Tales of the Trades shares just some of the millions of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain the world we live in. We also focus on the individuals and organizations working hard to advance industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
Meet Garrett Davis. Garrett, aka @thelifeofbub, is a carpenter and the owner of G.W. Davis Company, which he started nearly 7 years ago. Based out of central Maine, his carpentry company builds new homes and renovates existing ones. He got started in the trades as a teenager and has continued following his passion to build with his hands now for almost 18 years. Garrett still does all his own carpentry work while leading a talented team of subcontractors for various jobs. In his own words, “Teamwork makes the dream work, and I got quite the team!” Garrett has also become a proud and vocal advocate for sobriety and community after dealing with his own alcohol and drug addictions. He now hosts weekly “Skilled & Sober” chats on Instagram Live so trades workers can share their own experiences and find the support they need to succeed in all aspects of life and work.
What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?
I grew up with some crazy ADHD. I always like to be active and use my hands. My uncle was actually a builder, so at a young age in the summer times, I started working for my uncle. By the time I graduated high school, I kind of knew that school wasn’t for me, so I went right into building houses with my uncle. I’m 34 now, so I’ve been doing it for more than half my life. Which is kind of crazy! I got into framing houses and then finishing work, and I kind of just went with the punches. I learned a lot and soaked up all the information I could, and I got really good at it. By the time I was 21, I was a foreman for one of my uncle’s crews and just doing it all. I’ve always loved the gratification of building something. You start with nothing, and every day you can see what you’ve done. That’s super rewarding.
What does it take to be successful at what you do?
I have a really outgoing personality. I feel like having experience makes you a little more confident in yourself, and personally, I think that confidence sells almost all of my work. A lot of my work is referrals from either customers I’ve done work for or from my lumberyard, who I do a lot of business with. Having the confidence and the experience to go against the bid, and maybe having a little more knowledge to a customer that wants to hire you that maybe the last guy didn’t have. Almost every time I get a job is because of my knowledge and my confidence in myself and my ability to do the job they want done. It’s not just talking the talk! When they hire me, I walk the walk. The job gets done, and they’re happy. That keeps the business going. You want happy customers, customers that are stoked about what you just did for them. I have a large base of returning customers that once they found me, they never looked for another contractor again. That’s kind of what this business is all about. I’m not a taillight warranty. I want my customers to call me whenever they have a project. I don’t want them to have to shop around – they can just call Garrett when they need something done.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Every day is a reward for me above ground. I am happy with life. Today, I’m happy with the challenges that I’m presented with. Every day that I run my business and I make it home at night and I’ve made a little money, that’s a huge reward for me. Some days are worse than others. Some days you walk away, and you’re like, “Wow, I did all that today,” and then some days, they’re slow, but you’ve got to think more and you don’t get as much done. Sometimes those days are even rewarding, because those are days that I learned more than when I just crushed it out and had nothing go wrong. The challenging days are the most rewarding for me.
I wake up every day excited to go to work, and there’s a lot of people that can’t say that. It makes me really happy that I enjoy getting after it every day. I don’t ever get the case of the Mondays. I’m ready to go! I’m not good at sitting still, so it’s good to be busy.
What about the most challenging parts of your work?
There’s so many moving parts to building a house. I deal with a lot of subcontractors, and if one person delays the schedule, it doesn’t only delay them and my time, it delays everybody that’s coming down the road. It can be super stressful sometimes.
Getting into the construction world and being around older groups of guys, I got really bad into addiction, which is probably my biggest struggle and challenge that I’ve faced. As a guy in the trades and a business owner, drugs and alcohol kind of controlled my life for a long time and made the shots. I’m sober and clean now almost 4 years, and I like to talk about it because I don’t feel like it’s talked about enough in the trades. There’s the business struggles and other challenges, but a lot of stuff comes from your personal life, and my personal life was involved around drinking and doing drugs for a really long time. It affected everything that came along with it in my life, including my work life before I went out on my own. Then once I went on my own and had my own schedule, I could kind of do whatever I wanted… and that’s when things got really bad. It’s still a challenge for me every day. It’s one day at a time. I stay sober and give it my best trying to do the next right thing instead of going down that wormhole again.
How has sharing your story and finding your community helped you with your addiction struggles?
I started a thing on Instagram called “Skilled & Sober.” Once I got sober, I was kind of like, “Oh, man, I’m the outcast,” but that’s just not not the case. There’s so many people out there that are doing the same thing I’m doing every day. So every Saturday now, I’m getting on Instagram Live with another tradesperson – whether electrician, plumber, carpenter, general contractor – and we just chat and they tell their story. It’s been helpful.
Along with running my business and having my family life, my goal is sharing my experience, strength, and hope with others, and letting people know that there is a way out of the insanity. When you’re not doing your thing and you’re doing it to survive like I was, it gets to be insane. I don’t live in that insanity anymore.
That’s the biggest gift of it all. I wake up every day with a clear head, and I’m ready to attack the world the best I can. It’s been a cool experience to hear other stories. I get a lot of messages daily from people saying, “Hey, you’re an inspiration. I want to get sober. How did you do it?” It’s huge because it’s glorified in the world, and especially in the trades. The guys that I grew up around, my uncle being one of them, I just thought that was a normal way of living, but it’s not the case at all.
