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.

Christmas, Made In America

I just returned from a stimulating visit to one of our few factories making Christmas decorations in the USA. This factory, located in a small town north of Tulsa, Oklahoma is a testament to American ingenuity and fortitude. They make a variety of outdoor lighted frames depicting the traditional Christmas figures, including The Nativity, Santas , Snowmen, Toy Soldiers, Nutcrackers, Reindeer, Elves, etc.

Well there is a lot of this product in the US market, mostly made in China, but also in Mexico. The imported product is lighter weight, less durable but cheaper and tempts  retailers who try a container load but rarely repeat their order the following year. In fact, some of this imported product ends up at the American factory for rework, so it can be finally sold.

Why is the American product better? At first glance, it doesn’t look to be made differently, with most of the fabrication and assembly work done by hand. If you look more closely at the US made product, you see heavier gauge steel and aluminum frames and accessories, you see separate clips and extra ties to attach the light sets to the frames and you see much closer spacing of lights in the set. What you don’t see is the incredible attention to detail, both in the planning of the process but also the control of the production and the raw material, semi finished and finished product. What you don’t see is the weekly “Quality Competition” where production colleagues check 55 separate quality items on randomly chosen product and only 100% perfect wins.

This is a family owned and managed company, currently touted by politicians and economists as “the backbone of American business”, When I visit and am so impressed by a 15 year old  company with, at peak, 20 employees, I am inclined, for once, to agree with the “experts”

More On Religious Christmas Displays

My last post attracted a lot of comment. Most of the writers agreed with my position that religious Christmas displays by businesses, communities and institutions continue to grow. Like one of the writers, many of our creche customers, say that they are going back to what their parents or grandparents did, that is replace the Christmas tree with a Nativity Scene as a symbol of the celebration. The size and detail of the new Nativity Scenes make this an attractive decision.Even the folks who cannot bear to part with the tree are adding a Creche around the base.

I grew up in a time when Nativity Creche  were small, table top or mantle-piece figures and the outdoor Nativity display figures were the tacky lighted  blow-mold pieces that were more like cartoon figures than lifelike. In those days the few large life size Nativity Sets were made in Italy by Fontanini,  were limited to indoor use and were very expensive. Well,  Fontanini has now been in business for over 100 years and its Nativities are still very beautiful and very expensive. Like any exclusive product Fontanini  has generated lower price versions, made in the Orient and the Philippines. These Nativity figures are made of resin and resin/fabric combination  and their lower price and great availability as well as a much larger range of sets, has helped build the greater Christmas display of Nativities we see today.

Religious Christmas Displays

A recent article in a Christmas trade magazine had the following quote by a professional Christmas decorator, whose company designs and installs large scale Christmas displays for hospitals, banks and municipalities. He said “religious themes are pretty much out for public displays, unless paid for and sponsored by private funds” Then he remembered two major shopping centers in southern Florida who displayed the full Christmas Creche within the mall. “I had not seen that in a long time”, he mused.

What an interesting comment and, like a lot of life, there is more to the story. Our website features large outdoor Nativity sets and Creche. Every year we sell more large sets to municipalities and public institutions as well as nursing homes, hospitals, banks, manufacturing companies and yes, shopping centers. The two sets referred to by the decorator were sold by us as a result of missionary work by our customer who convinced the mall management that they were well within their rights to display this Christian religious  symbol. We have had customers who purchased Nativity sets to donate to their local municipality only to have the council get cold feet regarding the supreme court ruling  and have to be convinced by a constitutional  lawyer that they were not breaking the law. Please see the note on our website under “Useful Information” entitled “Your Legal Right to Display a Nativity Scene”