First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Things Actually Get a Little Boring

Thursday I woke up to a cold and blustery wind.  This tent is very heavy-duty and it’s tied down securely, but wind gusts are wind gusts and the side were flapping.  Throughout the week I had been waiting on a pretty big order, which as we continued to sell I kept adding to.  Lots of big trees, more seven footers, more Grands, and more Douglass’ were on their way. I had everyone on standby to help with the truck, but once again had no idea exactly when it was going to come.  At this point, I just wanted to get it so we would have plenty of time to process before the weekend and my hope is this last order would carry us through.  I wanted to avoid processing trees during peak days at all costs and was fine with over stocking a little to avoid that.

I actually gave this order quite a bit of though prior to placing it, because it’s very possible that after this weekend our busy could significantly decrease and then we have a ton of trees that will need to be moved to a different location.  I tried to look at it from the perspective of the owner and made the order based on that.  From a cost standpoint drilling and standing them will be roughly the same no matter who does it, and sending stood, wrapped trees to someone else would only help them.  From a commission standpoint, it’s the same regardless of who sells them. Transportation will be more difficult if they are stood up and wrapped, but transfers between lots do happen frequently and there is even an internal paperwork process in place to handle this scenario.  And since I need to have at least one employee here when we are open for business, processing these trees will give them something to do throughout the day, which might actually save labor costs long-term.

Where it gets more challenging is the unwrapped trees.  They are harder to move and you risk damage during transport, so how many unwrapped trees should we have on the floor.  So I thought long and hard about how many open trees we should have.  The owner has been very clear he is trying to establish a presence in this area, and every customer we make happy this year will return next year with friends.  That’s how new tree stands gain momentum.  Word of mouth and quality of service and trees. That means lots of choices, especially in the larger sizes, and the staff to help deliver them, tie them on cars, etc.  I’ve been super lucky with the deliveries, being able to accommodate almost all of the customers with same day/next day delivery and thus far we have only had to ask people to come back and get their tree the next day a couple of times and those were the 11 footers.

Filling this tent up with these big trees could mean more problems on the back-end with what is left, but will maximize our chance for profit on what I believe will be our busiest weekend.  Plus, selfishly  if I have to sit here day after day I would rather not do it in a half empty tent, listening to people complain about the lack of selection.  It may come to that.  It probably will come to that, but maybe not.  I have seen a willingness on the part of people to drive extra to get the selection they want.  I made a couple Grand sales that way, when others ran out and sold a flocked tree yesterday, because no one else close had pre-flocked trees ready for sale in their tents and I had several. We have a text group where we ask around if a customer is looking for something and we don’t have it, so maybe as the season progresses, I can be the place that has it?

Lee thinks I am nuts by the way.  He’s focused on just finishing the season as painlessly as possible, and my constant tweaking was driving him crazy.  My compromise has been to leave him out of it.  I, and the one or two employees we have (I often do this on shift change and keep once person a little long so we have two people) are moving the trees and rearranging so as the stock diminishes the tent doesn’t look empty.  I am actually enjoying this very much, but every time we make a change trees have to be moved, so I have to be very careful to not require too much of the folks working for us.  It’s kind of like a puzzle.  Figure out a way to get the new pattern locked in with the least amount of moves. Again, Lee thinks I am nuts, but I can’t just sit there.  Wednesday we sold 12 trees which is a little over one an hour.  Seven of the twelve were 8 feet or higher though and we really need another strong person to handle those.  We dealt with two in the morning and the second 8-1/2 footer was really heavy and I could barely handle my end.  And no before you ask the person who bought the tree didn’t offer to help.  That rarely happens, even when I am loading the trees.   So on these slow days, we still need to have an employee but because they aren’t allowed to run the cash register one of us has to sit outside with them.  We out a heater in the little office so it’s not super cold, but it can be pretty boring.  Lee would rather sit outside with a book than get into something and get interrupted, so I am staying inside mostly until a third person is needed. It would be ok if I could actually leave and run some errands, but we never know when it will get busy, so we both have to stay.  Not the most optimal circumstance, but I have managed to keep my labor around $6.50 a tree, which I think is pretty good considering the circumstances.

