based on an interview with my mom, Cheryl Hoefer
My wife, Susan, recently sat down with my mom, Cheryl, and learned all about the beginnings of Rocky Mountain Forest Products. I thought it would be enjoyable to share this with all of you. It will give many of you a new appreciation for what RMFP has become today.
Cheryl: Dennis always wanted to own his own business- it’s what he always talked about. He had worked for Kmart as a department manager, and he had also worked for his brother in his refrigeration company, but it wasn’t what he wanted. He was looking for something else.
A neighbor of ours had a fence business for sale, which consisted of a truck and a load of wood.
One day, Dennis came home and asked me what I thought. I told him, “Well, sure! Go ahead!”
We were young and didn’t know what we were doing. We would have been 23 years old at that time. I could tell that when this business opportunity had come along, it was what he had wanted. It piqued his interest. So, he made a deal with the guy, and we ended up owning a truck and a bunk of wood.
Dennis ended up renting a small building in Wheat Ridge. it was an old house that had been converted into offices. It had a little yard where we could store lumber and park trucks.
Susan: So this first place was just a rental then?
Cheryl: Yes- It was just a rental
Susan: When he moved to the 44th location… Did he purchase that property?
Cheryl: Yes, we did buy that property. It was a big deal. It was a big purchase. I guess it proved to be a good one, because we are still there!
Susan: Was it an old house? Or was it actual offices?
Cheryl: It was an old house that he converted into offices. Right now, on either side of us at that location are businesses, but originally it was houses. Things have just changed over the years.
Susan: Did he have that entire yard area in the back? Or did it just expand?
Cheryl: It expanded. He bought the land where the warehouse sits now. For the longest time out in the backyard (where the warehouse and the main yard is now) there were huge cottonwood trees growing there- we had to stack the bunks of lumber between the trees. After realizing he needed more space, that’s when he bought the land behind us.
Susan: A lot of family worked at the company. Papa (your dad) came to work for Dennis. What did Papa do?
Cheryl: Sales. He sat in an office and he helped customers that came into the yard. Papa was a bookbinder all his life and he decided that once he retired from that, he was going to come down and help “Denny” sell. He did really well.
Susan: What did sales look like back then? Was it door-to-door? Was it phone calls? How did Papa sell?
Cheryl: The only place we advertised was in the phone book. I remember at different times, my dad and I would go pamphleting. We would go into the neighborhood with the pamphlets and put them on doors. We did that a lot together. That’s how we generated a lot of sales from that and the phone book. That was pretty much it. Other than that, it was people driving by and seeing your name. It is so different from the way it is now. All the different ways to get your name out there. In my spare time, I would do the books. Take care of the baby (Tracie) and do the books.
Susan: Did you have an accounting background?
Cheryl: I went to a class. Our books were so basic back then. As time went on, I continued to do the books and as the company grew, I took more classes and learned more. I liked doing them. It was something new. I was always a secretary prior to that. When I did the books, I liked helping and being involved with the business.
Susan: It was probably hard to do back then, with having a brand new baby!
Cheryl: It was. It was very hard.
Susan: Did the business start off pretty slow? Or did it pick up momentum pretty quick?
Cheryl: No, it started pretty slow. He had to hire fence crews. The company didn’t come with any crews. He had to hire all these people and find where to buy the lumber from. He had to figure out everything from the get go. That’s who he was. He loved problem solving. It didn’t bother him at all. It gave him a lot to work on and made him happy.
Susan: Where were the places that he bought the lumber?
Cheryl: Early on, he met a guy in Salt Lake City with a mill. That’s where he started getting all of his material from.
Susan: Would that be brought in by semi-loads?
Cheryl: Yes, it was brought in by semi trucks. There was a point at which Dennis decided he wasn’t going to pay shipping anymore, so he bought a semi!!
Susan: (Laughing) Well, who was going to drive it?
Cheryl: Oh he hired a driver. A driver that used to drive…
Susan: Oh my gosh! My Grandpa could have done it for you! (He was a semi-driver)
Cheryl: I don’t even know how he found it… but by God, he did! So then, I had to learn how to keep the drivers’ logs! What was his name? I think it was Dave. He would pull right in and yell, “She’s Here!!” (Laughter)
It was a big deal! Let’s go unload the truck!
So I had to keep track of the weight, the miles…. Hell, I don’t know!
Susan: How long did that last?
Cheryl: I’d say only a couple of years, because it wasn’t really…
Susan: It didn’t really save you money?
Cheryl: (Laughing) No, it didn’t really save us any money.
