Christmas Trees-A Long Story, Sorry
Dec 25, 2016
Sorry this one is so long. I really got behind while we were working the Christmas tree lot. Luckily I noticed that I had made some notes. If I hadn't I wouldn't have remembered most of what we did during this time.
I stayed up late last night and slept late this morning. I woke up hearing one of the managers talking to Margie. He’d come to visit and give us more information about managing a Christmas tree lot. After I got up the person who worked as the lot supervisor during pumpkins also showed up and we all talked in our motor home. After they left I went outside to work around the motor home. I topped off the oil and reattached the tubing on the wiper for the washer. Somehow since we have been here the front of the motor home has gotten really dirty. So, I decided to try and clean it. That ended up being a complete wash of the motor home and then the awning. After that I took a shower and a nap. When I got up from my nap we went over to the other manager’s RV. She went over some stuff with the computer program they use for the register, scheduling, etc.
Ate Oatmeal this morning that our friends in Alaska gave us when they were clearing out their 5th wheel. Oatmeal is not my thing but I can’t let free go to waste. We ate the left over pumpkin stew for lunch and dinner. I don’t think I put a picture of them up. So, hopefully I will remember this time.
I spent the day rearranging the tools storage areas on the motorhome. Also went shopping for a perfect toolbox for RVing. That is an elusive little thing.
We went to the Antelope Valley Mall where I saw a 100th anniversary Jack La Lane juicer. That is hard to believe that that guy still has products on the market with his name on them. Most people probably have no idea who he was. Just to enlighten those, Jack La Lane was the one and about only fitness expert in the 60s way before all these fitness fads started. I also bought a small toolbox. It still wasn’t perfect so I’m still looking.
Margie took the metal detector out around the lot. She went to where the petting zoo had been, knowing people paid for feed there and it was a quarter for a Dixie cup full. She found a quarter almost immediately and a total of 89 cents within about 10 minutes. For the price I paid I’m pretty happy with it. we went to a Mexican restaurant across the street tonight with the managers. I wrote a note that we cooked the other spaghetti squash but that’s confusing me with the note I also wrote about us eating at the Mexican restaurant. I will however mention that along with the note I wrote about our Ulu Knife. I’ve tried several knifes to cut the spaghetti squashes in half and none of them were as easy as using the Ulu Knife
We went to Death Valley today to see some friends we met in Alaska. I’m guessing it was the Mexican food from the night before but my stomach was a mess all the way there and most of the time there. I hate to say that I had to leave my DNA in several spots along the way. Our friends fixed us shrimp scampi, pasta and a salad. They have a tiny car so we followed them on a wild little ride through a canyon. They also showed us the lowest point in the United Sates at 282 feet below sea level and it’s called Bad Water.
Our friends showed us the Employee Dining Room and lounge. I think he could have signed us in there and we could have had breakfast there. However, he wanted to go to the actual restaurant instead. He may have gotten some employee discount but whatever it was he ended up paying for it. We might go to work there someday. They get three meals a day, cable TV, internet, laundry, and a full hook up site and paid for all hours worked. We think they may pay $50/wk/person for all of those amenities We left for Lancaster today and found a couple of Geocaches on the way.
We went to Simi Valley today to park on our Christmas tree lot.
Nothing eventful must have happened.
Again it must have been an uneventful day.
The Reagan Library is just a few miles from our Christmas tree lot. Reagan’s is one of the few I would spend the money to go to So, I really wanted to go. However, Margie has no interest in history. So, I went by myself and spent the whole day leaving at closing time and still didn’t thoroughly see everything I would’ve liked to.
While we were in Alaska I saw someone wearing a hat from Alcatraz. I thought I’d like to see that but decided not to try on our way to Lancaster, CA for our job. So, today we left for San Francisco to see Alcatraz. We stayed at The Wharf Inn across from the San Francisco Wharf.
Today we changed rooms to the other side of the building which gave us a balcony to look down on the street and people below. Also today we went to Alcatraz. Where we boarded the boat for the ride over was of course on the wharf. So, of course it was a short walk over. I bought the tickets on line. It’s a good thing because it is a pretty popular attraction. If you don’t get your tickets ahead of time it’s doubtful that you would get to go. There was a stand by line, I guess, if you didn’t already have tickets. You have to pick an available time for the boat ride over, but you can stay till the last boat leaves in the evening/afternoon. We ate breakfast two mornings at the same restaurant around the corner. We ate one dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. We had our picture taken in front of a big heart. I guess it was to signify the song, “I Left My Heart, In San Francisco.” We also browsed a bunch of the shops on the wharf. We ate at a dinner at a fancy restaurant, also but I don’t remember the name.
