The day begins at 5am – up to start a fire in our woodstove. And to be on time to rent a truck.
A month ago one of my old customers called to say he landed a new account with a fundraiser so he wants to order an additional 7,000 wreaths – possibly upping that to 10,000 – can we handle it? Well of course, I say in the tried-n-true song of an American salesman.
So we make the wreaths - so we are ready to respond to the additional order – then we hear sales aren’t going well – can we drop to 5,000? I remind him in my politest voice you gave me a firm order. But I don’t like to see fundraisers lose big. I can leave them on the hook for the extra 2,000 – or find a way to shift those wreaths to a new account. Enter the truck.
I am driving the truck from Salem to Molalla – to load those now extra 2,000 wreaths, packaged into 200 cases of wreaths for another customer who has sold them to chainstores in Utah and Arizona – but her truck is due at my other dock in Aurora at 8am and there is a money-penalty if we take over 2 hours to load. Rush-rush – but I learn the truck is late so all penalties are off. Relax.
Red flag. We have an order to deliver Christmas trees to Lowes – a national chainstore. Our order - deliver 30,000 trees to stores in Idaho, Utah, Nevada and California in 2 deliveries. I line up the 50 trucks. All is going according to plan – chainsaws are the musical instrument of choice here – until I learn there is a “No-Show” – 2 trucks for Utah stores that did not show up. The dispatcher gives me an “awfully sorry” singsong but we both know he decided to take a better offer elsewhere even after he agreed to mine – after all it’s Christmas trees so shark law applies. I am stuck trying to find trucks to service 8 stores in Utah. Not so easy at the last minute because the dispatcher can’t quickly find cargo to bring the trucks back west. Keep working, calling other truck brokers. No solution this day – I make room for plan B – explaining in my politest voice to the buyer why I can’t meet the Purchase Order for these stores.
I have other orders this day for Christmas trees and wreaths going to a produce store in Pensacola Florida and to Spokane Washington. The trucks arrive but we don’t have all the trees on the landing so they have to wait – until we lose the sunlight and finish in the nightfall with floodlights. But in the shadows is a crisis – labor revolt. Farms in America today rely on labor contractors – these are usually young Hispanics with 4 qualifications: they are legal U.S. residents, and speak good English, and possess good organization skills; and learn the rudiments of U.S. payroll taxation. Farms call them up – say I need 10 workers today to load trees onto trucks so families will enjoy their Christmas trees this year. But what if one young labor contractor – with his coterie of workers is being threatened by another young contractor who is trying to steal some of those workers – most of them probably illegal. Well today we learned what happens – they quarrel at our loading yard. We have 5 trucks in the yard to load and Ezequiel, normally an amiable young man, tells us he will not send us any laborers until we get rid of labor contractor B – because B has insulted him. Our loading slows down to a crawl. We bark back – damn you for making your threat at harvest and loading – you are bribing us and we’ll see you in hell before we comply. We’ll tell all other farms about your attitude and threat. We ask 2 of the biggest farms to call this contractor. At the end of the day the young labor contractor calls us – he has talked to his wife and she tells him he is handling this threat from another would-be labor contractor badly – perhaps he has been hasty. He will send us laborers tomorrow if we will pay our invoice! We agree – we understand that in the stress of harvest-shipping emotions temporarily cloud judgment. We are all learning to balance Latin temperament with rural pragmatics. We move on.
I receive a call from my San Diego customer – he wants to buy only large trees and wreaths that he can’t find on another farm but he wants to buy basic wreaths and garlands from an illegal Hispanic in Washington and would we mind that he trucks his stuff down to our yard to load? I tell him in my politest voice possible for he is my business friend – NO.
My partner calls. We booked 12 refrigerated containers with a Korean ocean freight company to deliver trees to our Hong Kong customers. The Korean carrier called to tell us their refrigerated containers are stuck on a train in an early snow storm in Colorado. Quick calls to a Chinese carrier – yes they have containers for more money. OK bring them to us.
Then I hear from my Los Angeles customer – his truck company won’t give him credit and will I front him the money for the first truck. I say OK because I have done business with him and his wife for 4 years and have always been paid – and I remind him in my politest voice that I expect him to re-order this season.
It’s getting late. I have to return the truck to the rental yard by 8 pm. I check emails for the last time and see one from Puerto Rico – telling me 1 container must be fumigated. Dark clouds here – 35 containers wait to be inspected on Monday. Time to end the day. I drive the truck through the fog – I return the truck on time and call my wife – Hello I will be home shortly – do we need anything at the store?
We ship Christmas trees and wreaths – the epitome of family peace and relaxation – and tomorrow I talk to a fumigator in Puerto Rico. I expect to see trucks for some of the 25,000 wreaths we are shipping to Walmart distribution centers in California, Texas, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Oregon and I will continue trying to find 2 trucks for Lowes stores in Utah. I will get the trees to these stores on time somehow. Their customers will buy the Christmas trees for their homes unaware what went on behind the scenes to make it possible for them to have a warm and peaceful family Christmas. As it should be.
Merry Christmas One & All.