth brushes are supposed to help with that as well.  My favorite part is they have a UV light cleaner for the heads that comes with the package.  Tons of bacteria reside in your teeth, especially when you are ill, and although I try to change toothbrushes out after I have been sick, it’s sometimes tough to remember.  We can clean the bacteria from these heads nightly which is a really great feature.  

Finally, I have been in contact with a gate guarding company in Texas.  This is a job opportunity that we wanted to explore and I found a company on Work Kamper that is less than 45 minutes from where we are.  We have to be licensed as security in the State of Texas, but the agency we are working with can walk us through all of that.  Next week sometime we will be going and getting certified and on their list and I will let you know how that all turns out.  There are some upfront costs ($10 for fingerprinting and $42 for the state license) but we both feel it’s worth paying a little upfront and seeing what happens.  I’ll let you know.  If there are no job opportunities in the January – March time frame then we will be heading to Quartzsite, at least until we can find other employment opportunities.  It’s an inexpensive place to hang out while we aren’t working, and has the added benefit of many of our friends being there as well. Not sure what’s going to happen with all that since they keep names on a list, and assignments are often last minute, but will let you know as it plays out.

Which brings me to our road-a-versary.  We went on the road November 14th, 2014 and the first people we stayed with on our first night were Cori and Greg.  Now, two years later, we just happen to be with them again, and are thrilled to celebrate the milestone with them. That is some MAJOR travel serendipity. They were staying in the same campground Rick was in (they missed him by one day, sometimes that just happens) so we went over to  see them and their updated rig. They had been to Indiana and replaced /reupholstered   some furniture and it looked like a whole new rig on the inside. They also added a couple  of mods which  I  really  liked.  We  laughed,  we   ate,  and  Cori  and  I   killed  a  bottle  of  wine.   Last   year  she gave  me   a  bottle  of   my   favorite   wine  to  drink  on   my  50th  birthday  but   I   just   didn’t  want  to   drink  it   without   her.   So  it’s  been in  my  fridge  this  whole  time  and  we  got  to  drink it  together.    That  was nice.

Lee, Greg, and Cori watching the deer

Lee, Greg, and Cori watching the deer

Cori had cutting boards mounted on the underside of her sink covers. LOVED that idea

Cori had cutting boards mounted on the underside of her sink covers. LOVED that idea

They also added an extra cabinet along a trim area. What an excellent way to take advanatge of unused space

They also added an extra cabinet along a trim area. What an excellent way to take advantage of unused space

Dinner was fantastic. I had saved some crab legs from Alaska and Greg really liked them. He and I finished them off. Plus yummy Texas steak. That's a meal!!

Dinner was fantastic. I had saved some crab legs from Alaska and Greg really liked them. He and I finished them off. Plus yummy Texas steak. That’s a meal!!

Cori and Greg!!!

Cori and Greg!!!

We loved dinner and we love them and what a wonderful way to celebrate our Road-A-Versary!!


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First Time Selling Christmas Trees- More Setup and Cori and Greg come to Help

As you could see from the  pictures there was still quite a bit of setup to be done, so on Thursday we got the help of the company’s one full time employee, Mike.  The three guys we had the day before had moved onto another tent and Mike came to help with the lights and to finish the wiring.  I know this is all a little confusing, heck we have been pretty confused, so let me take a step back here and try to explain what I think is going on.  Out of 15 tents, 4 couples are new.  The other couples are returning, and they are unpacking a tent they packed last year and they know how the lot should look because they have done this before, in some cases for 5 years or more.  They are compensated for this work with a $1,000 return bonus, which they receive in the beginning of the season.  As newbies we were told the tent setup would be completed for us and although it wasn’t strictly required that we help, it was clear after training just sitting around was frowned upon.  That’s OK.  We certainly aren’t ones to sit while others are working, but we literally have no idea what to do.  I compare it to trying to put a complicated kids toy together without instructions.  You have all the pieces parts and a picture of what the toy should look like, but no idea how to get there.  (We actually don’t have the picture. I would describe this more as helping someone move into a new apartment and set up their stuff in it, where none of the boxes are labeled, and you don’t know what rooms are what. – Lee) Lee in particular was frustrated, because this is so similar to what he used to do for a living.  He setup numerous live events in his career, and has massive amounts of experience unloading trucks and setting up concerts and large scale corporate events into venues.  They key to those setups was clear labeling on the pieces and unfortunately in our case this just wasn’t there.

