Coo-coo. Coo-coo. Coo-coo. Over the phone, Jodie Davis plays one of her signature cuckoo clocks for a few chimes. It’s a low-pitched but infectious sound, and just talking about it fills Davis with youthful giddiness.
“Did you hear that?” Davis asks. “When we made the first owl cuckoo clock, I had to replay it. It puts you in a good mood — it makes you smile.”
On her mid-century farm-turned-factory in Georgia, Davis, 59, designs and manufactures custom-made cuckoo clocks for her four-year-old business, The American Cuckoo Clock Company. Inspired by a friend’s Swiss cuckoo clock, she went down the Ebay “rabbit hole” 15 years ago and started collecting clocks from the 1960s and 1970s because “I liked the older ones.” It turns out, other people like cuckoo clocks, too: She has sold hundreds of clocks, to the tune of $250,000 in overall revenue.
From Quilts to Clocks: A Timely Transition
In her early career, though, Davis spent more time in a different industry, one that used more patchwork than clockwork. When she was 16 years old, Davis taught herself how to quilt and became something like a household name in quilting circles. Before YouTube, Davis had her own internet television station for quilters, and hosted series for television networks like Home Shopping Network and HGTV, among others. She’s also authored over 34 books about Victorian quilt block designs, paper piercings, and how to make dolls and stuffed animals — winning a loyal, and certainly niche, following.
Davis inadvertently stepped into a new career during one of her quilting shows overseas. In Germany, she shot an episode at Anton Schneider, an internationally renowned cuckoo clock factory, and “when the cameras were about to roll I pitched the idea of turning the clock they were about to make into a quilt shop, for our audience.” (For the uninitiated, a traditional wooden cuckoo clock often takes the shape of a mini-house or business.) So smitten by the design, Davis wanted a quilt shop clock for herself but needed to place a minimum order of 100. Luckily, she was able to find plenty of buyers in the quilting community. “What a surprise to find that 99 others loved the clock!”
Fast forward ten years: Davis decided to leave her quilting network to import and sell cuckoo clocks. In 2015, Davis officially launched the American Cuckoo Clock Company. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, she sold 77 clocks — all sourced from the German factory — and then 300 more.
But the beginning stages were as rough as any startup and Davis found herself questioning her career path. “What am I doing?,” she’d ask herself. “‘Is this going to work? Am I spending my time on the right thing?” In the early days, Davis found comfort in her therapy horse, Harley. “I would just go out and cry in Harley’s mane and I’d tell him, ‘We’re gonna make it, we’re gonna make it.”
Not long after starting up, Davis attracted the interest of clockmakers in Germany who wanted to work with her to make modern versions of cuckoo clocks. The problem — ironically — was the lack of time. “The timeline for getting a new design through the pipeline turned out to be over two years,” she says. “I needed product for my business.”
Taking matters into her own hands, Davis self-studied clock-making for two years and in 2017 “tooled up” to become her own manufacturer — a process she found to be emotionally and financially draining. “I’ve had to [buy] everything from a drill press to a 3-D printer to a CNC machine to screwdrivers and sanding stuff,” she says. Before the switch, Davis had two years’ salary saved. After, she was scraping the bottom of a ticking time barrel. “I put everything into surviving,” she says. “I was alone and single and haven’t had a new pair of underwear literally in four years.”
Her Business is Gonna Fly Now
Naturally, Davis’s new enterprise benefitted from her illustrious quilting background. She says the medium is different, transitioning from fabric to wood, but “I’m a way better [clock] designer than I ever was at quilting.” Currently, Davis’ business imports clock parts from Germany and local artisans assemble the final product. While the exterior of the clocks are more modern in design, “the integral parts are the same,” she says.
Davis recently hired a marketing expert to help set up her website and social media channels. “These past two years, there has been nearly zero marketing of my clocks,” she says. “Every penny and minute has gone into designing clocks.” Now that she has products to market, she’s ready to spread the word — and the birdsong.
Davis recently finished a clock commission for Sesame Street and has another project — that she isn’t allowed to publicly disclose yet — underway. More than anything, Davis wants to share the magic of her craft and is developing plans for a mobile cuckoo clock trailer that will tour the local Georgia area. She also wants to create a walk-in destination experience where visitors can see the inside of a cuckoo clock.
Looking forward, Davis hopes — no, plans — to become one of the biggest cuckoo clock makers in the nation. For her, it’s only a matter of time. Currently, the market is dominated by German brands like Schneider, which has been making cuckoo clocks since 1848. She estimates that U.S. customers buy about 70,000 cuckoo clocks a year. “And I plan on getting a quarter, a third, a half of that because my clocks are so different.”
There’s no doubt in Davis’s mind that cuckoo clocks are family treasures that will stick around for the foreseeable future, passing “smiles onto generations.” And it’s all because of: Coo-coo. Coo-coo. Coo-coo
“You know how tastes and smells are memories? Sound is too. It’s the good stuff — it’s apple pie.”