We went through a spell where we couldn’t get any trucks to bring in lumber.
We didn’t have very many truckloads coming in, but if you couldn’t get a truck in, it would mess up your entire week. So, yeah… he went and bought a truck.
Cheryl: It was really hard in the beginning. He figured out hiring for fence installation. We learned a lot from them. It was a lot of long hours because when they went out on a job, he wouldn’t have them stop at 5:00 pm, it was stay until the job was done. That’s how he felt he was going to make some money. By not resending the crew out again. He would leave around 7am every day, and get home usually no later than 10pm. On a good day, he might get home by 8pm.
That made a lot of long hours for me. Sitting at home with a brand new baby (Tracie), and of course we only had one car. A little Chevy Vega. He would take the car to work, leaving me at home. And it got a little boring. The days were long.
Susan: So do I remember right… Did you tell me at one point, that you used to get so bored that you’d iron sheets?! (Laughter)
Susan: I don’t know if I could ever get THAT bored! (Laughing)
Cheryl: That just goes to show how bored I was. I watched a lot of TV.
Susan: Fast forward a bit… Shane was about four years old as the company was starting to get bigger?
Susan: Did you end up getting another car by then?
Cheryl: Yeah, I ended up getting my own car!
Susan: I know there were several times, it was hard to keep the doors open…
Was it difficult to pay bills, stressful…?
Cheryl: Yes, especially when the winter came and it snowed for days on end. The crews couldn’t work. It was difficult to make payroll. There were lots of weeks that we didn’t even take a check.
I remember one day, I was able to get daycare, I was working at the office and in walked (from the state of Colorado) the agent to tell us we were behind on our taxes. He was a big Texan guy. He flipped open his State Of Colorado ID, and he said, “ Ma’am, you need to pay your taxes!” I can still remember his name, but I won’t say it!
So, yeah.. It was hard. A lot of years barely scraping by, but we made it!
Susan: I remember seeing a letter from Nana (Cheryl’s Mother), stating how proud she was of you guys. She mentioned how Dad wanted to make one million in a year?
Cheryl: Yes, one million in sales.
Susan: I think it was because you hit that goal that she wrote that letter to you, wasn’t it?
Cheryl: If we didn’t, it came close. Dennis was starting to figure things out and had quite the little team going. Dennis sold a lot. He enjoyed it- he had the gift of gab!
Susan: (Laughing) He was pretty funny too!
Cheryl: He had a very good sense of humor.
Susan: He was great with numbers
Cheryl: Oh yeah! Very detail oriented and loved problem-solving. Give him a problem and he’d say, “I’ll fix that!” That was his favorite saying, “I’ll fix that!”
He came very close to the goal if he didn’t hit it. He was very proud of that number. There’s something about saying, “A million!”
Susan: Almost like saying, “I’m a millionaire!”
Cheryl: Yeah, in a way. He was always resourceful, and very smart. He never would stop thinking. For the most part, he was out all day every day, then would come home and even watching TV he would have his gaze elsewhere and I could tell he was thinking.
It’s like he was thinking about what he could do differently tomorrow. He was always thinking ahead. He was never satisfied with staying where he was. He always wanted to change something, grow something, or do it better. He was a good business man though. He had the mind for it. He enjoyed it.
If he could tell us now, I think he would say that he really enjoyed everything he did. I don’t think he would change a thing. Except for not being able to pay the taxes!
Susan: I don’t think that if it weren’t for you, he couldn’t have gotten to where he was. They talk a lot about successful people having someone behind them, supporting them, encouraging them. Doing everything on the back side that people never see.
Cheryl: At the time of being a supportive spouse, you don’t feel like you’re contributing. You don’t feel like you’re of any value. But in retrospect, you can look back and say, “No, it was important! Because everyone needs someone to lean on. Everybody needs someone to understand when things go wrong. Or when there is a good day or bad day.” They want someone there. Just being there for them. Not only that, but when you are running a business, there is no time to raise the kids. That spouse’s job of raising the children is very important.
We worked well together. We worked well. A lot of people don’t do well working as partners, but we did. We really enjoyed it. We got along well. We were a good team.
I am so proud of the business that I can’t even find the words for it. The way that it has evolved over the years. All of the effort that Dennis put into it, and now Shane and the whole family being involved in it- it makes me pretty proud.
Susan: Everyone is in positions that they enjoy
Cheryl: Yes. They are great at it and enjoy it. I don’t think I would have done anything different because I think it all happened the way it was supposed to happen. In order for everything to evolve and to learn, it was a learning process and it all had to happen that way.