Three years into his toiling, Sullivan had stockpiled enough money to specialize in selling woods that are ideal for hardwood floors, and that's what he's been doing ever since. And while they buy the grade-A hardwood material, they haven't stopped searching for the unwanted wood to purchase.
Sullivan continues to work hard and long hours, which might be why he's remained a bachelor all these years. He's a soft-spoken, quiet, modest man-you get the feeling, when talking to him, that if he ever rescued a stray kitten from a fire, he would keep his deed to himself. Even Sullivan's headquarters reflects his modesty: It's an unpretentious 16-foot-by-16-foot room. "I keep it pretty lean," he says.
In fact, a casual observer to his office would probably never imagine that Lumber Liquidators has 15 locations around the country, and adds a new warehouse every few months. Lumber Liquidators is in all four corners of the United States: California, Florida, Maine and Washington. And in 1999, Lumber Liquidators brought in $18 million, $9 million more than his firm brought in the year before. When it's suggested that Sullivan should be pretty proud of himself, he is his usual understated self: "I had to make something work, eventually."
But he does offer one anecdote that shows just how far he's come. Sullivan says a truck driver once dropped off a shipment and confirmed to an employee that everybody used to think Sullivan's lumber business was a big joke. "Geez, we used to laugh at that kid when he first started, and now he's got stores all over the country," the truck driver admitted. Nobody's laughing now.
- Lumber Liquidators, www.lumberliquidators.com.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.