Hello all, Keith Long here with Thunderheart Flooring. The summer solstice is this week, the most daylight of any day of the year. The first cuttings of both grass and alfalfa hay have been cut, baled, and stacked. There is plenty of irrigation water running down out of the Rocky Mountains—the warm temperatures are here to stay for a few months. The old saying of, “Corn should be knee-high by the fourth of July” should be a reality this year.

What does this have to do with wood flooring? I have been posting the inside/outside temperature and relative humidity where I live every couple of months or so for a few reasons. One, it lets those of you who don’t live here know how arid Colorado is—we average 21 percent relative humidity for the year at our home. Two, to raise awareness that when properly acclimated, solid hardwood can perform just fine in this sort of environment. Three, to point out that if certain flooring manufacturers state that for their product to be eligible for a warranty, it should be in a controlled environment of 35–55 percent RH, there are many years that we have zero days of 35 percent or higher RH inside our home.

I have had the pleasure of driving the same work van for nine years now. It does my heart good to think back to the different reactions other contractors have had to this mode of transportation to get back and forth from home to job site.

Some (although not all) hardwood flooring contractors from out of state that have come and worked with me in Colorado have mentioned they would not be able to land jobs where they live with such an old model of work vehicle, and certainly would not be driving around without using their vehicle as a billboard to advertise their business.

Just as with installation, sanding, staining, and finishing techniques, business philosophy, and anything else I post about, the same rings true for this subject: I am not attempting to tell you what to do. I am showing you what I do, and what the results are. Basically, I view my posts as snapshots of what I do, what my current paradigms are, and why. If any of you like what you see, great! If any of you don’t like what you see, also great! The power of choice is yours.

Back in 2008, I was in the market for a work vehicle. So, I started driving around to a couple of car dealerships in the town of Greeley, Colo., where I live, population 100,000. New work vans were pushing $30,000. That did not interest me. Many of the used work vans were $8,000 and up. That also did not interest me.

2008 was a depressed time for the economy in Colorado. Gasoline was $1.60 per gallon on the day our daughter was born in 2003 and was up to $4.35 per gallon in 2008. Eight million people had recently lost their jobs, and over 1 million people had recently lost their homes in the United States. There was so little commerce going on, one could have shot a cannon down main street where I lived and likely not hit anything. Or, as I heard someone more bluntly put it, “The U.S. economy of 2008 was dog shit wrapped in cat shit.”

I was busy purchasing rental property at extremely low prices and didn’t want to tie up too much money into a work vehicle. As my father has been known to say concerning major purchases, “I have cash, and I have time.” I took that approach and was patient until I came across this 2002 GMC Savana with 109,000 miles for sale at a car dealership for $3,000.

I test-drove it with a salesman named Carl and found it to be mechanically sound. I told him that it met my needs and that I thought $3,000 was fair—I didn’t want to haggle on price, he could just draw up the paperwork.

When Carl came back, the paperwork he was trying to present me said I needed to write the check for $3,700. There were charges for sales tax, document recording, and a couple other small fees that looked acceptable, but then there was a fee of $495 for dealer handling.

I asked Carl to explain that. Since there were fast food wrappers and empty drink bottles laying around on the floor of the van, and the engine oil on the dipstick was dark and reading a quart low, exactly how much handling of this van did the dealership do?

Some of the salesmen in neighboring cubicles started to chuckle. Carl tried playing hardball, and in a lower than normal, gruff tone, stated, “EVERYONE who buys a vehicle at this dealership pays the dealer handling.”

As I stood up and slid my checkbook into my back pocket, I said cordially, “When I walk out these doors and buy the same thing, for the same price from a private party, I don’t pay the dealer handling.”

The room was quiet enough that a cat could have been heard walking through the grass outside. Carl backpedaled and politely asked me to sit back down. “Let me go run it past the boss, after all, it’s his money,” he said, heading for the door.

Before he left the room to talk with the owner in private, I said, “Ah-ah, Carl. Correction. It’s my money. It’s his van. If he wants my money, he can remove the dealer handling, and we’ll do a deal.”

The salesmen from the other cubicles were in an uproar of laughter. Carl’s shoulders slumped as he exhaled in an exaggerated fashion, and stated dejectedly, “You’re a real hardass, you know that?”

Friends is friends, and business is business. That fee was a deal breaker for me, and that was all the dealership needed to know. I just let him say what he wanted, and had no response but a friendly look on my face.

“Go to work, Carl!” one of the other salesmen called out joyously as the door was closing behind him.

Carl returned with an ear-to-ear smile. He relayed that the boss man had said, “Aww, what the heck—get that dealer handling off there and let this man get to work!”

I purchased the vehicle and have been using it ever since. Although I have maintained it regularly, at 232,000 miles, it was getting pretty tired mechanically. Starting the process over of researching work vehicles, but this time in a more active economy, I discovered new they were $34,000 and up, and the used market was $10,000 and up for what I wanted. So, I opted to have a mechanic put a rebuilt motor and a rebuilt transmission into my van for a total of $7,200. They both came with three-year, unlimited-mileage warranties.

It’s back to running strong, and I expect that will be true for a long while with this vehicle. It does what I want it to do, which is get myself and my tools from point A to point B.

Concerning the sport of American football, I heard one of the players for the Denver Broncos say in an interview, “Offense sells tickets, defense wins games.”

As has been explained in the book “The Millionaire Next Door,” there is financial offense and financial defense. The authors of the book suggest that one of the things self-made millionaires have in common is that they are excellent at playing financial defense.

I did not buy an almost $30,000 van in 2008. Instead, I bought a $3,000 van that did the same job and bought a house in Eaton, Colo., for $32,500 cash. The rental income from that house is currently $800 per month, and the home would bring $160,000 if put on the market to be sold today. Over the last dozen years, I have purchased enough homes that bring in enough rental income that I don’t have to work anymore if I don’t want to.

Fortunately, I still want to! I have the drive, and feel good enough, so I keep going. Continuing to work pays the bills month to month, and then some.  It allows the income tumbling in on a monthly basis from rental property to be reinvested, and build a more substantial portfolio. It also allows me to be a positive role model for my wife, daughter and others as I take care of business.

Let’s meet up again next week as we break down the steps to do the above custom floor that was installed in Moberly, Mo. Stay sharp!

Keith Long

Keith Long is the owner/operator of Thunderheart Flooring LLC. Based in Greeley, Colo., Keith and his wife, Robin, install, sand, stain and finish hardwood floors—some regular jobs, some custom flooring. They live on Northern Colorado’s Front Range with their daughter, Savana. Keith’s hope is that his blog posts will inspire others to build their skill sets and expand their abilities as hardwood flooring contractors.