On the job: Vehicle customizer
This month I spoke with Jimmie Davenport, owner of Davenport Customs on Hillsborough Rd.
Q What is it that you do at Davenport Customs?
A We install all kinds of items to enhance your car’s appearance, like rims, LED lights, and custom color-coordinated interiors. We also install car audio and video. But it’s not all about appearance—we have safety in mind, too: rear-view cameras, mounting and balancing wheels, remote car starters, blindspot monitoring. Never heard of blindspot monitoring? Suppose you’re driving on the highway and you want to change lanes. You might not see that car that’s in that blindspot—he’s next to you but too close to appear in your mirror. A blindspot monitor will let you know that you can’t change lanes. We install aftermarket accessories and window tinting for Michael Jordan Nissan and GPS tracking units for used-car dealerships.
Q How did you get your start?
A My dad gave me his old car when I was around 15, and I started working on it then. I just kind of took to it. Then I took a carpentry class when I was going to Southern High School. We had to do a project and I decided to build a subwoofer enclosure. I was working part-time and I spent my whole check accessorizing my car. Between my dad and I, my car was great—I had headrest TVs and a SEGA Dreamcast videogame console. And then somebody broke into my car and stole them. I saved up and bought replacements, and when I asked the installer how much it would cost to reinstall them, he said it would cost the same as it did the first time. I was mad. The thief didn’t steal the wires—just the units—so I didn’t think I’d have to spend the same amount of money to have new units installed.
So I went home and figured out how to do it myself. And I enjoyed it. Soon I was installing audio and video systems in my friends’ cars. I kept at it and learned how to install just about everything. I got a peddlers’ license so I could start selling car alarms and remote car starters, and I also took classes at ECPI University in Raleigh.
When I got laid off from my job (they moved to another country), I decided to go into business. I opened my first shop in 2004 on Geer Street. It was a small space, we expanded, but we still needed to grow, so we moved to North Alston Avenue, across from the BP gas station. We had good visibility and good clientele, especially NCCU students, but we decided to try a spot on East Club Boulevard. We were only there a couple of months before the whole place burned down. That was rough. Now we’re here on Hillsborough Road, and this is a great spot. We get commercial customers, college students (from Duke, UNC, and NCCU), and we’re pretty visible. We’d be even more visible if we were maybe half a mile west on Hillsborough, but you can imagine how high our rent would be!
Q What’s the wildest car you’ve ever worked on?
A We had a customer we who a huge Transformers fan. Rose [Paint & Body Shop] painted it, and then we did it up: By the time we were through she had all-chrome accessories for the hood, blue LED lights under the hood, custom suede and leather interior with the Transformers embroidered in the headrests, a Transformers stick shift, Transformers foot pedals, gas cap, rims, a talking Transformers alarm. And Lambo[rghini] doors—they open vertically.
Another project I really liked working on was a custom-molded fiberglas dashboard with a 20-inch TV. I love getting jobs like what you see on the TV show “Pimp My Ride.” People love their cars. But don’t think we do jobs like this every day—but when we do, we love it.
Q What do you like best about customizing different vehicles?
A I look forward to the challenging stuff. On one hand, I like it when someone comes in who knows exactly what he wants and how he wants it done. And on the other, I like it when somebody comes in with a challenge or a problem and needs our help in fixing it. I never want to disappoint anybody.