In 2010, Brad Davis brought 12 years of experience in the mortgage and auto retail industries to Norman and Company, Inc./Classic Products, the company, started by President and Partner Norman Ferenz in 1984 and joined by his father, Vice President and Partner Gerald “Jerry” Davis, in 1991. Agent Entrepreneur caught up with Brad Davis to talk agency development, GAP losses, powersports prospects and competitive fishing.
AE: Where are you from, Brad?
Davis: I was born in Cleveland and I have lived in the Clearwater/Tampa Bay area since I was 3 years old. My dad was tired of the cold weather in Ohio, and he was aware of opportunities here. Like most people who grow up in a nice area, I didn’t realize how good we have it here until I moved away. As I furthered my career, I would drive home once a month to fish and visit family.
AE: What moved you around?
Davis: As I was finishing college, I took a job in the mortgage industry. I enjoyed it, and I later became a sales manager for H&R Block Mortgage and then opened my own mortgage company. My dad and my sister have been in the car business their entire lives. I was purposefully trying to stay away from it. I wanted to venture out and make my own way. But it was inevitable that they would pull me in.
AE: What was the catalyst?
Davis: There were two: The mortgage business took a hit and my dad saw his retirement coming down the road. He wanted me to learn the business, first by working at a car dealership. I took a sales job at the former Countryside Ford & Mazda in Clearwater, and they promoted me to finance manager. All told, I was there for a little over a year.
AE: Did your experience in the mortgage industry pay off?
Davis: I can tell you the industries are similar in a lot of ways. First and foremost, both are customer service businesses.
AE: And both are heavily regulated.
Davis: Yes, and heavily regulated. But treating customers well, doing the right thing every time; that transferred over to the car industry. So I hit the ground running on the retail side. I really enjoyed the interaction with customers on a day-to-day basis. As in the mortgage business, if you treat people right, the business will come.
AE: Was there a moment when you thought you would stay there?
Davis: I was moving up the ranks, but the intention was always to come over to the family business. Leaving was difficult. I enjoyed working with the GM and in the finance department, but I knew everything I had done over the past 12 years was leading to Classic.
AE: How were your first few weeks in the office?
Davis: I spent the first few weeks training in each department, just trying to get the flow of each individual part of our business on the claims side. Then, coincidentally, our longest-standing employee went on maternity leave. Just like that, I was thrown into the fire of handling agents on a day-to-day basis.
AE: How did you like it?
Davis: Working with agents has been the most rewarding part of my work in this business. I really enjoy developing those relationships, and a number have become close, personal friends along the way.
AE: What’s it like working in the family business after working in another industry and owning your own company?
Davis: I will say I’m very happy I waited until my adult life before I went to work with my dad. But I developed my work ethic by watching him. Through all the years he and Norman were building this company, he always set high standards. In this business, there is always something new to learn. I have enjoyed working with them and learning what it takes to be successful.
AE: Any surprises?
Davis: I would have to say I was surprised at how diversified this business is in terms of day-to-day activities. It’s not one-dimensional. We are selling and expanding product lines in partnership with our agents, but we’re also managing the business from a loss ratio standpoint.
AE: GAP losses were a recurring theme at Industry Summit.
Davis: It’s no secret those loss ratios are up in the new-car and used-car arenas. I think everyone’s been doing a pretty good job of finding the right price point for this business, and I think everyone is dug in to handle these increases, either throughout their book or on a per-store or per-dealer group basis. Our business is very diversified across multiple GAP programs. That has afforded us the opportunity to not endure major increases up to this point.
AE: Are there any less-heralded products you see performing for agents?
Davis: Over the last three or four years, I have seen huge increases in powersports and RV. Obviously, as the economy gets stronger, consumers can buy more RVs and motorcycles. The great thing about this business is there are always different products agents can pivot to and diversify their books of business.
AE: Does powersports require a different approach?
Davis: You have to know that aspect of the business and those F&I products are continuing to evolve. It’s a niche business, and knowing the differences between the subsegments is essential. Just like the automotive side, the most important thing is learning how the products and programs work in powersports. As agents spend more time at those stores, they’ll get a better idea of what it will take to earn the dealer’s business.
AE: You mentioned powersports F&I is still evolving. Would you say it’s catching up to automotive?
Davis: Absolutely. There are more F&I products available for powersports than ever before. It’s becoming a nice platform.
AE: How do you spend your time off?
Davis: I’m an avid fisherman. My beautiful wife, Katie, and I were married about two years ago. It’s always a delicate balance between work life, fishing life and married life — maybe not in that order. But I can tell you the hours can sometimes be better on the administration side than in the retail or mortgage business.
AE: Do you fish for fun or sport?
Davis: Tournaments are big business around here. I only fish a couple, for charities, but we have a really good time doing it. We sponsor the Skip Cline tournament, which benefits the pediatric programs at Morton Plant Mease Hospital.
AE: Any wins?
Davis: We haven’t won yet, but there’s always hope. Captains are allowed for this particular tournament, so the competition is pretty tough. For the most part, we fish on the West Coast of Florida, mostly for grouper, snapper, redfish, tarpon or snook.
AE: What’s the biggest fish you ever caught?
Davis: About a 150-pound tarpon.