Imports of Christmas Product

As many of you know,The USA,this wonderful country of ours, has mostly given up making decorative Christmas items. We import our lights and ornaments, glass and otherwise, plastic and non plastics artificial Christmas Trees as well as fresh Douglas Firs and the various tree lights mini and otherwise.Near and dear to our heart are Nativity Sets which are also imported.

Most of these Christmas imports come from China, but, given the increasing difficulty in doing business in and with China, importers  have been moving farther afield, primarily to the Philippines and Vietnam. We also bring in Christmas articles from Canada, The UK and Italy.

Given the impact of this Great Recession on all parts of our economy, it is not surprising to find that volumes of Christmas imports are down significantly in 2009 when compared to 2007. Most categories of Christmas imports are down between 40 and 50%

The Great Recession as impacted many established importers negatively. They have lost long established factory relationships, had factories close down or go bankrupt, change product mix to exclude Christmas product oe the importer has lost their bank lines used for funding of import container-loads of product.

As a retailer, albeit an internet retailer, we have reacted by establishing direct factory relationships with smaller factories in China, the Philippines and elsewhere. We are designing our own add and stand alone Christmas items with these factories to put our own distinct look on the traditional Christmas outdoor displays. This looks like a good strategy for us. Time and the market will tell.

Interesting Times

It’s an often quoted cliche that there is a Chinese curse which says “May you live in interesting times”. Nevertheless, each new development in the market, email from supplier or service provider, rumor of supplier bankruptcy, price increase, price decline or shortage brings that thought to mind.

Recent letters from our logistics company warn of severe shortages of containers from Asia and dramatic increases in container costs to “make up for” shipping company losses over the last few years. As if these shipping companies didn’t have themselves to blame by adding far too much capacity during the boom times and not wanting to bite the bullet when prices continued to fall. What do they think will happen to all that capacity when times get better and shipping volumes increase? These surcharges may not even last very long after the end of Chinese New Year.

With many Chinese factories closing down or moving to more profitable or higher tech products,there will be more business for factories in other Asian and Pacfic countries such as the Philippines. There will also be more new and inexperienced Chinese factories entering the market without the technical skills or Chinese government subsidies which the older factories enjoyed and product quality could suffer.

The traditional and dominant American/Chinese import company, which designed or specified product in conjunction with several factories, used US trade shows to find out what the market wanted and then imported large quantities of goods to warehouse in the US, is giving way to smaller importers who sell direct to commercial users and consumers, often using only the internet for product offerings. The demise of the trading company Pacific Rim a few years ago, began this trend.

More about this in a later blog. So far it’s fun as well as “interesting”

We’re Back!

Well here we are starting all over again in a new year. We have had a long hiatus imposed by great website business in November and December and by our attendance at the annual buying show at the Americasmart Gift Show in Atlanta (more about that).

We were pleased and gratified that many of our previous customer returned to add to their Nativity sets, buy new sets or purchase new non religious Christmas figures. Many new people found our website, purchased  Nativities or other figures and became part of our customer”family”.As a result, and despite a difficult retail environment, we saw a small increase in sales in 2009.

Many of our customers have been contributing product reviews to help other visitors make a decision. We plan to add a Facebook page to the site so our friends can share their photos and experiences and we may add Twitter to stay in closer touch regarding new product arrivals, promotions and stock limitations, among other things.

The Atlanta Gift Show underlined the many changes in the industry, as several suppliers had changed or lost factories, had new partners or had discontinued lines. We were able to find several new suppliers and identify new product opportunities for our website which we will feature in the coming months.

We are excited about the new products and suppliers we have found and we will share these with you at the first opportunity. We also plan to add “About Us” to the website so you know what our vision, mission and credo are as well as hear from Claire, our company president.

