SCOTT WHIPPLE: A SAINT WHO PAINTS

 

Baptism by fire

Historic St. Anne’s Church in Waterbury, CT. suffered two fires in the 1970s. Gorgeous stained glass windows were lost. Smoke damage was extensive. Spectacular, colorful life-sized statues were beyond recognition.

The devastation continued when the church learned that insurance money would cover only a fraction of the costs. Enter Scott Whipple: local artist, painter, builder, restorer and philanthropist.

“I was overwhelmed… intimidated,” he said, at the thought of restoring any of St. Anne’s life-sized statues. Scott had never worked on anything so large.

But he jumped right in, starting with a smaller statue of St. Francis of Assisi and working his way up. Baptism by fire.

Everyone – clergy and parishioners – loved his work so he kept on going.

His favorite part about the process? Giving people back their cherished memories of church, one statue at a time. Despite his immense talent, Scott remains humble. “I’m still learning all the tricks of restoration. I’m learning as I go.”

 

“Nothing I could fix”

Fast-forward a few years and a few miles to his current project: The Blessed Sacrament Parish, also in Waterbury, CT.

His focus: the church’s Christmas scene.

“I had heard that nativity set that they set up every year was really tiny with mismatched pieces,” he says. He knew he couldn’t fix the figures with his own two hands it so he took a different route with his generosity.

Scott chipped in for a brand new nativity scene. After researching online he chose the 11-piece, 27-inch Joseph Studio set from ChristmasNight Inc. The collection was more than a pleasant surprise. He described its arrival “as one of those rare instances when you take something out of the box and say, ‘It’s even better than the photograph!'”

scott-whipple-1

He then bought lumber and began building a manger. With a handyman’s skill he set up interior lighting. Wanting the beautiful display to be eye-level, he restored an old altar table from St. Anne’s so the figures could sit on the table itself rather than on the floor.

scott-whipple-5

The idea is that people won’t simply look at the scene of the birth of Christ, but rather step right into it. The viewers will actually stand under the stable’s roof.

“You become part of it,” Scott says.

Hard to think of a better way of celebrating Christmas than by becoming part of it.

 

Lights, Camel, Action!

See photos of Scott’s work below…

scott-whipple-2
scott-whipple-3
scott-whipple-4

AFTER CUSTOMER SERVICE

Like many companies selling directly to consumers, we offer easily accessible and useable product information, shipping information and pricing combined with timely email notifications at each step. Our company rule is to treat the customer the way we would like to be treated.

Occasionally, we have problems with parts of our system which frustrate customers as they would frustrate anybody and we do our best to solve the problem while keeping in mind what the customer really wants, which is not excuses, but a sincere apology, an explanation of the problem and assurance that the problem has been resolved.

We thought that the email dialogue below, apart from making us feel like we are doing something right, would nicely summarize our approach

Email from Customer;

Comments: Hi. I would like to know why my order is “on hold”? What does that mean? I ordered the nativity pieces with the understanding they would be shipped within 1 business day. It took me over a week to get the shipping calculator to operate correctly, so I could order the items. It kept saying “retrieving quotes”. I quit trying after a hour of waiting for it to retrieve a quote after each time. I finally had success with it on Monday. Thank you.

 

Our Reply:
Our apologies for our poor communication, both for not replying to your email and for the difficulties you had with the shipping prices and then the HOLD. The later is an internal designation which says your order has been tagged for immediate shipping. It’s not something we intended for you to see. The late reply and shipping problems were mail server and software problems which have been corrected.

We hope your order arrived in good time and in good condition.

Thank you for shopping at Christmas Night.

And the Customer’s reaction;
Thanks so much for your reply. My items did arrive in a timely fashion and in good condition. Last year I bought the Holy Family pieces from another website but I found your website last spring and enjoy the fact that it is a website where complete nativity collections are sold, as a set and as individual pieces.

I just wanted to make you aware of the issues I was having with your website. I figured it was probably a website server issue, since I tried on 3 computers and my smartphone over a week.

Joseph's Studio Christmas Nativity 40 inch scale 13 piece

The pieces are beautiful and it was worth the initial frustration.

I plan to order other pieces for the Joseph Studios 40-inch nativity. Next year I plan to order the angel and shepherd, which requires special shipping quotes, so I am sure we will be in contact with one another again. I then will order the 3 wise men and camel the following year.

Thanks again for your apologies and explanations. Excellent customer service.

Regards

Customer service doesn’t finish when the product is delivered!