Thursday we got our truck in and it went great.  I had my four full-time employees and one extra that I was trying out and they rocked it, processing 88 trees in about 2 1/2 hours.  Totally amazing job and so great that we have tons of trees for the weekend.  Even more amazing considering how cold it was.  The wind was blowing very hard and it was in the 40’s all day. I kept hoping it would warm up, but if never did.  Everyone kept working though despite the conditions, and it was a true team effort.  We did totally blow our labor ($35 a tree), because we had one of our slowest days ever and only sold 9 trees So even though we are not sure how busy we will be this weekend, we will be ready.  It’s also a good sign that as soon as we put up a new 9 foot Nordmann it sold.  We received ten more of those on the trailer and if nothing else I am pretty confident all of those will sell.  Unfortunately there are no large Nobles left in the warehouse, so we will need to make due with 8 footers, but those are nice and fat and look beautiful.  Should be a fun weekend and we feel totally ready.  Hopefully we aren’t all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Friday morning I drove down to the bank and got some change for the weekend and went into HEB for some deli chicken.  They do have trees, plenty of them, but most are wrapped up and their prices aren’t that much better than ours.  This part of town is growing, but there is still a relatively limited customer base  so Lowes and HEB could definitely impact our sales of low-end trees.  Still, I feel extremely confident that we have the highest quality trees around.  The question remains how many people in this area are in the market for a quality tree?  My understanding is the closer you get to Christmas the more price becomes a factor, so Lee and I both believe this weekend will be critical to our success one way or another.

My confidence felt well founded when we sold 3 trees and two stands within the first hour of opening up.  The weather is decent, chilly but not windy and not nearly as cold as yesterday.  Folks have waited this long because of the weather and now seem to be coming in. It was busy in spurts all day and we ended up selling 20 trees along with some big ones. It was fun while people were there, not so much when it was slow.  One of my new guys did call and say he had gotten a job offer out of the blue in his field and had to leave immediately to work in a fish hatchery (yes that’s true), but he was so nice and so apologetic I really didn’t mind.  Plus I had another guy who helped with the truck waiting in the wings so I just switched the hours.  I made the schedule a whole week in advance this time and this is the third person who has picked up this particular set of hours. I also had someone who had quit on me come back and ask if they could still get the free Christmas tree deal.  The company offers a free tree to any person who stays through the season and we hold the money back in an envelope for them until the end of the season.  Although this guy has little two kids and I felt pretty lousy about not just giving him a tree, my firm answer was no.  He left me in the lurch, with no notice, and it takes a particular kind of hubris to think I would still give him a tree after that.  Crazy.

So Lee thinks these blog posts have been a little dull of late and I guess they have been.  Sorry about that,  Our live has been pretty monotonous and it’s hard to jazz that up.  Besides it’s an accurate representation of what’s going on, so you should probably see that as well.  Everything shouldn’t be drama all the time.  I realize as I am saying this I am probably jinxing myself. Oh, and somehow I got a pine needle stuck in my thumb.  It is on my right hand and it’s swelled up a bit trying to push it out.  Since I use my right thumb quite a lot, it’s driving me crazy.  How’s that for drama…


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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – The Employee Saga Continues

Monday morning we woke up to more rain, but also to two people waiting outside the gate to put in applications.  Initially I was confused and thought they were together, but it was a coincidence they showed up at the same time.  One was available to do deliveries and the other was available anytime and this turned out to be a lifesaver, because my 6’4″ helper chose Monday to say he wouldn’t be working any more with us. The cold and rainy weekend was too much for him, and he wasn’t interested in continuing.  I also had a delivery early in the morning, but thankfully one of the two new guys took the delivery and we got the tree out to the customer very quickly. I am also going to fill the hours with the other new guy.