Blogging-A Learning Experience

We started a blog to share some of our business experiences and customer stories and, because we were told by the marketing gurus that it would help the visibility of our website on Google, Yahoo, etc. What they neglected to mention is all the new programs, technical terms and problems that have to be learned and solved. We were set up with a very bare bones blog package to be hosted on the same server as our website. In fact, one expert who looked at it, compared it to renting an office in a modern high rise office building and the finding that there were no walls, floor or ceiling and no building security.

The first problem was spam. We have a very effective spam block on our basic website, but, somehow, this never was applied to our blog. We then became the target for so called “comments” from automated eastern European programs generating hundreds of paragraphs of gobbledegook all containing links to counterfeit prescription drugs, pornography or attack websites full of viruses. We now have a spam blocker, which seems to be working

The second discovery was the “link building through blog comments” business. We are able to hold all comments to the blog for inspection and approval. This prevents the automatic posting of spam or offensive comments, but it means that we still need to screen all comments that are not excluded by the spam blockers. The trick is to separate genuine comments and suggestions from the link building efforts of such sites as “” or “”. The temptation is to leave them as comments because they might help our back links and visibility, but we are not sure.

The third issue was one  we anticipated, which is the tyranny of a weekly of twice weekly post while trying to manage the real value added parts of the business such a marketing, sales and cost control. I must admit this gets easier as we just now write about whatever interesting has just happened to us and our wonderful customers.

Help with Church Fund Raising

We have shared stories of successful fund raising by churches who wish to purchase capital items, such as  Nativity sets. In discussion with committee heads, church deacons and members of the Knights of Columbus, the question arose, what more could Christmas Night do to facilitate the process. We now offer a presentation package of full color 81/2×11 inch photos with shipping costs and product specifications, assembled  in an attractive folder. This package can be passed around to committee members for discussion and the photos are larger than what can be presented on the internet computer screen. We send many of these packages  out each week and they seem to be well received.

We were asked if there was any way we could use our website shopping basket and other online tools to help churches with this fund raising. We think the way to go is using the “gift certificate” tool to allow church members to contribute easily to the set chosen by the decision makers. An email letter, with photo, could be sent to all parishioners announcing the choice and offering them the option of mailing a check to the church or visiting our website and purchasing a gift certificate for the set while referring to the church customer code. We could provide an email template for the church to use in communicating with their email list or we could do it for them. The purchase of certain sets could result in a discount through the use of matching. For example, on certain sets Christmas Night could offer a $100 contribution for every $1000 of gift certificates purchased.

As you can tell, this idea is still in the formative stages and we would like to solicit suggestions and comments from our readers and website visitors.

My Ocean Freight Adventure

In past years, we have avoided offering shipment of our Nativity sets and large outdoor Christmas decorations outside the US and Canada. We even put website notices to that effect on most of our large items. This year, perhaps because of the economy, we have had numerous requests for orders from Europe and the Far East. I decided I had better learn about ocean shipping since air freight is very expensive and most people leave enough time to make less than container (LCL) shipping work.

Using Google, I identified a number of broker and fright forwarding services, some quoting big name shipping lines and some using smaller independent companies. Some of the sites were very useful, as they provided spread sheets that allowed you to calculate the cube and weight of your load, estimated ocean freight and summarized origin options and costs. Other sites were more like electronic brochures and after singing the praises of their various services, required a phone call for an emailed  quote.

Initially, I was annoyed with these non DIY sites but I came to appreciate them when I discovered “the dirty little secret of overseas shipping”, namely that ocean freight is cheap, but charges at destination are expensive and must be quoted for each shipment!To illustrate, let me offer  disguised details of a shipment we recently made to Germany from the Port of New York.

The order was for two pallets of religious statues total weight 397 pounds and cube of 3.68 cubic meters or about 130 cubic feet. This could be similar to say 10 cartons of clothing and personal effects shipped to your new home. The ocean freight was $312.80, charged at $85 per cubic meter and the origin charges, totaling, $305 were for truck pickup and delivery to the dock and customs and handling.

