Family learns together, earns together
They say blood is thicker than water, but you’ll have to ask Davis family – they see plenty of both.
James, Carrie and Nathan Davis make up Crimson Creek Boat Works, a new mobile boat repair business based out Mobile, Ala., in the heart of the Gulf Coast.
They also spent the last year in Orlando taking courses together at the Marine Mechanics Institute, part of the Universal Technical Institute.
The people who dread family reunions are probably scratching their heads right about now, but James Davis said it all came together naturally, starting with a shared passion for boating and fishing.
“After being in the Marine Corps for 20 years, I really wanted to do something that I felt like I would enjoy doing rather than something I had to do,” said Davis. “So I thought applying my mechanical background to being around boats and around boating people that would be a really good fit for me.”
The former Marine helicopter mechanic shared his post-service plans with his wife, who wanted to help any way she could.
“Carrie, prior to being a police officer, she had worked as a bookkeeper and dispatcher for a trucking company up in Canada. So when Carrie and I met and I told her what my plans were for after I retired and what I wanted to do, she wanted to help out at least,” said Davis. “The more we talked about it, the more we thought it might be a good idea to come to the school as well.”
With Carrie Davis taking the likely spot manning the phones and running the books, they decided to bring their son Nathan into the mix.
“We decided to approach my son who was about to join the Marine Corps – just as a second set of hands turning wrenches,” said Davis. “He gave us a call back and said, ‘Hey, I’m in; I’ll do it.’”
With that, the family registered for classes at the Marine Mechanics Institute, a division of the United Technical Institute in Orlando, Fla. He said it was a great environment not to just to give the family a strong understanding of the mechanical side of their future business, but to learn how best to work as a group.
“Especially being able to work as a group together in school helps prepare us for working together in the field,” said Davis. “Your personalities can kind of clash when you’re doing mechanical things, but all in all it was a great experience.”
Davis said one of the greatest technical lessons they learned from Cora and their time at MMI was the directive to find the problem, not just fix the symptom.
“It’s not just, ‘Oh, you have a blown fuse. It’s you have a blown fuse and this is what caused it,’” said Davis. “They really drove home the fact that if you find something that’s wrong, you need to investigate why that’s wrong.”
The family excelled at MMI, gaining the attention and forging a friendship with their instructor Michael Cora. He said the family was unlike any group he’s ever taught.
“They were very structured, you could tell the family has been in the military. On time all the time,” said Cora, who taught the Davises all about fuel systems and lubrication. "They were always active in lab, always helping each other and other people around – showing them what they may not be understanding.”
His background piqued the Davis’ interest. After working his way up, he wound up buying his former business.
“I left that after I had ended up running and owning that dealership, I decided I wanted to downsize with the economy changing and went to my own mobile rig. They just loved that idea and thought that there was a good market out there,” said Cora.
Once James, Carrie and Nathan heard that, they hounded Cora for information.
“After so many questions, I just sat down with them and told them what I did,” he said. “They had basically sucked me dry of information – and that’s what I’m here for. I loved it because they were wanting for information – actually going home and putting it down on paper and bringing it back with a handful of questions.”
Cora, who typically sees graduates go into the workforce at the bottom of the ladder, said their passion and voracious appetite for knowledge put him at ease going into mobile repair.
“Generally I don’t refer students to do this other than the fact that they were pretty much hands on and James had been in a technological business in the Marines and was very knowledgeable,” said Cora. “I felt very comfortable about this family going out straight into business for themselves.”
The idea of a mobile repair business, Davis said, was mostly a question of overhead.
“We talked about exploring an actual shop, but we decided in the end that we need to just get there first and get started first with the mobile business and hopefully make a good name for ourselves,” said Davis. “If that grew over the first year or two, maybe we’d get a little more serious about looking into an actual shop.”
He said that Cora gave one critical tip.
“‘Don’t get too big for your britches,’ is the way he would probably put it,” said Davis.
Stocking up on unnecessary parts and creating that extra overhead could be dangerous, but Cora said he has no doubt they’ll do great in the field.
“I supported them 100 percent because I felt like these were the type of people that I could be proud of and stand behind 100 percent that would do well in the business,” said Cora.
Davis said that while his technical marine training is invaluable, one of the most important lessons came from his previous career with the Marine Corps, when he had to stop being an introverted mechanic.
“I had an opportunity – well, I don’t know if it was an opportunity, I was more ‘voluntold’ – to be a marine corps recruiter for three years,” said Davis. “I think if I could pinpoint one thing that the Marine Corps did for me that I never anticipated was bringing me out of my shell a little bit. Giving me that ability to talk to people. I think that will definitely work in my favor opening a business.“
Cora echoed his sentiments, saying James’ background in recruiting with be a huge help.
“He very much knows how to approach the public, strangers. He knows how to greet and he knows how to take care of them from the start to the end,” said Cora.
The Davises are now in the Mobile, Ala., area, hitting the bricks and hoping to become “rock stars” in the area.
“I tell my wife all the time, ‘I gotta get back into recruiter mode here,’” said Davis. “You gotta get out there on the streets and hustle, that’s what you gotta do to get your name out there.”