I think this last incident put me over the edge a bit though, and although I was polite to the guy as he quit, I had a mini rant after he left.  I promised myself I wasn’t going to write about the employees through this process, but at this point it is such a huge part of the experience I have to find a way to express it.  So after sleeping on it, I decided here’s what I am going to do.  I am going to lay out (in a thumbnail sketch) my employee experience to date chronologically.  No names will be used, but I am going to provide the same level of detail that I have been writing on the applications for next year.  This is my compromise to my ethical belief that although people have a reasonable right to privacy, I also have the right to share my experience.  You be the judge after reading it if I handled it appropriately. Plus keep in mind, I can only report what I have heard, the reality of why they chose not to work could be something completely different.  People seem to be pretty honest about it though.  And despite the fact that many people still believe that an unwillingness to work is based on social strata, age, and/or ethnicity I have absolutely NOT found that to be the case.  I have hired a diverse group of people and in my opinion work ethic does not correlate to any of those factors. It also oddly also does not seem to correlate to need.  I really don’t get that.

In summary (because apparently talking about this in detail can get me in trouble) I have hired 18 people.  8 people never showed up or quit after a few shifts.  10 people worked a few shifts and caused issues, so were never called back. 3 have been rock stars and a fourth just started and is doing well. I have had three people with me from the beginning who have been absolutely amazing, and have formed the core of my team.  I have consistently had these three, but the most active employees I have had at any time has been eight people and that barely lasted a full weekend.

Here’s the thing.  I know this job is low paying and hard, but we have done everything we can to be upfront about that and make the atmosphere as pleasant as possible.  (What she’s leaving out is that on numerous occasions we’ve fed our people, she gives them hot cocoa, and we give them lots of breaks whenever possible. We can’t pay more, but we can DO more. – Lee) At the end of the day though, this place requires hard work and most of the people listed above decided the money was not worth the effort.  What bothers me so much, is many of them are living off their parent(s) or are on public assistance.  If you have a better option, absolutely find a different way to make money.  But if you aren’t earning money and are capable of doing this job, then I see no reason why you wouldn’t do it.  It’s only for a few weeks after all, not for the rest of your life.  Yes, my Midwestern background is showing, but seriously this is ridiculous.  And for all those who say illegal immigrants are taking our jobs, I would be thrilled to be able to hire anyone who was willing to do this work, illegal or no.  But that is against the law and we do a thorough ID check before hiring, so that’s just not going to happen.  Lastly, it seems pretty clear that for most people this work is “beneath them.”  That mentality is making me crazy. After all, I have an MBA and I am selling Christmas trees, and I did far less pleasant work when we were young, broke, and needed the money.   Beneath them…give me a break.

OK, rant ended.  I will return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Monday was rainy cold and we only sold 11 trees, but Tuesday the sun finally came out and we had our best weekday ever.  We sold 29 trees and had $3800 in sales. We were also staffed perfectly, hitting the $4 per tree target right on the nose, without feeling like Lee or I were working ourselves to death.   The new guy I hired did a great job and seemed to like it, so he’s on the schedule now, taking the hours of the person who quit.  We had some really nice families come through and  sold wreaths, garland, big trees and had the staff to handle it.  It was a nice day.  Several people said they were going to come on the weekend, but couldn’t face the rain, and frankly I don’t blame them.  Since I was feeling more positive about sales, I placed an order for more trees.  I asked for ten 9-10 footers, ten 7 foot nobles (we had tons of sixes but are out of sevens in back stock) and fifteen more grands.  People on a budget really seem to like them.  Getting the order processed will be challenging with the four people we have, but everyone has expressed a willingness to come in to help with the truck orders and there is no immediate need so hopefully will be OK.  Running the lot with plenty of back stock is so much easier, I’d like to keep it that way instead of waiting until we run low and then getting a huge order.  That’s rough on everyone.