Where it became expensive, was with the destination charges, all charged in Euros. There was insurance, terminal handling, wharfage, delivery order(?), delivery, customs, duty and German Value Added Tax (VAT). Total $$1000.42. Obviously, there are many ways to pay for the welfare state. The VAT was refundable, if paid by the recipient, but not if prepaid by the shipper. Any way, I want bore you with more figures except to summarize and say that a product sold for $2834 cost $1618.22 to deliver to the door in Germany.

Shipping within the US and Canada usually costs between 10% and 25% of the product price so 60% for this order seems a lot until you find out what is involved.

About Shipping – Continued

Our last blog post began a discussion about something which is very important to retailers on the internet, but which most consumers rarely think about. The safe and timely delivery of your goods is almost taken for granted in the USA and Canada and most of the developed world. The sophisticated and efficient package delivery networks set up by UPS, Fed Ex and DHL provide a nearly seamless service to get you your goods in a few days.

What the person placing the order in our website shopping basket may not know is the choices and decisions that have to made to choose the best shipping option. Amazon, for example, had all sorts of package shipment options when they shipped only books and CD’s. US Postal Service Media Mail, UPS or FedEx Ground are all available for small parcels. When Amazon started selling flat screen TV’s, I am certain their delivery options and cost’s changed.

The same thing happened to us. Our first few season’s  involved the use of UPS Ground to a very great extent. As we focused more on larger outdoor Christmas and garden figures, we use mostly less than truckload( LTL) services with our boxes banded to wood pallets. Recently, we have started to use ocean shipping services as we sell to more overseas customers such as the US Army and foreign churches. The costs and complications of ocean shipping to a foreign country really make us appreciate our huge North American retail market and the relative ease of selling and shipping within it.

About Shipping

We get a lot of questions from visitors and customers about shipping. As more and more retail sales are made over the internet, consumers who never had to think about shipping and delivery before are being faced with new terms and charges. Many websites avoid this problem by offering free shipping on purchases over a minimum purchase threshold, such as $100.00. We do this for smaller items, also, but much of our product is too heavy or bulky to ship by UPS or FedEx and must go by truck.

Truck shipping for us is referred to as LTL or “less than truckload” This describes  product weighing over 50 lbs and up to 1000 lbs or more and shipped on wood pallets. This is generally more costly than parcel shipping but may have the benefit of reducing damage to breakable Christmas or garden statues. The price of shipping an item by truck changes very nearly every day with the cost of diesel fuel and we obtain this from various truckers websites. We prefer to use trucking companies that provide safe handling of our statues and figures by ensuring that nothing can be loaded on top of our pallets. If heavy product is loaded on top of our pallets, we can get what we call the “tall poppy” effect, where the heads of several of the figures have been lopped off when they arrive.

Our objective is for our product to arrive at our customer’s location in perfect condition with no crushed, ripped or pierced boxes and with the statues in perfect condition and ready to be displayed. I will talk more about shipping in my next post.

Customer Satisfaction at Christmas Night

This is the first post of our new Christmas Night blog. Since we just received your replies and comments from the Christmas Night Customer Satisfaction Survey, we wanted to share the information with you. Your replies and comments were overwhelmingly positive and I will summarize these along with the ” you could do better” comments:

  • Over 90% found the website easy to use and navigate.
  • 97% said the shopping basket was logical and easy to use.
  • 73% rated customer service excellent, while 25% said it was good. We need to do better!
  • 94% liked our information about shipping cost and method.
  • 90% said product delivery was prompt and product arrived in good condition. 6.5% said it arrived on time, but was damaged. Very upsetting for both us and you! When items are damaged in shipping, we replace them at no cost to you, but then we need your help to claim against the freight company.

We solicited and received excellent suggestions on improving our customer service, delivery and overall experience with Christmas Night and we plan to act on those. Over 20% of the people responding offered us ideas for products and services and many of these may be used. All in all were very pleased with your response.  In our next post we will share with you some of the comments and suggestions from our Christmas Night “Community”