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Revisiting the Christmas Tree man

 18 December 2020     Donald Cooper 

When I first wrote this article a few years ago, we had such a wonderful response that it has become a December blog tradition. Enjoy it for the first time or enjoy it again. It’s a wonderful and important message for this or any time of year.

I often caution clients about the danger of ‘judging’ customers by how they’re dressed or by who they appear to be. Back in my days as an ‘almost famous’ retailer of ladies’ fashions and gifts, I learned this powerful and moving lesson from the Christmas Tree Man.

Our staff came to me one December day to express concern about an unshaven, disheveled and generally unwashed gentleman who kept coming into our store. As he shuffled through our ladies clothing and gift departments, he would glance out the window every few minutes and then, sometimes, he would rush out the door and disappear – empty-handed. This process was repeated several times each day; sometimes resulting in a purchase and sometimes in yet another mysterious disappearance.

When he did buy, he always paid cash from a huge roll of bills with an old, knotted elastic band wound twice around it. But mostly he would look out the window, then rush out the door and disappear.

This strange behavior was spooking our staff and when they started making some unflattering assumptions about this unusual gentleman, I assured them there was probably a logical explanation and promised to chat with him on his next visit.

Sure enough, a few hours later, he reappeared. I approached him, explaining our staff was quite intrigued by his mysterious comings and goings.  “Oh,” he said, “I’m the Christmas tree man. That’s my Christmas tree lot just down the road with the little house trailer. I grow the trees on my farm up north, you know, and then I come down here for three weeks each year to sell them to you city folks.

“I work all alone so I have no time off to buy gifts and I don’t get back home until well after midnight on Christmas Eve. So, whenever I have a few minutes, I rush up here to shop. I really love your store,” he continued, adding, “You have wonderful things and every day I choose a few gifts for the ladies on my list.”

“But you keep looking out the window,” I said. “Oh,” he replied, “I’m just checking to see if anyone has pulled into my lot to buy a tree. And if they have, I have to rush back before they leave or I won’t get the business. You can’t take those trees back to the forest and replant them, you know. Once they’re cut, they’re cut.

“By the way,” he added, “I know I don’t look like your usual customer. In fact, I probably look a bit scary to some folks and I guess I don’t smell too good either. I don’t have much more than a bed and a stove in my little trailer. No place to wash up. There’s not a lot of money in real Christmas trees anymore, you know. It’s kind of sad, really. But your staff, they’re so wonderful. They treat me with respect and I really appreciate that!”

The Christmas Tree man spent almost $3,000 in our store over a three-week period. He came and he went, he came and he went, day after day, always looking out the window, sometimes rushing to serve a customer. And at the end, on Christmas Eve, before he left for home, he stopped by one more time and gave each of us a real Christmas tree! But the real gift that he gave us was the reminder we should treat everyone with dignity, understanding and joy. That was his most beautiful and lasting gift.

Here are a couple of other things to think about….
My business quote of the week: “Your employees’ behavior is simply a reflection of their thinking. To change their behavior, change their thinking. If they don’t want to change their thinking, no matter what you do, invite them to change where they work.” – Bill Marvin, the Restaurant Doctor.

This is the perfect time of year for my famous Scallop Chowder! Every year at this time, I remind folks about my very own ‘world’s best’ recipe for scallop chowder.

Readers all over the world have written to say this delicious, hearty chowder is now an annual tradition at their house. One made a giant pot of it for his employees, as a special treat. They loved it. To access the recipe, click here.

It’s extra important to give ‘local’ gifts this year: Local businesses are struggling. We all know that. You can help them by giving ‘local’ gifts or gift certificates this holiday season. If you do, they can stay in business to serve you in the future.

That’s it for this week. Stay safe. Live brilliantly and do at least three important or kind things each day!

Cocoon by Sealy
This HGO article was written by:
Donald Cooper
Donald Cooper

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now, as a business speaker and coach he helps business owners and managers throughout the world to rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability.

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Home Goods and its accompanying newsletter - HGO This Week - covers the furniture, bedding, appliances, consumer electronics, accessories, lamps and lighting and floor coverings product sectors of the big ticket home goods market in Canada. HGO is also a forum for the dissemination of market research and hard-hitting articles on best practices for Canadian retailers.

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