 

Christmas in Texas

The night sky in southwest Texas is…Big.

You can see the constellations.

You can see shooting stars out your bedroom window.

Come Thanksgiving, another bright light will Illuminate the landscape.

Carolyn and Cliff Tuttle, owners of Hashknife Ranch near Fredericksburg, TX, have built an authentic, life-sized nativity barn.

IMG-20140614-00397-web

Imagine driving down a dark road in December and noticing flood lights in the distance. As you continue, figures take shape and you realize you are approaching a stunning recreation of the birth of Jesus Christ

“There’s not much light out here on a dark winter’s night,” says Carolyn. “It will be quite spectacular.”

The three-sided barn is up and ready. What began as mere sketches and measurements a few months ago gelled into a plan. With the help of good friends, Mike and Nancy Craddock, the Tuttles began building.

Cedar wood from dismantled corrals and fences was hauled in for the barn’s siding. A bobcat was fired up to clear dirt, rocks and native vegetation and make way for a cement floor. A tin roof was recycled from an old barn. And finally a trench was dug to run electrical wire to power the flood lights and star

The only thing missing? The nativity figures.

“We started looking around on the internet.” Carolyn noted. “We couldn’t find anything that struck us, until we got to ChristmasNight,Inc.”

The Tuttles purchased a full manger scene in alabaster and they couldn’t be happier.

IMG-20140728-00469-web

When opening the boxes, “we oohed and aahed at everything,” says Carolyn.

They are amazed at the details: The fingernails on the wise men, the curls on the sheep, the textured fabric draped on the camel’s back, the expression on the angel’s face. Everything is life-like. Even the lanterns are impressive: each one hangs separately and gives added dimension to the scene.

“We couldn’t have been any more pleased,” she says. “I would recommend it without a doubt. It would enrich anybody’s store, home or church.”

The Tuttles have repacked the figures and are storing them until November. They are eager for the holiday season.

“We are blessed to live here,” Carolyn adds. “The most important idea we wanted to convey was to glorify God and to honor Him.”

Photos with the complete nativity scene will be shown after Thanksgiving. Stay tuned!

An Exciting New Supplier

holiday-nativity-set-led-display-13pcWhat do Universal Studios, Radio City Music Hall, Sak’s Fifth Avenue and the Indianapolis Zoo have in common with Christmas Night? They all feature large outdoor Holiday Displays made by GP Designs of Marion Indiana. Our Christmas Night customers, whether they be homeowners looking for an eye catching outdoor Santa/Sleigh or a church wanting to show the real meaning of the Christmas season with a large outdoor Nativity ,will now have access to the best quality and most attractive holiday light displays available, offering longer life and lower maintenance.

Offering commercial product design and quality for the consumer, GP Designs maintains total control of all it’s products and services in-house, in it’s highly efficient facility centrally located in Marion IN. From initial  design and manufacturing, through powder coating, decorating, lighting and final shipment, GP Designs is always  in control and customer oriented.

Just as important to Christmas Night and our customers is that GP Designs is owned and operated by nice people. The Loer family, Dave the President and CEO, Sandra the VP Administration, their son KC, Sales Rep and Social Media Coordinator and Rick Dillon  the Vice President Operations, all really care about family values and treating their customers the way they would like themselves  to be treated

Christmas Night is now offering, on our website, a range of Nativity and Christmas display figures from GP Designs. Please visit us and see for yourself.

 

Slower and More Expensive Restocking

Although we have tried very hard to source more of our product in the USA, about 95% of our Nativities and Outdoor Christmas Decorations are made in various Asian and Pacific countries. We have been successful in developing US suppliers for our wood Nativity Stable and our  2D wood nativity figures. The vast majority of our Christmas figures and Nativity figures are shipped to us in that main- stay of the retail supply chain, the steel shipping container. These are steel boxes used for dry cargo and come in standard 20 foot, 40 foot 40 foot high cube(one foot higher) and 45 foot lengths.

These containers are filled with product at inland factories, trucked to container ports and loaded onto specially built container cargo ships in many countries around the world, sailed across the oceans and  unloaded in the destination container ports. US  manufacturers and exporters use them as do most foreign manufacturers and exporters. Over the past 10 years or so, a very predictable and efficient supply chain was developed for the import of retail items from Asian and Pacific manufacturers to fill the shelves of major US retailers, including WalMart.

