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Davis ’21: “Use the Moment”

About five weeks after he graduated, Parker Davis ’21 formed his own business, Coastal Clean. The company partners with property managers in the North Carolina vacation spot Wrightsville Beach to clean beach rental properties to the highest standard. —VMI Photo by Kelly Nye, VMI Communications & Marketing.

Parker Davis ’21 is accustomed to being busy. Besides pursuing the demanding international studies major, he was involved in many activities, such as Special Olympics, the Cadet Investment Group, and the Ethics Debate Team. He played lacrosse at the NCAA and club level. He was on the S-5 staff and served as regimental S-5 captain during his 1st Class year. He worked closely with VMI Communications & Marketing. He even sat on a committee of the Board of Visitors, producing a 43-page report on cadet attitudes toward memorials and commemorations on post.

It wasn’t a hyperactive nature that motivated him to do all this, but rather his experience during his 3rd Class year when he returned on academic probation. “I needed to do well academically to stay at VMI. So, all I did was academics. I barely spent any time in barracks. I was constantly in Preston Library. Often, I wouldn’t get to bed until 0200.”

When he returned from Christmas furlough in January 2019, Davis had a 3.2 GPA and was off academic probation. He also, as he put it, “hated life. It was just a grind.”

Resolved to get some fun out of life, he began what he calls a “club a day program,” and checked out one club or activity every day. “I figured that I would eventually work out what I enjoyed, and it turned out I enjoyed several things.”

There is an adage that if you want something done, ask a busy man. Being a busy man, Davis received many requests for help. “I quickly got used to saying, ‘Sure, I’ll do that,’” he recalls. Yet, he never regretted it. In fact, he drew two crucial lessons from his activities. It’s hardly surprising that one was the need for strict time management. The other: Get used to failure.

“I was a perfectionist. Everything had to be done correctly from the very beginning. By giving many different things a try, I knew I’d succeed at some things and fail at others. And when I did fail, I was less hard on myself. I realized that, in the future, people won’t remember where I messed up; they’ll remember me.”

His days as an exceptionally busy cadet serve him well in his new role as an exceptionally busy entrepreneur. About five weeks after he graduated, Davis formed his own business, Coastal Clean. The company partners with property managers in the North Carolina vacation spot Wrightsville Beach to clean beach rental properties to the highest standard. It now services dozens of properties and employs 20 workers.

Asked what prompted this rapid transition, Davis said, “Failure. I looked for a job during my 1st Class year, and nothing worked out.” The final straw came when, after completing the U.S. Secret Service’s lengthy application process, the agency determined he was too young. “Their letter stated I was ‘qualified, but not accepted.’” After that, Davis thought, “If no one will hire me, I’ll hire myself.”

This was when Davis applied something he learned at VMI—before he matriculated. “When I was on an overnight visit, the barracks fire alarm went off at 0200, and the Corps was ordered to go to Memorial Hall. In about 20 minutes, an impromptu talent show broke out. At most places, nothing would have happened. Here, these people decided to use that moment. I saw that a lot when I was a cadet. People filled an otherwise empty moment with something because doing something was better than doing nothing.”

And what did Davis see as needing to be filled? “I had a job with a property management company in my hometown of Wrightsville Beach, inspecting vacation properties before renters arrived. The cleaning often was so bad that, if these places were rooms at VMI after a formal inspection, everyone in them would be on conduct probation.”

“I was a perfectionist. Everything had to be done correctly from the very beginning. By giving many different things a try, I knew I’d succeed at some things and fail at others. And when I did fail, I was less hard on myself. I realized that, in the future, people won’t remember where I messed up; they’ll remember me.”

Parker Davis ’21

Upon discovering that no local business provided cleaning services for rental properties, Davis thought, “Why had no one ever seen this opportunity?” So, he decided to use the moment and struck out on his own. In short order, he had recruited a crew, purchased the necessary equipment, and got to work. Almost immediately, the two largest property management companies in the area hired his firm, and the company turned a profit.

Asked if he applies any lessons learned at VMI to his business, he immediately said, “Delegation. Things you don’t know how to do should be done by someone who does. For example, I know nothing about accounting. So, I hired an accountant. That gives me peace of mind and allows me to focus on recruiting and training my staff.”

“I learned about the value of standard operating procedures at VMI in that everyone knows what’s expected. So, I have drawn some up covering different aspects of the business.”

At VMI, Davis was exposed to different leadership styles. “You learn what works in certain situations.” He adopted a results-focused style. “In our training, we show our workers what things should look like, and we stress that we don’t care how they get things to look that way.”

Davis also draws on his experience on the S-5 staff. “Whenever we did something, we’d discuss what we could have done better, what worked well, what didn’t. I want a similar atmosphere in which employees are comfortable giving me feedback.”

He also uses the game theory he learned in the classroom. “A lot of game theory is about reward versus punishment, and I much prefer reward. We start everyone at $15 an hour. If people do a great job, we immediately hike their compensation to $20/hour.”

As to his company’s future, Davis has set out a two-year goal of cleaning 60% of all vacation properties in Wrightsville Beach. The property management companies he now works with have expanded into nearby Carolina Beach, and Coastal Clean will be servicing their properties. “They plan on expanding their presence in that area, and Coastal Clean will grow with them.”

How will Coastal Clean accomplish these goals? “First, our bread-and-butter is cleaning, and we’ll stick with it until we perfect it. Second, find good people who share our motivation—in our case, being well paid for providing top-notch services—and stick with them.”

While being an entrepreneur has its challenges, it does have its rewards, according to Davis. “I am making my own schedule now, and it’s great to no longer live according to the VMI matrix.”

  • Scott Belliveau

    Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects

    The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.