Unloading the trailer

Unloading the trailer

Lights going up

Lights going up

From the reaction of both the initial team of three and the full time employee Mike, this is not the norm.  Numerous items were mislabeled and we were flat out missing several key pieces.  Let me give you an example.  A flocking room is created with several 2×4’s for a frame and plastic sheeting which is hung for walls.  This is absolutely something Lee could have taken care of but we were missing two of the wood pieces for the frame and the plastic sheeting. Lee and Mike made enough progress though that by the end of the first day they were able to put together a comprehensive list of what was missing and by Friday we finally had everything on site we needed to finish.  More importantly Lee knew what he needed to do to finish the setup which was important because Mike was moving on to another location and we were on our own.  At this point I would say I was surprised but I wasn’t.  They definitely were measuring our abilities as they were working with us and since Lee impressed them,  they knew they that he could finish and they had other people to help.  The owner also let us know that he was short staffed.  He usually has one long-term couple who floats during this process, but that couple had a health emergency and he had been unable to replace them.

Here’s the thing.  We never care about this kind of stuff.  At this point, we are not going to get fussy about compensation.  We’ve been told “we will get taken care of” and we are fine with letting that play out. We also don’t mind working outside our comfort zone.  We are hard workers and happy to jump in and get things done. IF at the end of all this we aren’t fairly compensated we won’t do it again.  Since we have money in the bank we can afford to take a risk.  What drives both of us crazy is the lack of solid information.  This unfolded over the course of several days, where we have had to sit and wait to see what would happen next.  There was no schedule, we never knew who was going to show up, and we never knew what was going to happen.  Now we are fully aware that many people are totally fine with this level of ambiguity and a certain amount is the nature of the beast in these situations, so we both know this is an area we need to work on.  Personal growth.  I think we both did really well, considering our personalities, but the fact that it all could have been avoided with one “OK, here’s what is going to happen” conversation is still frustrating. (I’m not so polite about this. There’s always a better way, and it’s inexcusable not to improve when the path is obvious and it’s equally obvious that everyone will benefit from the improvement, and it will not cost anything. Think of it as being forced to cut a piece of wood with a pair of nail trimmers while sitting on a chainsaw and you have an idea of how I feel most of the time. – Lee)

The one thing that really helped us though was our friends Cori and Greg.  My main job was to decorate the booth (which was set up completely the first day) and since I am not that great with a blank piece of paper, I asked Cori if she wanted to come over and give me some ideas.  Not only did she come over, but she helped me decorate the booth, and Greg came with her and spent about 4 hours helping Lee with wiring.  We certainly didn’t expect that, and it meant so much to both us.  First off, we felt comfortable for the first time since we got here, being with people we knew and secondly they were both competent and super helpful.  Mike was impressed by both of them and actually told the owner about it, which was nice for all of us.  Plus with their help we felt like we turned a corner.  Lee got to the point where he thought he could finish on his own and I completed the main part of my job and felt quite a bit better.

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Cori working on the booth

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Lee stringing wire

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Greg (and Hobie) helping Lee out

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The flocking “room” with the piping down below that Lee put together for our water system

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My booth is pretty much done! I know it looks like a poinsettia threw up in there..but hey it will get the job done

That being said it was still tough on Lee and I, and things came to a head between us Friday evening.  I’m going to explain why, but I want to make it really clear that this next section is not specific to this job only, but is representative to the types of jobs we are seeing on the road.  It’s important to talk about I think, but depending on your relationship may not be pertinent to you at all.  OK, taking a deep breath on this one…here goes.

I don’t consider myself an ultra-feminist, but I suppose if feminist is defined as believing women should be allowed to do anything men can do, then I am one.  I was raised in a small town in the Midwest with very traditional values.  But I was also (until I was 12) the only child of a couple where the wife worked and for most of that time the father was in school.  This was of course highly unusual, and my Dad handled a lot of my childcare when I was young. My grandmother also worked full time in a factory.  She raised four kids, worked, and took care of all of the household chores and cooking.  That’s how it was then.  Even if the wife worked, the husband was still the “breadwinner”.  This was the late 60’s and early 70’s but in small town Ohio it might as well have been the fifties, and at a young age the skewed distribution of work bugged me.  My grandmother was always working, and from my vantage point my grandfather spent a lot of time in his chair.  Obviously it was more complicated than that, but kids have a pretty narrow perception.  Despite the small town, I was raised by both my mother and my father that I could and should do anything I wanted.  This path though was around school and ultimately college which was very important to them as they were both the first people in their families to go to college.  I received lots of help with school stuff, but I never really learned anything mechanical.  Lee on the other hand was raised by a single dad (highly unusual at the time) who loved to hunt and fish.  Since Lee had a more artistic bent this was never a great fit personality-wise, but he did learn how to fix things, cut and split wood, work on cars, basically all the types of things that are highly valuable in this lifestyle.