As one of my earlier blogs indicated, the slowly abating major worldwide recession  we are experiencing has disrupted the flow and timely delivery of goods in the retail supply chain. For our operation, this means that Nativities and Christmas Figures we expected in stock in May-June will now arrive July -August and even August September. We have a backlog of inquiries, orders and advanced payments based upon the in-stock expectations of many of our repeat and  new customers. We can’t really start major sales and marketing campaigns until we are “in stock” with the majority of our Nativity sets and Outdoor Christmas decorations.

To further complicate matters, there is a shortage of containers and much of the available shipping capacity, which had been scaled back as a result of the recession, will be overloaded as everyone scrambles to meet the retail Christmas deadline. Naturally this will result in shipping cost surcharges, profit recovery allowances for the shipping companies and will add to our costs and could result in price increases or lost margin. There will be more on this in future blogs.

Another Story from Brian “Fox” Ellis

We are very please to be able to offer you another story from the incomparable raconteur and storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis of Fox Tales International
Dancing Toy Soldiers, Wrestling Ballerinas and A Nutcracker

The ballet company’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” is a ritual for many families with young children. Every little girl dreams of dancing with the sugar plum fairy. It is the one time a year when everyone and their mother dresses up for a night at the ballet. Everyone wants to see their niece, granddaughter, or little sister in their glorious moment.

My daughter danced as one of the little mice who fought the toy soldiers in a ferocious mock battle. The choreography was thrilling. The audience gasped, held their breaths and let out a palpable sigh when things turned south for the mouse king. In graceful pirouettes the mice wrestled the toy soldiers and everyone applauded. My daughter crowned the Nutcracker with her sword and sent him reeling. Everyone laughed, except the Nutcracker.

For one night we can imagine a cornucopia of candied confections twirling and leaping, exotic treats prancing and dancing on stage. The whole production takes the Victorian idea of ‘visions of sugar plums danced in their head’ to a sweeter level of fancy.

The nutcracker is the prized toy, gallant in his uniform, firm in his self confidence, and the one who cracks the hardest shells so you can get at the goodness inside. He leads an army of toy soldiers to protect the confections from the wicked mice.

At the cast party after the show my daughter won a door prize, a three foot tall nutcracker, nearly as tall as she was! She beamed as she struggled to take it out to the car after the late night wound down. I placed it on the hearth of our fire place, next to the Christmas tree, next to the little table where we would place Santa’s cookies. We all went to bed.

When I woke up the next morning, the Nutcracker had moved. It was over near the back door. The doggy door looked askew. I peered through the frosty glass. There were a wide variety of fresh tracks in the new fallen snow, tracks large and small, some like feet, or should I say boots, and others looked like paws, mostly little tiny paws, but one set was huge. There were also more than a few indistinct wet footprints inside on the rug.

Did the mouse king track down the Nutcracker for round two? Did the Nutcracker beat back another attack on the sweetest confections and exotic treats? What happened last night as visions of sugarplums danced in our heads?

As I placed the Nutcracker back over by the fire place he looked a little disheveled, but there was a hint of a smile painted on his stern face I had not noticed before. As I turned to walk into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, I thought I heard that song, that unforgettable melody of Tchaikovsky’s most famous waltz whistling in my head. I turned to see where it was coming from. Just then a gust of wind lifted the doggy door. A flurry of snow blew in on the rug, wiping clean the footprints inside and out. This could not all be in my head, but now there was no proof. No one would believe me… it was only the wind I tried to convince myself, it was only the Tchaikovsky whistling wind…
Our Nutcracker still shows the faintest hint of a smile.

From Boom to Bust to Shortages

Most of us have experienced the dramatic economic changes of the past few years. The “boom” economy, which was really only great for a select few, turned into a bust for everyone, again, except for a select few. Now that we in the US are struggling through a feeble recovery, the previous arrangements and relationships are being turned upside down.

The US recovery is being led by our export industries and the huge volume of imports of consumer goods from China is a fraction of recent peak levels. That sound good, doesn’t it? Here we are making export sales and importing less which will improve our trade balance and create jobs. But wait! Now we are being told that this situation has created shortages and bottlenecks. What’s going on here?

The first warning was a labor shortage on Southern and Coastal China. Many of the workers from these factories had been laid off and many factories closed as they were insolvent. These workers and the workers still employed who went home for Chinese New Year, did not return to their previous areas as they found jobs inland, or in other factories or stayed in their home areas as China expands it’s manufacturing base. The result in the south is a labor shortage. The next upheaval is a demand for higher wages now being played out in Chinese  automobile factories like Honda’s.

