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J. Davis Marking: One Golf Marker at a Time

When you speak with Anne Hawks about J. Davis Marking, LLC, the company she and her husband Michael have nurtured and grown over the past fourteen years, she often starts by saying, “If you look up ’cottage industry’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of our company.”

The ’cottage’ from which Davis Marking does business is, as of August 2014, a renovated barn in Clearwater, Kansas. For the previous fourteen years, it had been a renovated barn in eastern Iowa, located in the small town of Maquoketa. In the early years, starting in 1989, and for eleven highly successful years thereafter, the thriving business founded by Jan Davis, was run from Jan’s southern California condo, where the company was launched and the story begins.

The Redhead with the Painted Sprinkler Heads

As the Ladies Club Champion for five consecutive years at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club, located just north of San Diego, Jan Davis was a passionate golfer. As Anne fondly describes her late mother-in-law, “Jan could do anything. She would take on anything. She was the hardest working, most high-energy person I think I have ever known.”

Understanding Jan’s love of golf and her commitment to do whatever was needed to get the job done, it becomes less surprising that her annoyance over temporary tags attached to sprinkler heads for the purpose of marking yardages gave rise to a successful business. Very simply, Jan saw a problem and set about to solve it.

Many golf courses at that time were using temporary tags that they taped, glued or sometimes attempted to pop rivet to a sprinkler head to mark yardages. Such tags frequently came loose, broke, blew away, were lost in mowing or when pop riveting was used, left the sprinkler head permanently damaged. In addition to being inefficient and frustrating to golfers and golf maintenance crews, temporary tags looked unpolished, an untidy detail on golf courses that were otherwise meticulously manicured and maintained.

Jan recognized that creating permanent yardage marking would not only improve the look of this small but important detail, but also would prevent golf course superintendents and maintenance crews from ever having to think about the problem again. By making it easy for golfers to locate yardage information consistently on every hole they played, Jan thought her idea could even potentially speed the pace of play.

In true Jan Davis fashion, once she had the idea for engraving yardage distances on the top of irrigation head caps, nothing was going to stand in her way. Here’s where her story becomes a lesson in the limitless bounds of entrepreneurial spirit.

To introduce her idea to the golf industry, Jan chose to travel door to door, or in this case, golf course to golf course. At each course she approached, Jan would ask the superintendent or head of maintenance if he or she would permit her, at the end of the day, to remove one hole of sprinkler head caps from the golf course for permanently marking them with yardages. She promised to have those sprinkler head caps back in place before the first tee time the following morning.

With sprinkler heads in hand, Jan then returned to her motel room where, like the shoemaker working late into the night, she engraved and painted the correct yardages on each head cap. She completed her task so that just after dawn she could be back at the golf course returning those sprinkler head caps to their correct location. Using this business model, Jan worked her way across southern California, one golf course at a time, and one sprinkler head at a time.

Quickly, demand for the “red head with the painted sprinkler heads” began to grow, as word spread, and golf course superintendents began to seek Jan instead of Jan pursuing them. Together with her close friend John Skidgel, an irrigation designer for Toro, Jan began moving J. Davis Marking ahead, lengthening her stride with each purposeful step she took forward.

Although Jan initially pursued patents for her product, her frustration with the patent process led her to abandon the idea, deciding instead to hinge everything about her business success on delivering the best product and the highest level of customer service possible. Clearly, from the success the company now enjoys, Jan’s strategy was spot on.

About this same time, J. Davis Marking began investing in the purchase of moldings from which to create custom sprinkler caps first for Toro irrigation systems and later for Rain Bird. Today, the company also provides custom caps for Hunter systems as well as offering driving range markers and fairway markers.

J. Davis Marking products can be found on 65 of the Golf Digest Top 100 courses. The company’s client list include over 4,500 courses in all 50 U.S. states and 39 countries worldwide. With the company’s smooth, clean, ABS plastic surfaces that are free from unnecessary writing, a golf course can have engraved anything it chooses from front, back, and center yardages to specialty messaging, hazards, logos, and satellite/station codes. In addition to sprinkler head, driving range and fairway markers, J. Davis sells markers for tee boxes, valve boxes, and cart paths, virtually anything you might wish to mark with a flat, long lasting, in-ground marker.

