I learned a valuable lesson one day helping my Dad put in the garage cement floor. We had plenty of cement, plenty of manpower but we were missing one key element. You’ll find out the missing element by reading the article. The lesson I learned that day has saved me lots of time, aggravation and money over the years. The lesson can be applied across many disciplines but it’s especially useful when applied to building a property investment portfolio. Enjoy!
The story begins …
“Everybody ready? Alright, let it fly!” My Dad gave the go ahead to let the cement truck driver pour his load of grey sludge out onto the dirt. This was no ordinary dirt. We worked hard getting it prepared for the moment the cement truck would arrive and dump its load. This was our hard fought for dirt. We moved it – by shovel – to get it evenly distributed over the garage floor area. We got out the level to make sure our floor would be straight. We packed it down to give our cement a good resting place. We were proud of that sexy looking patch of dirt. We were ready for game day – bring on the cement truck!
Our work crew consisted of me, my Dad, my brothers Steve and Paul, and another helper Tim. Tim was a hired hand; the son of my Dad’s friend Matt. Tim was two years older than me and my twin Steve; 3 years older than Paul. I think I was about 15. We were a willing band of workers. Ready with our rakes, boards and shovels.
“Ok, boys. Here she comes! Spread it around. Even it out!” barked my Dad as the cement came flying down the shoot. His confident commands made us feel good and proud to be part of the team. We were putting in a new garage cement floor; an accomplishment we could brag about for years to come. It was going to be a dandy.
After about 45 minutes or so of working, my Dad’s tone took a change. “Now, move over here. Leave that alone and help over here. Quick, before the stuff dries!” I was just following instructions, not really worried about the overall picture. I could move cement around like nobody’s business, but the final touches would have to come from someone with cement floor experience. I was ready and willing to follow instructions as they were commanded out. The cement was drying fast and the floor didn’t look that good to me. I kept thinking, “What’s the next step in the process? When do we get to the part where we make the floor look good?”
I knew things were going bad. Dad’s mood was taking a turn for the worse. “@#&*, this stuff is getting hard! Get over here! Move the – never mind – stay there and see if you can flatten it out!”
The work crew gave it a good shot, but nothing was working. The floor was drying fast and our best efforts were not making any progress. It seemed the more we worked the cement, the worse it got. It was like the bad plastic surgeon who makes you uglier and uglier with each operation.
Finally, we heard the command we were waiting for. Like the boxer on one knee waiting for the referee to call the fight. It was hard to listen to but at the same time I think we were all glad to hear the final bell. “Ok, boys, that’s it. Leave it alone. We’re done.”
Dad put on a brave face as he thanked Tim. Then I saw the $10 bill exchange and thought, “That’s a lot of money! Man, Tim made out pretty well today for a lousy 2 hours of work.” Steve and I worked at a nearby wild animal farm operating the rides and picking up papers. We pulled in about $1.63 an hour. I remember we used to get excited about breaking $60 take-home in a paycheck. To get the $60 net we had to work over 60 hours. $10 buck was a lot of money! To me it represented 10 hours of work.
Tim left and Dad was not in a good mood. As he scanned the bumpy and uneven floor, his mood sank further. He was very proud and this reality didn’t meet his expectation. He expected a perfect cement floor. Like the ones you see when you check out a brand new home; pristine white cement with the perfect grooves and level surface. We all know what they look like. You can sense it. The floor almost gives off an attitude. It almost talks to you, “I’m good.” “I was built by a pro.” “Don’t mess with me – I’m built to last.” It the kind of floor that sells homes and professional homebuilders know it.
Our floor didn’t talk big. It conveyed a much different attitude. If it could talk it would probably say something like, “Don’t step on me. I’m ugly. I’m wrinkly and uneven. Nobody likes me.”
Our team was willing; we were strong. We had a collective great attitude. But, we were missing one key ingredient. The same key ingredient that makes one business succeed where another fails. The same ingredient necessary for a successful climb up Mt Everest. The same ingredient needed to succeed in virtually any venture. The ingredient we were missing was very simple and painfully obvious as the cement grew harder and harder; and became uglier and uglier. Guessed it yet? Here’s the missing ingredient: EXPERIENCE. We needed a person on our team who knew how to put in a cement floor!
I’ll bet we could have hired an experienced cement floor expert for maybe $50 or less.
I remember years later during a visit home, Dad and I walked into the garage. As we walked in I noticed my Dad’s eyes turn downward to look at the garage floor. Silently, I was yelling at him, “Don’t look, don’t look.” Buy my silent screams went unnoticed as his eyes landed upon the wrinkled cement. Then came the muffled rants under his breath, “$$*& floor looks like crap!” Here we were some 10 plus years down the track and the floor still bothered him. I thought to myself, “We saved 50 bucks or so by not hiring a cement floor expert – was it worth it?”
Putting in the cement floor and then my Dad’s reaction years later were important lessons for me. Hopefully, I’ve learned from this experience. I figure, “Why skimp on skilled labor to save a couple of bucks and then regret it for years to come?” “Ten years from now are you going to miss the extra $100 you spend today to get the job done right; to get a result you’re proud of years later?” Maybe I’ve gone too far the other way. I hire almost everything out to skilled, experienced workers. In most instances it’s work out well. There have been a few occasions where I thought I was hiring experts and they weren’t. That’s the only “gotcha.” But, even in these cases, I eventually found experts and they fixed the problems. I believe this is still a better all around result than calling all my buddies over for a “fix it” party. Then buy pizza afterward. That’s fine if you’re moving a wardrobe but is that how you want to make plumbing repairs?
It’s a bit tricky to put a value on this lesson, but I’ll bet it’s approaching $100,000 and may eventually reach over a million! Because of the “garage floor” lesson, I spend little time working repairs. I place my focus on what needs to be done and then hire qualified, experience experts to carry it out. Letting experts do the work generally frees me up to go after new deals. I have more time to do what I really enjoy, looking for more real estate. This is one area I don’t delegate. It’s like in your household. There are things you can delegate and things you have to do yourself. You can delegate household chores to the kids but you probably don’t have them organize your tax records.