The latest “upside down” story is a shortage of steel shipping containers, known simply as containers. These are the wonderful 20 ft, 40ft and 45 ft steel boxes that have revolutionized international shipping of all kinds of goods and commodities. When the US was importing billions of dollars of goods in  of these containers each year there was a regular route and flow of containers from the orient to retail warehouses and back to the shipping ports to be returned to China to be refilled. That volume is way down and US exporters, who are mostly not located in large cities, are demanding export containers to fill. Instead, the shipping companies are stockpiling the containers or taking them out of service, because it costs too much to return them empty and the price to make new ones has risen significantly. The result is a shortage and another bottleneck to our retail recovery. I am sure there are experts who will read this and say that I have oversimplified the situation, but the result is the same and they don’ t know when it will be corrected

Thanks for the Comments

In a previous post, I wrote about starting this blog as an SEO aid for our website Christmas Night Inc.. I have been writing the blog since April 17,2009. At first, I was straining to find things to write about, until I started to “write what I know”. The more I do this, the more interesting comments I received, to the point where I feel I owe some responders answers to their questions and requests.

I an now finding out how to add pictures, diagrams and. perhaps videos as several of you have requested. I agree, these will make for a better publication. With regard to the blog template, we used the basic WordPress template. As regards spam blocking, WordPress has a  built in spam blocking functionality which the tech people set at a high enough level to be effective.

Going forward, we want to become more sophisticated and try to make our blog look more like our website, as well as use more of the many tools that seem to be available for blogs. But for now, we will continue to write about the industry, our business and business in general as well as publishing stories from really skilled writers and storytellers like Brian “Fox” Ellis

Blogging, Comments and SEO

Starting and maintaining this blog has been, and continues to be, an education. When I first started, my concern was having enough to write about on a regular schedule.I first used stories from the famous story teller, Brian “Fox” Ellis and these went over well. I then talked about new products and new sources, but finally, as the writing instructors advise, I started to write what I know and that is the details of running this business.

Twelve years ago, when we created our first website, we were pioneers. Now we are one of millions of retail websites, but, in many ways, we are still unique. One of our main marketing techniques has been and continues to be “Search Engine Optimization” or SEO. To me, much of this is a black art comparable to alchemy in the middle ages, which claimed to turn base metals into gold. We have a very good marketing organization, Mountain Media, hosting and marketing our sites. As a result of their efforts, we enjoy very high key word  page rankings with Google and other major search engines.

Mountain Media suggested that I start writing a blog to improve our website visibility and I did. This is when I discovered the problem and value of comments. Comments can be just that, a gratuitous entry either criticizing or applauding the particular blog post. Before we put in effective spam blocking software, we attracted hundreds of unrelated email comments touting some unrelated product or service, trying to piggy- back on our blog and website. Now the filtered comments that come through are mostly relevant and offer accolades, ask questions or just comment. Most come from other websites looking to improve their page rankings by commenting on our blog. Since this networking should also helps our page ranking, we mostly approve them. The only ones I have problems with are  the blatantly named sites ( you know who you are). These I do not approve.

I am still learning and I appreciate comments on how I can do this blog better, but don’t try to sell me something.

The Other Season

Owning and running a Christmas product website pretty much means that it is Christmas all year. What with, planning, buying, receiving, updating, photographing, contacting customers, selling and shipping we are busy with Christmas ten and a half to eleven months a year. The main problem with this, as my banker reminds me, is that we make about 70% of our sales in the months of October, November and December.

The obvious solution is to create a counter-seasonal business with sales concentrated in the spring and summer. The easy answer would be a garden product website. Unfortunately, a lot of other smart people had the same idea, so there are many good websites selling planters, birdbaths, fountains and garden statues and ornaments. Rather than find ourselves offering a “me too” website competing mainly on price, we decided to continue our emphasis on the religious aspects of Christmas by offering religious garden statues.

The natural focus was easy to find. Among Christian saints, Saint Francis of Assisi, often referred to as the “patron saint of the birds and the bees” has  a compelling story which appeals to modern sensibilities. He was the first environmentalist and he celebrated Christmas with “live” Nativity scenes using local village people and farm animals. Our vision for the website and product mix was formed during visits to beautiful and peaceful monastery gardens and churchyards in the US, Mexico and Europe. In addition to Saint Francis, we now emphasize, Jesus, Mother Mary and several other Catholic saints.

We now have nice counterbalance to our Christmas business and we continue to study the saints.