During our marriage we started out on a more traditional path where I was primarily responsible for the kids and Lee was the primary bread winner and then about 11 years in we switched roles.  I got a fantastic job opportunity, we moved to the more progressive New England area, and Lee became the primary care taker for our three girls since I was traveling so frequently.  Although this setup is really common now, at the time we didn’t know one other couple who was working this way. (The best way to get this point across is that I showed up alone to a parent teacher conference, and the teacher just assumed I was a widower. – Lee)  It took some time for us to figure it out.  Once we did though it was great for me.  I would sit at business dinners and listen to men talk about how they were trying to fix some household crisis from the road (raccoon in the attic, plumbing problem, broken washing machine) and I would juts smile because I would get those calls too but they were always after the problem was fixed.  I had a really sweet deal.  We spent many years that way, and while I excelled and learned in the job/school arena I still didn’t learn to fix anything. By this point Lee could fix practically anything and I had my hands full anyway.  I spent years working my way up the corporate ladder in a male-dominated company and it took me a long time to make my being a woman irrelevant.  I certainly could have traded on my femininity, but that never sat well with me, so as much as possible I tried to be gender neutral.  I rarely talked about my kids, or my husband, or anything traditionally female at all.  Instead I focused on the work and since that is where I excelled it ultimately served me well.

One of my major concerns about going on the road was how I would handle a reversal to what I perceived as traditional roles.  Men drove and took care of the mechanical, women took care of the inside, cooked, and sometimes did crafts.  God, that sounds terrible when you say it like that, but that is what I thought it would be like, and although two years later I have certainly seen some of that dynamic, it is obviously much less than I thought it would be.  More importantly Lee and I don’t work that way.  We started there, because frankly I wasn’t qualified to do anything else, but over time I have learned to do more.  Sometimes this was because I wanted to, but to be more honest it was more often because we had an uneven workload distribution, except this time it is on Lee. We’ve settled in and I continue to learn to do stuff and that would probably all work itself out over time, but then it’s all complicated by a job.  We take a job where the work is distributed by sex and this all comes up again.  It almost always makes sense from a practical standpoint.  He is more likely to know the things he is assigned to do, but it still really bugs me.  In the case of this job it’s really bothering me.

While Lee was setting up, I spent my time reading every scrap of paper they gave us.  I thought this job was hiring us as co-managers of the lot and what I learned in the training from the other women my age was exactly that.  The paperwork, however, told a different story.  His packet was titled Lot Manager and mine was titled Cashier.  On paper he is responsible for the trees, sales with customers, and all employees.  On paper I am responsible for the paperwork and money.  I’ve been told several times I would “never leave the cash booth” and was trained primarily on those processes.  Lee was trained separately on the trees, flocking, etc.  Again, it was clear from the two women close to my age that had done this before, they had redistributed the workload to suit them.  They both talked about helping with trees, watering, and dealing with employees and I could see how we would rearrange the duties to both be more equitable and more suited to our skills sets.  I have lots more experience, for example, hiring and managing employees than Lee does, so it makes sense for me to do that.

And all that would have probably been totally fine if it wasn’t for the setup.  Again, this says a lot more about me than anyone else, but I felt completely useless in the setup process.  After initially helping to unload the trailer (I can unload stuff) I was at a loss.  Lee was at a loss too, but he stayed outside and hung in there.  After attempting to help and feeling like I was just complicating things I retreated.  I used the time to work on other things like inventory, organizing paperwork, calling potential employees and I would pop outside and help with whatever I could, like hanging signs, but mostly I just felt out of my element and retreated.  This bothered Lee quite a bit and eventually it came to a head Friday evening.  His stance (which is the same as how he raised our daughters) was if you want to be equal then you need to be equal and do the things that are less pleasant, because they need done. Fair enough.  My stance was the entire system is designed to relegate me to a lesser role, so screw that, if that’s what they expect, that is what I am going to do.  I’m not very proud of that, but after a couple of conversations with the people helping us where I was figuratively patted on the head and sent on my way, I mentally said “Screw it”.  The problem was that is I left him alone in it and he didn’t deserve that.  We do things together now, and even if I was just standing there handing him tools, I would have been with him.  Plus, I am way better at seeing the nuance in communication than he is and to some extent I could have interpreted.  I also could have helped get things organized way earlier, that’s what I do, after all.  But for some reason, I retreated and that is really not who I have ever been.