I had always heard about the Pacific Coast Highway, California State Highway 1 in movies and TV shows. So, I wanted to take it back to Simi Valley instead of taking interstates. It was an interesting drive. It took us near Paso Robles where some friends of ours were going to be working a Christmas tree lot for a different company. Christmas tree lots are pretty unique looking so we didn’t have much trouble finding it. However, they weren’t there. Their Airstream trailer was there but not their pick up. We stayed just down the street at the Melody Ranch Motel.
Somehow we found out that the husband was putting together some of the lots and was working in Orcutt. Paso Robles and Orcutt put us on California Highway 101 which parts of are also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. So, once again the tree lot in Orcutt wasn’t hard to find either. We talked through the fence for a little while and then went on our merry way arriving at our lot in Simi Valley.
Since we were going to have to hire people to work on our lot I put an ad on Craigslist. My ad actually got some pretty good response. If I’m ever in the position of having to hire temporary employees again, I’ll sure use it again.
Today was our Christmas tree lot management class at the office. They would have put us up in a hotel this evening if we wanted them to. I love a free hotel room. However, the second day of class was being held at our tree lot where our motor home was parked and hooked up. So, stay in a hotel for free and have to drive to our lot the next morning or stumble out of our motor home at the last minute and be on time. We opted for our motor home. The good thing about the second day of training being at our lot is that our lot was set up first and we didn’t have to do it. They had coffee and a bunch of donuts at the office for class. They had sub sandwiches for lunch. After class we took the left over donuts bagels and such with us to have at the training the next morning. We were also being treated to dinner at Chiles.
Margie wasn’t feeling good in the evening so I ended up going to the dinner by myself. Well actually I rode with the husband of the couple who managed the lot for the Pumpkins. They decided to go back to Minnesota and spend Christmas with family which is why we were allowed to manage just the Christmas tree portion of the lot. He was going to assist with the second day of the training, since they had managed this lot for several years.
A very interesting story was told by one of the two owners during dinner. His father had died and they went out of state for the funeral. He had a neighbor who had recently moved in and they didn’t know very well. When they got back home the neighbor told them about an older man that he had seen in their driveway pointing at the house. He went out to talk to the man. The old man just told him “Tell my son I’m OK.” As the neighbor was returning to his house he realized that he had not seen a car around the house. He turned back around but the old man was gone. The neighbor described what the old man was wearing: a certain college sports team’s hat and sweatshirt. I don’t remember which one. I asked the owner if that matched what his dad would have worn. He basically responded that that was his typical dress every day because he was a recruiter for that college. He also said that the old man telling the neighbor to tell his son he was OK was very poignant also as his dad was very concerned at the end about dying and the afterlife. That’s the kind of story that makes you wonder what does await us after we die.
We had the second day of class at our lot today. We learned the right way to do the fresh cut on the bottom of a tree after it is picked out and drilling a hole in the bottom. Then we learned the proper ways of tying trees on top of cars. This company has special tree stands that require a hole be drilled in the bottom of the tree and then the stand is basically screwed onto the tree. They have a lifetime guarantee. We were also shown how to flock a tree.
A truck brought a load of mulch type covering for the lot.
I’ve been getting lots of responses from the Craigslist add and I’ve been calling previous employees and whatever else to hire the people we need. The previous managers are leaving tomorrow and we finally get the better place to park then. We will be glad to see them leave so we can feel like the lot is really ours. I’ve been scheduling any interviews and such in the afternoon when they are supposed to be gone.
We went to the bank and cashed the $500 petty cash check we got during the training class at the office. Margie didn’t know her way around town and they made the check out in her name. We had to get it done today, while the other managers were still here, because then one of us always has to be on the lot. This also means that now I will have to go to the store for our stuff as well as stuff for the tree lot and the bank to make deposits and get change. I will also have to start going to the laundromat to do our laundry. Now Margie is a prisoner of the Christmas tree lot and will never get to leave it.
The old managers finally left, not too long before the prospective employees started showing up. Now I have to get their paperwork together and send it in to the office. I think it was today that we had a couple of these new employees start right away spreading the mulch.
Continuing the hiring process and having some employees start already.
We had all the employees that we could come in today because we were getting our first truck load of trees.
Thursday 11/24 T-Day
Since it was Thanksgiving and we didn’t think we would need anybody we didn’t schedule anyone to work. WRONG! We had a lot of wind last night that blew down a lot of trees that had to be stood back up and retied.