ABS plastic (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a copolymer plastic that is highly heat and cold tolerant and inherently 30 times stronger than traditional plastics. You’ll find it used in the lining of the interior of your refrigerator, as the primary construction material for white water rafting canoes, and even in the manufacturing of LEGO brand building blocks. Golf course markers and sprinkler head yardage markers made of ABS plastic are economical to ship and can be purchased at a fraction of the cost of bronze markers. The company boasts it has never had a product returned for defect or failure and offers a lifetime cap paint guarantee.

Expanding the Brand

The move by J. Davis Markering from a California condo to an Iowa dairy barn occurred in 2000 as the company transitioned from Jan’s leadership to being primarily run and operated by her son Michael and his wife Anne Hawks. Ironically, the couple was not in the golf business or residing in Iowa when the idea for the change first took shape.

Michael, a Department of Defense employee assigned to work on the federal government’s Tomahawk Cruise missile program, and Anne, a middle school principal, made the life redefining decision to leave their jobs in Maryland behind and with their two sons head for the small Iowa town where Anne grew up and where her parents still resided. Over the years, they have never doubted the wisdom of that decision.

Sight unseen, they purchased a house with a large dairy barn that proved to be perfect for retrofitting as the company’s new headquarters. Taking the business a step further, they set up a distribution network and soon had a range of distributors helping them sell their markers. Word spread, and individuals who sold other products, such as golf yardage books, jumped on board as resellers of J. Davis Marking products. The company attributes their continuing interest as resellers to the fact that these products are durable, affordable and easy-to-sell, while being backed by attentive customer service.

Anne explained, “I am passionate about customer care. The golf industry is a close family in which word spreads quickly. Our best spokespeople are our clients themselves who tell others about our products and our services. A superintendent works at a course and installs our markers; when he moves on to another facility, he becomes our customer again because he wants J. Davis products on his new golf course.

“Our clients often ask us what our minimum order is. I tell them it is ’one.’ We warehouse nothing. Each marker we make is unique. You can contact J. Davis Markering for one item or an unlimited number. We’ll custom make them to your specifications and get them to you fast.”

Proof of how quickly J. Davis Markering responds was evidenced again this past summer. On June 21, only hours before Michael and Anne were scheduled to leave for a much-needed vacation, they received a call from one of their distributors in England, M. J. Abbott, one of the United Kingdom’s leading golf course construction and irrigation installation companies. Royal Liverpool Golf Club had just contacted Abbott with the message that the course wanted custom Rain Bird Eagle sprinkler caps in white for their golf course, and they wanted them in time for The Open Championship, July 16-20.

Committed to customer satisfaction, the Hawks ensured that the very special yardage markers were crafted to Royal Liverpool’s specifications, shipped on June 26, and in the right hands at Royal Liverpool by the thirtieth day of June. “Royal Liverpool became one more satisfied client for the J. Davis Marking family,” said Anne.

“Marking” A New Chapter at J. Davis Marking, LLLC

The vacation Anne and Michael enjoyed in the Caribbean was no ordinary trip. It served to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the story of J. Davis Marking. Although the couple will still be highly involved in the company, Alan and Alicia Pitcher, brother and sister-in-law to Anne, have now joined Anne and Michael in the company. As part of the change, J. Davis Marking has a new headquarters near Alan and Alicia’s Kansas home.

J. Davis Marking has a new home state, a new barn from which it is doing business, and a new couple painstakingly helping to prepare each order with personalized care and responsiveness. The barn has changed, and there are more people at work in the company. “But the quality of product and attentive customer care has not,” said Anne. “Each marker sold passes through four different sets of hands before it is deemed ready to ship. The procedure is exactly the same as it was when Jan herself stayed up all night, engraving and painting one marker at a time.”

Linda Parker has been writing professionally since the 1980s. With clients in finance, sports, technology, change enablement, resorts, and nonprofit global initiatives, Linda helps organizations communicate their stories in meaningful ways to the people they most want to reach. She has authored, ghostwritten or contributed to more than a dozen nonfiction books. You can reach her at: linda@glindacreative.com.

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