First export order of Ans her glass creations !

December 11, 2020

Ellen Nijenhuis is a close friend of us and she runs a flower shop in Brummen (near Apeldoorn / Netherlands). Ans sent Ellen a few photos of her glass Christmas trees and she was said that this is something she could sell through her shop. For Ellen it's hard to distinguish her products from Christmas decorations offered by shop chains. She does not want to offer 'made in China' stuff, but unique and preferably custom made items as she has an upmarket store. Many of her customers don't want to buy a real Christmas tree for various reasons like 'it's adding to global warming' or 'the needles make a mess' or 'I don't have the space' or they just want more Christmas decorations.

So the relatively small Christmas trees of Ans could be a good alternative. You can place it on a table or closet and with the tea light behind it, it would bring you in the Christmas mood. So when Ellen said she could sell it we immediately thought about the idea of sending some to her. We did not have any left or they are on display at Maria's restaurant, so we needed to make them. But how long would it take to get it from her to her shop? A quick search showed that sending it through UPS by their Express Saver service would take just 24 hours. Ok... it's 4x more expensive than the regular 3-7 days delivery option, but for us it's also a test if it will sell through her shop. And if so we could sell it through more upmarket flower shops within Europe next year. So we decided that the €80 shipping costs was acceptable for the 10 Christmas trees we intended to make.

Ans started with making the trees and I focused with Wouter on making the wooden stands, which was the hardest part as we did not have much dry almond wood anymore. I contacted my friend Pieter on the island as I knew he had cut some of his almond trees last year and he might not have chopped up everything into firewood. He did have some pieces, although these could have been a bit more irregularly shaped, not being too concentric round. But never mind, it's still beautiful wood. The trunk behind the tree is made of a piece of iron, cut out of metal sheet of 4 mm steel. For packaging reasons the tree should be disconnected from the stand, so I welded a round piece of steel at the foot of the trunk.

After Ans had processed 2 runs of the oven with each time 6 trees, Wouter and me were still sanding and polishing the stands and the trunks. Time was of essence here, the sooner the trees were in Ellen's shop the better. In between all this work I tried to find out the best way to get the Xmas trees to Ellen... this was quite a story and I want to spend a full paragraph on this below...