Open for business. We had some sales but not a lot. We scheduled everyone that we could today because it was good training and none of the labor hours we have and are using count against our labor budget until tomorrow. In the past I think they had a few hours free but this year all hours through today didn’t count against us. So, we had way more workers than we needed today. We beat our projection today by about 10 trees. I have a new found respect for Margie. I have always heard about her management even when she wasn’t a manager. She had a nickname of Sarge Marge. I’m just amazed watching her work and manage our employees.
Margie is handling all of the outside lot work/management while I take care of all of the daily sales reporting, bank deposits, weekly payroll, working in the sales booth ringing up the sales, etc. I also became domesticated, as I had to do the shopping, laundry, etc. She’d rather do more of the physical labor outside stuff, than the inside register etc. stuff I do.
Of course with the minimal sales we’ve made so far I haven’t seen a real need to go to the bank and make a deposit yet. I didn’t think the $500 was going to go very far for change in the register so I’ve put a few hundred of our money in our change box. The $500 was to be used for lot purchases and change in the register and on busy days we will have two registers going. I didn’t use it for reimbursements. I just held the receipts until I decide to use a day’s deposits to reimburse myself. I’d just take money out of the deposit and account for it in my daily report.
Sunday 11/27-Tuesday 12/20
The lot is open from 9am to 9pm (12 hours) and one of us has to be here at all times. A couple of weekends we had to stay open until 10pm on Friday and Saturday. So, we were working 12-13 hour days 7 days a week. A couple of times we got tree deliveries at 7am. So, of course those were over 14 hour days. After we closed each day I had to take care of the money and daily reports that had to be sent in by midnight each day. Payroll also had to be sent in on Sunday nights. When I did start making deposits at the bank it got very annoying. Since it was a business account, everyday they would ask me where I did my banking and whether I had thought about opening an account with them. This happened at least five different times until I had gone through each teller once or twice. Also every time there is a long line someone will come out of one of the offices and ask if they can help anyone. You tell them you are making a deposit and they move on because they can’t do that. That is their answer instead of actually opening another teller window they just come out of an office and greet you and make nice. On December 12th I went to the bank and then managed to get to the laundry to do some desperately needed laundry. The laundry we started going to uses cards and when I put mine in to check my balance it told me that I had won and got a $2 bonus added to my card. Then I had to deal with an idiot. I’m carrying a heavy basket of clothes and trying to find a spot just to set it down. The counter I’m by has carts lined up all along it except one opening. I start to set the basket down and a woman confronts me about that being her spot and her stuff. At that point I was only trying to set the basket down so I could move some of the stupid carts to make some room to spread my laundry out. As soon as I got them moved or if heaven forbid she would have moved one or two for me I was going to move down away from her.
Our area manager and one of the owners go on and on about how great we are when they come to the lot. It’s funny that they mention me but I know they are really referring to Margie. I had a guy shop for a tree and bring it up to the window and then tell me his grandfather is coming to pay for it after I rang it up. His grandfather isn’t even there so I got to wait for him.
We also delivered trees when we had someone available. One fella that had worked for the company for several seasons used to have a truck and made deliveries. However, this year he was leasing car. He did rent a truck one weekend but said he wasn’t making enough money. I hired a new fella that had a pick up and he started delivering. He was very flexible and would stay close so I could just text him when I needed him and he would be at the lot in a few minutes. A friend of one of the other employees had a minivan and came in and was interested in delivering also. He was even more flexible than the other guy about just being on standby and available when I texted him. We charged $27 for deliveries within 10 miles, which the driver got half of. They also usually got tips. They were off the clock while they were delivering. The guys working on the lot made minimum wage which was $10/ hour. They also did pretty good in tips. They would help a customer pick out a tree, carry it to the cutting/drilling tent, then make the fresh cut and drill the hole, carry it to the customer’s car and tie it on the car. It seemed like the average tip was $5. Of course some people tipped much higher. Many of the ones who got delivery would tip the fella at the lot and the fella who delivered it. We had some typical issues with some customer complaints. A lot of times it was pricing. The trees were supposed to have price tags on them but many times the tag wouldn’t match the tree. The trees were priced by the range such as a tree between 6’ and 7’ would be a certain price. It could be 6’1” or 6’10” it was still the same price. We had idiots that thought they could just drive right through the gate onto the lot to shop for a tree with no regard for the families that were walking around. This happened even at night. We had a couple of pizza parties for the employees, especially after they would unload a truck full of trees. We charged the employees a very small fee for drinks and it went into a party fund. We got people to donate money to the party fund if they just wanted some of the branches that were cut off of trees. Some of them were very generous. When Margie would have to help a customer and they tipped her she would either give it to one of the employees or it would go in the party fund. We had a pretty substantial amount at the end, we used some petty cash and put in some of our own money to buy pizza, drinks, cookies, etc. for an end of season pizza party. It wasn’t much but we were even able to put $15 in with each employee’s last paycheck that stayed to the end. Our people tied trees onto Mercedeses, Jaguars, Cadillacs, Toyotas, etc, etc. I waited for a convertible and finally someone took theirs home in the back seat of a convertible. We loved the people who came with pickups.
