The Sport of Business

September 2007

Sometimes athletes evolve into players in business. Other times those with a primary business orientation enjoy sports as pastimes. For Danny Corker, however, sports and business are virtually one and the same.

Although Corker had a passion for playing baseball as a youth, which is where he feels he gained his competitive spirit, his first ventures as an adult were in business. He had a small amount of business management experience when, at age 21, he decided to go into business with his father, Daniel Corker—and not only that, but with his dad working for him.

Corker recalls how this unusual situation came about. "My dad had worked as an estimator and project manager for other drywall companies in the area, but the last one he worked for was downsizing, in the process of getting out of the business. My dad saw his job going as well. I had some management experience in other types of business. So I said to him, ‘With your construction experience, and my small amount of business experience, we can make a run at this thing.’ We started from scratch in 1994.”

The new company, DACO Interiors, Inc. in Ashland, Va., was up and running by the second year of business. "We were very fortunate and had some lucky breaks,” Corker says. This is significant since, as he says, "There are about six or seven major drywall companies in the area, lots of good competition.” The company built a good client base early on. This he credits to his dad’s contacts and his experience as an estimator, which allowed him to bid competitively and still turn a profit.

Wasn’t there some sort of tension resulting from a father working for a son? "Dad was never interested in paperwork, so there has never been any problem,” Corker replies. "We’ve wanted to operate as a team.” The only problem was an unusual one for so young a company. "It seemed that in the first few years that, while it was necessary to grow quickly, we were growing too quickly,” Corker says. "So we had to reel ourselves in. It was a difficult time, but we got through it. We had to make sure we had quality man power because we were having cash flow issues and were not doing quality work.”

Was there anything—an event or an "awakening” moment—that made him realize things were getting out of hand?

"No,” he says. "I don’t think there was anything drastic. It’s that we got so busy I couldn’t visit every job site. I think the owners should visit the job sites so you establish a team rapport with the other contractors and owners. It allows you to grasp the bigger picture.” As the result of this more focused perspective, the company has grown more slowly, but consistently, at about 10 percent a year. The company began with Corker and his dad, with two people in the field. Now there are five in the office and about 50 in the field. The company has a 5,000 square-foot warehouse, a 2,500 square-foot office facility and 12 vehicles on the road.

Off the Field
With DACO up and running as a successful business, Corker started looking for outlets. Being a winner on the job site is one thing, but being a winner off the field isn’t so important—it’s playing the game that matters.

"I got started in racing in 1998 as a way to get away from work on the weekends,” Corker says. He began in the Allstar Race Truck Series, touring to different tracks to race full bodied pickup trucks. After doing this about four years, he started racing full bodied modified racing cars in the Rolling Thunder Modifieds® series.

"The highest we ever finished was second,” Corker says. "We never won.” But, for the true sportsman, it’s not so much the winning as giving your all with an intent to win. "When I got behind the wheel of a race car, I experienced an adrenalin rush,” he says. "I guess it set off my innermost competitive nature just trying to win.”

Racing took up about two weekends a month until Corker stopped in 2006. The reason is that ocean fishing, which he had gotten into earlier, took over. He had started taking his employees fishing for striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Virginia Beach.

"I hoped to build some teamwork away from work,” Corker says. He started fishing competitively in 2006, and was hooked. In the Mid-Atlantic Rockfish Shootout his team placed eighth out of more than 100 competitors. In 2007 his team dropped to 84th place, but this is a sport he loves and intends to pursue.

The striped bass, or rockfish, generally weigh 30 to 40 pounds, and can go up to about 60 pounds. Eels are drifted behind the boat from rods and reels.

"Once the rod stamps down, everybody goes to work,” Corker says. "One person takes the rod. The others move the other rods around to keep the lines from getting tangled. Someone else works the net to get the fish inside the boat.”

In a similar way, the racing was a team endeavor. Corker enjoyed working on the cars himself. But in the race he depended on others to maintain and repair the car during the race, as well as a spotter, who stood on the side and signaled whether the lanes were clear or not. Some of his DACO employees volunteered to be on the racing crew during the weekends.

It’s About the Team
It’s this teamwork aspect of sports that Corker brings to his interior construction business. "You have to have a total team effort between the guys in the field and those in the office,” Corker says. "It seems that a lot of drawings we get are not as good as they could be. They often seem to come out of computers from people who don’t have any actual experience in building. So the guys on the job have to relate why there are problems getting things done with the drawings, and those in the office have to respond with a solution to those problems.”

Corker adds that his and his father’s being on the job site "builds a lot of relationships. The more you are established, the more people come to you, and the more negotiated work you get.” Currently DACO’s negotiated work constitutes about 75 percent of the jobs, and bids are about 25 percent. "Our negotiated work seems to grow each year,” he adds.

"I think a lot of the repeat business comes from the teamwork we build,” Corker says. "I try to instill in my people that they have to make money, but that can’t be their only concern. They have to try to make sure that everybody on the job site makes money. If our customers are not making money, they’re not going to want us to come back. A lot of professional teams have superstar players, but they can’t win the Super Bowl. But a team with a bunch of ‘Average Joes’ who know how to work together manages to win.”

Corker adds, "I look at business the same as I do sports. We’re trying to outdo the competition with the quality of our employees and the quality of our work. Life would be boring without sports.” As a spectator, Corker says, "I enjoy pretty much any sport. Down here it’s Nascar country. Everybody has a favorite driver, and talks about who is going to win Sunday. On Monday morning, somebody is bragging.”

The Competitive Spirit
Since it is so popular, there’s no shortage of manpower in the pits at a NASCAR, but manpower is one of the biggest problems in the construction industry, Corker says. He is checking out the AWCI programs in his area and hopes to work with local schools to provide training for this industry as it does for plumbers and electricians.

Sports also help him relate to his Hispanic employees, especially when the language barrier becomes a problems. "I’ve gone with them to quite a few soccer games,” Corker says. "The more games I see, the more I appreciate it. There’s a lot more going on than just running around and kicking the ball.”

In fact, Corker sponsors a team on which a number of his employees play. "We finished second,” he says. "We got a nice trophy.”

So Corker finished second early in his competitive fishing career, and the soccer team his company sponsors came in second. But with his wife of 10 years, Leslie, who works at DACO as office manager, and 10-year-old Justin, their son, Corker is number one … especially when it comes to selling popcorn.

Corker coaches baseball because of Justin’s love for it, and he also volunteers as a leader for Justin’s Boy Scout troop.

"I just finished going to camp with a bunch of boys,” he says. "I’ve also run the Pack’s fund-raising program, where we sell popcorn to raise money. For the last couple years I’ve been ‘Colonel Popcorn.’ We’ve been the top selling Pack for the past two years. In every aspect of life I have to strive to be number one.”

Does This Guy Ever Sleep?
When asked what he both likes and doesn’t like about running the business, he replies, "In some respects I like the compe­tition. I think that’s what makes me go. I enjoy seeing what we can do with metal framing and drywall, and, more than anything, maximizing the production of all the guys so we can make a dollar.

"What I don’t like about the competition is that sometimes it’s not an equal playing field. I’m competing against people who operate out of a pickup truck, don’t supply employee benefits, and don’t put out the same quality of work,” he says.

But Corker says he always does the best he can on any given day. He routinely gets to work at 6 a.m. and leaves at 8 p.m. Weekends and other spare time are taken up with his community service and sports activities. He gets about six hours of sleep per night.

Any downsides?

"The only downside is that I work much too hard in my quest to be the best,” he replies. "But I’m not complaining. I love the challenge.”