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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – The “Busiest” Weekend?

We were told from day one that the weekend after Black Friday weekend would be our busiest by far.  It’s all hands on deck from a staffing perspective, and a completely full tent of trees in preparation.  That is one of the main reasons we have had such a sense of urgency around staffing and trees processing, because we knew the big weekend was coming.  That was a good thing.  I would always rather know and be prepared, and I have to say that the owner and his staff have kept their eye firmly on that weekend the entire time.  Despite an incredibly rocky start we actually felt ready.  Full to bursting with trees, and an adequate number of employees, and we were ready to go.  When we heard it was going to rain all weekend, I wondered what that would do to the sales, but everyone told us the rain and cold actually makes more people buy Christmas trees down here.  Weird, but since this is as close as they get to snow, I guess it makes sense.  Two of our employees have lived here their entire lives and have only seen snow once in their life.  Back in 1985 they got 14 inches of snow in San Antonio and several people talk about it when they have come into the tent.  Christmas equals snow mentally, even in Texas. so I guess overcast skies are close enough.

Thursday night was once again slow and Lee and I spent some time talking about our strategy for the weekend.  Now that the tent is full, the guys in the back can’t see when we have a customer, and I am yelling back for one of them to bring up the tree for the customer.  Obviously this is not the best approach, so we decided I would be in the booth and Lee would run the floor directing the team on which trees came first.  We had a mini-rush on which to practice and got five trees out in rapid succession with minimal fuss.  Lee and I will have walkie talkies so he can move over the floor more and I think it will work great. Speaking of walking, Lee hit a record high 19,000 steps on Thursday and he has walked over 120 miles since Nov 5th.  That is not a typo.  If nothing else, this is great for him in the workout department.  And one final thing that made me feel very hopeful.  This very nice gentleman came in and bought a 8-1/2′ Noble late in the evening and wanted it delivered that night.  That would have been a major emergency just a few days ago, but I called Jon and he was happy to do the delivery. He has a truck, lives a few miles away, and could handle the tree by himself.  He made $80 plus tip, we moved a tree quickly, and the customer was extremely happy.  It was a complete win-win-win for everyone!!  Things really are looking up.

More kids trees!! I love these little guys

More kids trees!! I love these little guys

One side of the tent to the middle. The other side was equally full

One side of the tent to the middle. The other side was equally full

Lee tried to take a picture on a ladder but you can't really capture how many trees were in here

Lee tried to take a picture on a ladder but you can’t really capture how many trees were in here

Friday started with another load of trees.  We finally received the promised Grands and some smaller  Douglas I had ordered several days ago. We waited, and we waited, and we waited.  Finally at 5pm we were told 100+ trees was coming in the load.  It finally showed up at 6:33pm.    By this time I had lots of people, but no time.  The last thing we wanted to do was process trees on our very busiest day, Saturday, but that’s exactly what we were going to have to do.  I know they had problems with the delivery and I know we were last on the list of folks who got their Grands, but honestly they could not have come at a worse time.  Well, I guess 8am on Saturday would have been worse.  Thankfully everyone was super flexible with hours. Well, almost everyone.  I asked the two guys that live far away if they could come in at 9am to help process trees before we got busy (they normally come at 11am) and initially was told yes, but then later they said they had to go to the grocery store for their elderly parents so they couldn’t be here until after 10am.   I extended everyone else for a longer day on Saturday and just hoped for the best.  Friday was pretty slow until 5pm.  It was raining pretty hard on and off and I can see why folks wouldn’t want to pick up a tree in this weather.