Our weekly compensation was $500 (my take home was $388) for five weeks for each of us which equaled $5000 for the five weeks between the two of us. At the end we also got 50 cents per tree sold, a percentage of our gross sales minus sales tax (when we hit $160,000 it became 1%) and if we sold more than our projection and stayed within our labor budget we got a $500 bonus which we did. For a while Margie was real concerned about our labor dollars and kept wanting me to keep it down. This was until I made her realize that the bonus was only $250 apiece and she was working her ass off. So, then I started scheduling more people and Margie could actually rest in the RV some times. I still worked the register sometimes and sometimes by myself. That wasn’t as hard as working out in the lot though. I think our biggest day was 214 trees sold.
Tuesday 12/20-Friday 12/23
I think it was sometime this week we finally went to find a geocache that I had found on the app. It turns out that this one was actually right on the side of our parking lot.
On 12/20 the office notified us that no tree would sell for more than $60. That price went down $10 every day that week.
We had our pizza party on 12/21. We had it today because it was our lowest projection day of the week. However, we tripled the projection and the weather was miserable with strong winds. We got 11 pizzas at Costco for $117. So far we are the highest over projection of any lot. Someone hit the fire hydrant down at the corner because we heard it and then Margie saw water shooting about 40 feet in the air. When I went to then bank I could see pieces of fire hydrant in the intersection. That was weird because the other manager told us that someone had hit the hydrant by the lot that we get our water from. One evening someone had also turned the knob off on it shutting off our water supply for the lot and our RV. I had to go walking around in my PJs trying to find out why we had no water. I think this was the same night that one of our employees noticed that someone tore down some fencing near the street. We don’t think we lost any trees but who would notice one or two. Maybe they did it so they could come back after we closed since it was at the far end from where our RV was parked. The employee fixed the fence before we closed. Evidently the lot in Lancaster lost several trees one year because someone was tossing them over the fence.
Saturday 12/24 Christmas Eve
Our contract is up at 4pm. Any trees left we can do whatever we want with them including selling them and pocketing the money. No tree is over $20 today. It took a while for us to realize this, but when they said no tree over $20 we finally realized that we could have been making deals to get rid of the trees and sold them for less than the maximum price. We had a woman come in that was crying and wanting a tree. We gave her one for free and about 500 small candy canes we still had left that we had been giving away for her kids. A fella came in and bought several trees. He said he comes every year when the prices come way down. He plants them in his backyard as decoration for his Christmas party. We still had several trees left at 4pm but we closed up as fast as we could and could care less about selling anymore trees even if we could pocket the money. Between Margie and her minions as I called them our lot was ready to be shut down and we could pull out the next day. They had been cleaning, dismantling, inventorying, and storing things all week as they could.
We had plans to pull out the next day and head for Quartzsite, AZ where we would put the RV in storage and drive to St. Louis and Southern Illinois to see family around New Years.
We ended up selling 1894 trees which was 178 over our projected sales. 1894 times 50 cents equals $947. We stayed within our labor budget and sold at least 5% more than our projection which qualified us for the $500 bonus. We actually sold about 10% over our projection. We were projected to sell 19 on Christmas Eve and we even beat that by 2, selling 21. That doesn’t even count the free one.
So, the final tally is:
$947 (tree commission) + $500 (bonus) + $1,732 (1% of $173,200) = $3,179 + $5,000 (salary) = $8,179 for Christmas trees + $3,000 (our salary for the three weeks in October for the pumpkin patch) = $11,179 (8 weeks) 11,179 / 8 = $1397 /2 = 700 each per week and no cost for our utilities or parking space.
We have always said that we don’t want to repeat a job/location. I have told people we would do a job again as long as they move it somewhere else. Well one time managing a Christmas tree lot is enough. I don’t think it matters where it is we probably won’t do it again. As Margie has said, we’re not ruling out working at a pumpkin patch or Christmas tree lot. We just don’t want to manage one again. Especially, after we found out we could have had someone working for us that could have piggy backed off our hookups and stayed on the lot with us. If we could do that and just get paid for the hours we worked that might be OK.