One day, Rick Davis was fighting fires. The next, he was building and renovating houses.
Now, 25 years later, he owns a company called DAVACO, based in Dallas, with over a thousand employees across the country.
How did it all begin? Davis took advantage of his days off from being a firefighter to learn other skills, and he soon realized that he enjoyed the construction and real estate business. “My dad was a plumber on his other job,” Davis told Opportunity Lives. So it was natural for him to start by buying, fixing, and reselling houses. “I did all of the work myself and recruited other firemen from the station to help out,” he said.
Rick Davis went from fixing houses to part-time to owning DAVACO, a company with over 1,000 employees nationwide.
After Davis gained some experience working on houses, he decided to move to apartment complexes. “The neat thing about that first apartment deal was that I broke ground on Labor Day and sold it on December 31st,” he said. From there, he built more apartments, offices, and even retail centers.
But after the Dallas business market took a hit in the late 1980s, Davis decided to leave the real estate business. He invested in a startup called Fixture Perfect, Inc. – a small company that installed store fixtures for retailers.
Davis saw a bright future for Fixture Perfect (which became DAVACO in 2002) and became the sole owner in 1991. The company more than doubled its revenue in the first year.
What made it take off so quickly? The company’s first big client – Blockbuster. New Blockbuster stores were opening every day, so the growing company needed retail professionals who could do quick installations.
“The biggest asset we have is our people,” said Davis. “I think of DAVACO as family.”
After Blockbuster was a big success for Fixture Perfect, Rick Davis realized that there was a growing need in the market for helping retailers with renovations and rollouts. So he focused on partnering with retailers to assist on strategic initiatives, signing several more big clients in the following years.
Today, DAVACO offers a wide range of services for retailers, restaurants, and hospitality businesses. The company is still experienced in fixture installation, renovations, and new store rollouts, but it has added design and brand merchandising services as well.
One of the major trends that DAVACO is involved in is digital menu boards. Fast-food restaurants and coffee shops are increasingly relying on digital menu boards to show pricing information and daily specials that can be automatically controlled by corporate. DAVACO has already installed over 25,000 menu boards, with more to come in the future.
Other restaurants are adding tablet ordering systems or drive-thru upgrades. “The opportunity for DAVACO to assist national brands with technology upgrades is limitless,” said Davis.
DAVACO installs digital menus like the one seen here in many of its client companies.
Additionally, DAVACO’s proprietary technology called ClearThread allows clients to view pictures and work updates for each project in real time. “We have, without a doubt, the best technology in the market for what we do,” said Davis. Every location that gets a Freestyle machine relies on DAVACO and ClearThread to streamline communication during the survey process.
There have certainly been challenges too. “For 17 years in this business, our business went straight up,” said Davis. “We averaged a 30% growth rate.” But the recession was difficult. Many clients went out of business, and Davis had to make some tough decisions to scale down operations until business picked back up.
DAVACO has avoided taking on any long-term debt, and that also helped the company weather the storm.
“The biggest asset we have is our people,” said Davis. “I think of DAVACO as family.” The company culture has helped the business to continue to flourish.
The story of DAVACO is a story of opportunity and success in America. Is that still possible? Rick Davis says yes, but it’s getting harder. “The paperwork, forms and certainly compliance requirements it takes to run a business limit the time to feed the entrepreneurial spirit.”
Davis has had extensive experience starting and running a company, and he has important advice for current and future entrepreneurs. “Surround yourself with really good and smart people, then get out of their way,” he said.
Daniel Huizinga is a columnist for Opportunity Lives covering business and politics. Follow him on Twitter @HuizingaDaniel.