The thing that is different for me is that in these short-term jobs, especially tasks that are of a short duration, what’s the point.  I am not going to be working with Mike going forward, so why go to a lot of trouble to show him I am more than he thinks I am. If he, or anyone else really, that I am going to be in limited contact with, wants to dismiss me because I am a woman, so be it.  Not worth the effort.  And here’s the thing, and this is where the feminism comes in I guess, I get dismissed all the time initially.  I am a small woman who initially is unassuming in new situations. Some men put me in a category and then move me out of that category once I start to speak, but others never do. In the latter case, where the men are people I will be dealing with on a regular basis, I need to find ways to change their opinion of me.  When I was younger I did that in an aggressive way, and of course that totally blew up in my face.  As an older woman I have learned to wait for my moment, make my impression, and just allow it to happen.  It almost always does.  Now this all may seem very complicated and possibly it’s even mostly in my head, but let me assure you it is very real.  I spent 7 years of my life working with ex cops and another 15 working with sprinkler fitters and technicians.  It happens all the time, and not always with older men.  A surprising number of younger men have the same mindset, and even on occasion other women. One of the best things about working your way in a corporation is you have a title and more importantly reputation that often cuts through all of that, but not always.  I have gotten very, very good at handling that particular scenario.

But it makes me sad, and it makes me tired, and when I am so out of my comfort zone it’s much harder to deal with.  All of that being said though, it sucks, but it’s part of the deal and I need to push through that and be there for Lee regardless.  We are truly in this together as both a married couple and working partners and we need each other to be successful.

Update:  Lee read this post as he always does and when he got to the end he made an “ugh” noise.  Never heard that before. He liked the post very much, but felt it was missing a conclusion.  I do that a lot.  I talk about my feelings, I share my experience, but I stop just short of planting my flag on my opinion.  Partly I don’t want to offend anyone, and partly I recognize people are all very different and don’t want to draw conclusions for anyone else.  I’m trying to change that about myself though, so here’s my conclusion with of course the caveat that your mileage may vary.  See I have already weakened my stance.  I know what Lee’s take on that would be.  Well baby steps.

Obviously women can do anything men can do.  Small people can’t always do what large people can do, but that is a size issue not a sex issue. Just because these jobs are often setup along traditional lines doesn’t mean I (or anyone else) needs to settle for that.  I don’t mind cleaning a toilet, but Lee is just as capable of that as I am.  If I don’t want to be relegated to housekeeping and cashier roles all them time, then I need to be willing to learn another skill set.  That’s on me, not on any future employer, but it is their responsibility to open up these roles to encourage both people in the couple.  There’s nothing wrong with the jobs being setup in a certain way, but allowing people some variety in their work is important too. Yes, the jobs are temporary, but they are also recurring and cross training is good for both the employee and the employer. Plus with more same-sex couples and singles entering the RVing community, they might be eliminating a pretty large group of potential employees by sticking to strict guy/girl roles.

I truly feel that once again, Lee and I are at the forefront of a major change.  Just like we were in the vanguard couples to switch parental roles, we are also in the forefront of younger, working RVers who want to do things a little differently.  And as I was writing this, we received our first visit from the waste disposal company. Lee was in the shower so I went out and talked to him about our poop.  It was a little embarrassing, but at least I understood what I was talking about.  I would say that’s progress!

 


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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Initial Setup and Training

As I stated in the last post, we made arrangements to meet with someone from the company and arrived at our lot.  In our case, the tent and fencing was already in place and it took some maneuvering to get our rig into place, but with help Lee did a great job fitting us into the spot.  The tent is quite large and the fence goes beyond the tent in the back with a little section for our rig.  My biggest concern was our rig would be right on the main road, but this is definitely not the case, and for the other setups we have seen, they are not on the road either.  This company has 15 locations in the San Antonio and surrounding areas, and many of the people who work for them come back year after year.  We did need quite a bit of hose though, and thankfully Lee always carries extra.  The water spigot was pretty far away, but the water pressure is still good despite the hose length and it is city water which is nice.