Mail, transport and courier companies.
There is a lot wrong with all of them, especially how they treat their customers. The Spanish national mail company is called Correos. While most national mail companies in the Western world have been privatized since the 1980s, Correos is still a State-owned company and it shows clearly when go to a post office. No way the public servants behind the desk are trying to clear the queue of waiting customers if it's busy and lunchtime is lunchtime, so if this starts at 13:00 you stop 5 minutes early so you set your teeth in your sandwich at exactly 13:00 - but when lunchtime is over you do not snail walk to work 5 minutes early but at exactly 14:00. There have always been issues over the years. The first time was in the first year, 2012. They did not realize we had just rented postbox 98 and returned the mail sent from Holland as 'not deliverable'. They did say 'sorry sorry sorry' but I should have demanded compensation for the additional surcharge we had to pay because we were too late with payment of local taxes in The Netherlands. This year we had incidents with extreme snail mail: the first time I ordered manuals for one of my machines through a Dutch company. It took them 3 months to deliver this to our mailbox in Inca. The second time Ans bought some medicines for her brother Wim, which took 6 weeks to arrive at his address in Silvolde.
Then transport companies using trucks. In my experience most of the people who work at these companies are blunt , with no social skills, not customer friendly. It seems that they are not waiting for customers like I am. The type of customer I am is one who occasionally has something to be transported. Which is more work for them and normally they are not willing to explain to me how their system works. They see me as a pain in the butt. What they like are regular customers like supermarkets and such. And keeping the customer informed about the whereabouts of your transported goods is not their strongest point. Ans her 3 pallets with glass products and tools was sitting 3 weeks in the warehouse here on Mallorca; I assumed they would inform me when it arrived, either by mail, Whatsapp or phone, but no... they expected me to call them regularly asking "Have my goods arrived?"
Couriers are most customer friendly and the experience with UPS for Ans her Xmas trees has been super ! I found a service on the internet where you could initiate a transport, very simple and straight forward, Maybe it was even too simple as I could not differentiate the senders address from the invoice address. They compare prices of most larger couriers like UPS, Federal Express, Correos, DPD and a few more. UPS was able to get my package within 24 hours from door to door. This 'UPS Express Saver' service was of course not cheap, but I was still surprised that this was possible anyway for the cost I paid (€80 for a box of 50x40x30 cm weighing 20 kg). I had ordered the shipment with slightly incorrect details, a different weight and the box size was different, so I started a chat with the support service of Packlink. I could not change the details of the shipment, the only way to go was that she cancelled the order and I created a new order with the correct details. I asked her if in this case it would still be possible to deliver the package within 24 hours. She answered to me that they could never guarantee this, it could take up to 12 days due to custom issues and she also threw in Covid-19 as a possible reason for a delayed delivery. "But.... why do you mention on your website the hours or days of delivery? And without any '*' or link or button alerting the customer that this probably not possible?" She said that the documentation should be correct and I asked her which documentation she referred to ? She send me a link to a page 'What are custom documents' .... gggrrrr. Suddenly she had enough of me and she left the chat, but she had already cancelled the order for me.
I decided to take my package directly to the main UPS warehouse here in Palma. While Ans hurried up packing the Xmas trees and stands in the box I looked up where they were situated and I printed 3 times the standard way bill including the bar code, as it already contained all shipment details. It was Wednesday around 17:00 when I drove off to Palma with the package.
UPS was situated in the largest industrial area of Son Castello, on the outskirts of Palma. I had never been there before, but when I arrived I recognized the street as I bought many times machine parts at just 20 from the warehouse of UPS. It was all very simple, there was a counter with a small office behind it and roller conveyor to measure and weigh packages. Everyone was very busy and active, a kind of activity you would never see in the offices of Correos. The guy behind the counter saw my waybill on top of the box and interrupted the customer he was busy with and came to me and picked up the waybill from the box. "No no no", I said, the order for this waybill has been cancelled, I need to create another one, so please continue to serve the other customers first." He looked at me in consideration a second and continued to serve the first customer in line. When it was my turn I tried to explain to him in Spanish what happened. He interrupted me and asked me if I spoke English and to my relieve we continued this way. He said that he was not sure if the order number was cancelled. "Do you really want to cancel this order or not?" I said to him that if we could proceed with the assumed cancelled order, this would be perfect and save time. He scanned the bar code and said that I could still use this waybill. "But how about the payment, it has already been refunded to me?" He: "No problem, don't worry, we now have to get this on the airplane so it will arrive tomorrow." I asked him: "Are you sure it will arrive tomorrow?" He: "Of course it will" and he shouted to the guys loading a van with packages that they had to wait as there was 1 more package to be loaded. He rushed to his office to finalize the preparation and I was flabbergasted what just happened. It all reminded me to Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away, where Tom Hanks is teaching Federal Express employees with a stopwatch in his hand the importance of time efficiency. Within a minute or so my package was on the roller conveyor and then in the van. I gave the guy who helped me a Corona handshake and said to the customers waiting behind me that UPS is the best courier in the world and drove off to Inca. I could not wait to share it all with Ans.

Arrival in Holland
UPS did what they promised: the package was delivered the next day at around 14:00 at Ellen's shop. Unfortunately there was a little damage to a few Xmas trees, but nothing serious and beyond repair. Ellen was very enthusiastic about the trees and she created a beautiful display for it in her shop (see photos).
For us this is a super important test to see if it will sell. And if it proves to sell I am open for going full in on this and the other glass creations of Ans and already start working on this business project for next Christmas. It's funny to realize that this is the second time in my life I get involved with Christmas trees. The first time was when I was just 20 years; I exported around 30,000 - real - Christmas trees to England.

Have a nice weekend!