(Time to read this article is about 90 seconds)
Note: When I first wrote this article a few years ago, we had such a wonderful response that it has become a December Newsletter 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 that there was probably a logical explanation and I promised to chat with him on his next visit.
Sure enough, a few hours later, he reappeared. I approached him, explaining that 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. 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 that we should treat everyone with dignity, understanding and joy. That was his most beautiful and lasting gift.