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Our tent with trailer.  Felt a little bit like I had joined the circus

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The space where out RV is in relation to the tent.

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The gas station next door. The manager is very nice. He came over and introduced himself

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The light from the car wash lights our outside area all night. Since our bedroom is in the back, it isn’t that big of a deal and is really good from a safety perspective

Saturday,  we drove into San Antonio for training at the warehouse and it was clear this was a mature operation.  The owners have been doing this for 30 years and own the tree farm in Oregon along with living here during the Holidays.  After some initial chatting with folks, Lee and I were separated into two different groups.  He went with the men to learn about the care and setup of the trees and I stayed with the women and learned about the paperwork aspect of the job.  As a general rule I am not a huge fan of division of labor by sex, but in this particular case I kind of understood it.  These trees can be as large as 16 feet and and can weigh 175 pounds.  So, the division of labor seems to be based more on physical strength than aptitude.  That being said, I had three returning managers in my training session and they talked about carrying trees.  So although there may be an initial division of labor, it sounds like it’s all hands on deck when things get busy.

Our group jumped right in and started going through the detail.  I received a huge, hard backed three ring binder and several other folders with Lot #12 specific information.  We were encouraged to ask questions and the returning managers jumped in frequently to add more information, and to be honest in the beginning it was a little overwhelming.  The main problem was I completely misunderstood what this was.  My only experience with Christmas trees was buying them from small, corner lots when they were small.  This company is NOT the same as those.  We will be providing 4 types of trees and they are all hand selected by the owner.  Every tree comes with a warranty to live through Christmas as long as they are cared for properly and since they are “high end” trees their care is important.  One of the main things we learned was the timing of when they are fresh cut and watered and there is relatively small window of time when the tree can leave the lot and be put up and in water at the person’t house.  We also sell wreaths, garland, custom made stands, preservatives, floor protective coverings, and watering spouts. Some of these items I had never seen before (I was not alone in that) and others were much more high tech than what I remember from the past.

Along with products we also sell services which include flocking (spraying the tree or wreaths with a paper pulp product that looks like snow), tree delivery, and tree setup.  Along with the overview of these items, we covered in detail different types of coupons and gift certificates, the nightly 3-page sheet that I have to fill out, and cash/credit card accounting.  We also spent a significant amount of time talking about hiring, scheduling, and managing the temporary employees.  After 6 hours my head was full and I went home with my cash register to practice on and an arm full of documentation to read.  I also took an additional 4 pages of notes that included best practices from the more experienced managers that were there.  It was about as different an experience as one could be from the beet harvest.  This company gives you the tools and guidelines to sell the trees, but also encourages independent thought and ideas.  The atmosphere is very entrepreneurial and best practices and new ideas were all openly discussed and encouraged.  I was very impressed by this, but in many ways this presents it’s own set of challenges.

I spent my career working for large corporations and have little experience in owning my own business.  We are learning with Lee’s video and RV Tech business, but this is still not a strong area for me.  This will definitely challenge me though, and I walked away thinking this would be good for me as I will get a chance to stretch those “muscles” a bit.  Plus the pay structure is designed (flat rate with commission) to encourage out of the box thinking.  With that much openness though there is also ambiguity and you should keep that in mind before considering one of these positions. If you are a person who likes a very specific set of job duties and regular daily routine, this may not be the job for you.  We are managers in the truest sense and expected to deal with most issues autonomously.  We were given mentors (the other tent in New Braunfels) and thankfully the smallest operation in the group.  Actually, I was really glad about that.  I like a challenge, but the complexity of the operation is intimidating enough that I was happy our tree sale volume may actually be half what the busier lots is.  Plus with a low set of expectations regarding sales, it’s much easier to succeed than competing with a very successful previous year.