What other ways has your life changed since becoming sober?
A big part of it is who you surround yourself with. All those people that I hung out with, that I was drinking with and stuff… I don’t hang out with them anymore. It’s a totally life-changing thing. It’s not just getting sober. You literally have to change your whole entire life if you want it. You have to really want it. My life was in a bad place, and I was willing to make the change. Here we are 4 years later, and my business has never been so successful! I ended up sitting in a house that I built with my own bare hands last fall. All of these things that I got, I got because I’m sober. I’ve wanted to build my own house since I became a carpenter, and it was probably one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done in my life. Through the whole thing, I’m like pulling my little bit of hair that I have left out! Finally I got it done, and now I can sit back and the reward is there.
What is the biggest misconception about your work or frustration that you experience in your trade?
Homeowners come to us as a skilled experienced contractor, but for some reason, we are the only ones that people feel like we’re not worth what we’re going to be charging. You go to a steakhouse and pay $80 for a steak, no problem. But then you want a house build or a master bath renovation or an addition… I give an estimate, and people are just blown away at how much it costs, and they feel like they can downplay you and beat you into submission to come down on your price.
There was a time where I did that just to get the job, but then you did a favor for that person and you lowered your price to work with them… that always bites you in the butt. I didn’t know my worth when I wasn’t sober, and I didn’t like who I was, so I let customers walk all over me. Once I got sober…. I know I’m a skilled guy. I have a good attitude, I do good work, and I know my worth now, so I don’t even give free estimates anymore. My time is valuable. It takes time to do a proper estimate. If someone’s not willing to pay me for an estimate or pay me for my time, then I don’t probably want to work for them anyways. That really has gotten me to a better place in my business and dealing with customers that are going to be more appreciative of the product that I’m going to give them. There are just so many pieces to a job that customers don’t realize until they hire me, and then they see the process and they’re like, “Oh, wow, okay, now I get it.”
The thing is, I’m the professional. You’re hiring me, so don’t tell me what the job is. Maybe that’s what you think it is, but again… you don’t know what goes into it. You don’t know material costs, you don’t even know what you would need for materials. Google is almost dangerous sometimes, because people can get information and think they know what they’re talking about. But really, you have to be hands-on to understand this stuff.
Another thing is that I’m gonna do the whole entire job, or you can hire somebody else. Even if it’s something as simple as the homeowner wanting to paint themselves, because my carpentry work that I spent a lot of time on will look really bad with a bad paint job.
What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?
I think there is a want for it in the younger generation, but some don’t want to put in the work. I tried out a couple of younger kids that were going to trade school for carpentry, but sometimes as much as you’ll want to do it and want it, it might just not be in your blood.
I really want to find a younger person that I can kind of train and mold into someone to work for my company, but it’s just really, really difficult. I’m sure there are a lot of things that are in effect as to why it’s like this, but everybody I know in this business is having a hard time finding employees. And when they do find them, they’re having a hard time keeping up. I feel like the older generation that has kept construction going is dwindling down, and it’s up to guys like myself and the younger generation to keep it going.
Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?
You’ve got to keep learning. Every day is a learning curve. Even the best of us fail every day. It happens. For me, I don’t ever want to know it all. I am constantly learning, especially running a business. In the construction world, nothing goes smoothly every day, so you’re always staying on your toes and learning new things, whether it’s skills in the field or skills of running the business.
I feel like there’s a lot of younger people that don’t do this for long enough and they’re like, “Well, I’m going to start my own business,” but they don’t know anything. When I was young, I took everything in – I was absorptive like a sponge. I would go in on Saturdays and Sundays to watch the guys working overtime and hang out with them and learn from them, and people don’t want to do that. I try to take the time out of every day and go step-by-step on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, but you have to show me you want to learn. I am at a point right now where I’ve struggled to get somebody, so right now I just work by myself. That can be a lot sometimes. Finding that extra set of hands that wants to learn is really difficult right now, and I feel like it shouldn’t be. There’s so much work out there… I could keep someone busy for the next two years.
My biggest word of advice is to work as an apprentice or an employee under somebody who is highly-referred or very skilled. I’ve had great mentors that showed me the work, and I saw how they did things that maybe I would do differently, but they were all really really good carpenters. I learned from good people that did the job right. There’s a lot of guys out there that don’t do the job right, so you learn bad habits. You need to get your hands dirty and learn how to work hard.
Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
I love what I do, so I probably work too much. I always try to have a project going because I like to stay busy, but I’m a very outdoorsy person. We actually built our house on the waterfront, which is great. We have a dock, so I like to fish. I enjoy being outdoors with my wife and just being outside when it’s nice in Maine, even when it’s cold, it can still be beautiful.
Our thanks to Garrett for making time to share his story and industry insights with us.
You can follow Garrett on Instagram at @thelifeofbub, on TikTok at @thalifeofbub, check out his website G.W. Davis Company to support his business, and find his exclusive codes for various partnerships through his LinkTree.