The good news was the evening was slow so we did get some Grands up.  Sold the first 8 footer we unwrapped less than 20 minutes after it was on the floor, so that’s auspicious.  They are a relatively cheap tree, very full, and smell slightly of oranges.  I don’t find the orange/pine smell that pleasant but some people seem to like it.  Speaking of smells, everything we own smells like Christmas tree at this point which is actually kind of nice. (When we get ready for bed at night, we shed about a thousand pine needles each, which is not so nice. – Lee)  Anyway, we are full to the rafters of Christmas trees.  We sold 19 on Saturday, much less than I expected, and we will see how Saturday goes.  I can’t imagine the rain won’t be a factor, but we will see.

The Grands

The Grands

After all the fuss, processing 100 plus trees to get ready, and totally blowing our labor for the week, Saturday was a bust. We sold 37 trees, which was less than last Saturday, and it was slow most of the day.  The main reason was that it poured rain most of the day.  Not just rained, but poured.  I felt super bad for the guys, because they had to tie trees on cars in the rain, but they handled it really well.  We did sell several 9-10 footers though, and had some big-ticket sales, but truly not great from a sales perspective.  The only positive thing was we have lots of trees in back stock now, so it was relatively easy compared to last week.  We knew what we were doing and so did our staff, so everyone was much more relaxed.  Since we are expecting more rain tomorrow, the whole weekend will not be what the owner expects.  The big question in my mind is when will those customers come?  Will next weekend be super busy or will we get those folks that didn’t come out over the weekend in a trickle throughout the week in the evenings?  It matters of course because of staffing.  It was all hands on deck for this weekend, but we can’t afford to staff this way every day, so will need to play it by ear. Thankfully we seem to be pretty rock solid on staffing at this point.  I have 4 solid people who have good availability and really want the hours.  I would love to have a fifth for safety, but these four should be enough to  get us through until the end.  Plus we really like them all, and enjoy hanging out with them, which is important.  There is a lot of down time on slow days and you want people who can handle the slow periods along with the mini-rushes we get.

Sunday started out OK, but then it started raining again and ultimately we only sold 34 trees, none of which were over 8-1/2 feet. We sold several of the new Grands, but it was a very slow day.  I was able to get everyone in at the same time though, and ordered pizza for the team, which was nice.  Plus Greg was there as well and the manager of the Shell station next door, so everyone got fed.  I also was plying people with hot chocolate at least once a day, which is a pretty cheap way to perk people up.  Carrying trees out to cars in the cold rain is really unpleasant, but everyone maintained a great attitude despite the weather.  Since it is only Dec 5th, I am hoping folks are just holding off and will buy a tree next week when the weather clears.  Starting Tuesday it is supposed to be 71 and sunny, and both of us are really looking forward to that.  So, it wasn’t a great weekend from a sales or weather perspective.  We still have 320 trees on the lot though, so we are staged and ready if the business ever comes.

What the back area looked like at the beginning of the weekend. Made me feel somewhat claustrophobic

What the back area looked like at the beginning of the weekend. Made me feel somewhat claustrophobic

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At least we sold enough to clear out some of the backstock overflow. Much better!

My understanding is if our sales drop enough that it is not worth staying open, they will move the trees to another lot that is selling more, but I would think that since he wants to establish a presence in this area, he would try to keep it open.  We are more than making our payroll every day, and since our salary is fixed and the commission is the same no matter where the trees are sold, I would keep it open as long as it wasn’t bleeding money, but I am not sure what the owner’s thought process will be.  Mainly at this point I want to keep it open for the employees sake.  Since we are running a skeleton crew, they are actually making pretty good money and since they have hung in there with us, I would like to stay open for their sake if nothing else. Oh, and I had an order for an unusual flocked tree.  She wanted a light tip which “patches” of snow on the branches.  I gave it my best shot and she was super happy with it.  I don’t know if I like it that much, but she was really thrilled and that’s all that matters.  Still isn’t dry because of all the rain, but hopefully can get it to her on Tuesday.

Tree with "patches of snow"

Tree with “patches of snow”

Up close the patches look pretty good

Up close the patches look pretty good


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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.


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 – 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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