Most importantly I liked the people.  Everyone was very nice, and genuinely said “Call me if you need anything.”  We were handed a list of everyone’s phone numbers and so far folks have made themselves available to answer questions.  That may change once we get busier, but my plan is to learn everything I can in advance.  The cash register has a training mode, and there is lots of documentation to dig into that will keep me busy.  So what’s next?  Our trailer was delivered Sunday and a team of people will be coming sometime this week to help set everything up.  I also have several other business items that were put on hold during the beet harvest that need to be taken care of.  Cori and Greg hit town on Thursday and if it ever quits raining we would like to find time to do a little exploring.  There’s definitely plenty to do, and the main trick has been not letting it overwhelm us, but to try and tackle things in some sort of systemic way.  I feel like we made good progress on that today, so I am taking a little break and writing this post.  Now I need to get back to my to do list.

Oh and here’s a few potential challenges  I learned about selling Christmas trees.  I thought were interesting.

  • The trees are roughly one year older than their height.  So a 7 foot tree was planted 8 years ago.  That makes the current supply of trees dependent on what the growers projected in the past.  It’s interesting, because the availability of trees does change from year to year and is somewhat cyclical.
  • Fire ants are a problem here.  They can get into the trees and that’s not good.  I have spent some time, treating every ant hill I can find, but there are lots of them.  Hopefully the treatment works and this is a non issue.
  • Feral cats can be a problem.  We have two that regularly hang out at night in the car wash next to us and in the past people have had them climb into trees or even spray on them.  The key is to make sure all trees are inside the tent at night.  Flocking is done in the open air, so these will need to be moved inside before we close.
  • The whole Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas is still a thing when selling trees.  When I was in a corporate environment working with people of many different faiths and cultures I was always careful to tell people to enjoy their holidays, but I think if they are buying a Christmas tree a “Merry Christmas” should come along with it.  Plus here in Texas the sentiment is firmly in the camp of not “taking Christ out of Christmas” and you can offend people if you say Happy Holidays instead.  I have always felt the whole argument was silly, personally, but I will be extra careful to say Merry Christmas in greetings.
  • If the local power goes out you could find yourself doing things by hand.  Since we have solar and a generator, we could run an extension cord from our rig and keep going.  That may seem obvious, but I am glad they said it because I may not have thought of that in the heat of the moment.
  • It’s super important to immediately tag and move a tree that is being placed on hold.  If the tree isn’t tagged you could forget which one.  Not cool.  If it isn’t moved to the back, all of sudden people want to buy it and that could become an issue.  I get it as the kids and I spent way too much time trying to find the “perfect” tree.  To find it and then lose it would have been very upsetting.
  • Service animals can be a challenge.  By law you are not allowed to ask people about their dogs, so people bring them into the lot with expected results.  Dogs and trees often equals peeing.  Some of these trees are very expensive and you can’t easily get the urine smell out of the tree.  Again, hopefully this is a non-issue, but will have to see how it goes.  If people carry their dogs that solves the problem, but not everyone is willing to do that. (Technically, you are only allowed to ask two things of a person with a service dog. 1) Is it a service dog? and 2) What task or work has it been trained to perform. That’s it. Nothing else. Also, interestingly, a business has the right to charge the customer for an item if it is damaged by the animal. So this is a non-issue. – Lee) 
  • Not surprisingly constant cell phone usage is a problem with the younger work force. I am not sure there is any perfect solution for this one, but it should be addressed in the interview process. (I am 100% certain of the solution. No cell phone use while they’re on the clock. This is part time, seasonal work, and if they can’t go two or three hours without access to their phone, they can work somewhere else. I’m paying them for their time. All of it. – Lee)
  • We don’t offer colored flocking, but I guess people can put food coloring in a spray bottle and lightly mist the flocking to make colors.  You can’t get deep colors that way, but I am told the pastels come out nicely. (We do offer glitter on the flocking. It’s my understanding that flocking is messy operation, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to look like the ugliest stripper in the San Antonio area. – Lee)
  • Speaking of flocking,  people like to touch it, and since it is paper it can get ruined that way.  So we are going to have a small demo, flocked tree for people and kids to touch and Do Not Touch signs for the others.  Since I didn’t know touching the flocking damaged it, I understand why it’s necessary, but I wish there was a friendlier way to say it than Do Not Touch.  Maybe I will come up with something. (How about “Touching This Stuff Ruins It. Why Do You Hate Christmas?” ? – Lee)

That’s some of the more generic things I learned, and since none of it is specific to their process, I felt comfortable sharing it.  I think the overwhelming message here is “Who knew selling Christmas Trees was this complicated?”


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