NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
LOCAL LAKE ENTREPRENEUR AND NOW INTERNATIONAL MUSIC BUSINESS ICON
Soft spoken, thoughtful and easygoing — a trio of adjectives that only begins to describe David Atkins. He says he is many things — a husband, father, musician and the founder and CEO of Argosy Console.
Music has always been foremost in David’s life. He joined his first band, Fairfax, when he was only 15 years old, playing the guitar. He even had an agent and had to pay taxes! His parents, however, were not happy with his extracurricular activities, saying he had to keep his grades up. In high school, David continued his musical “career” with the band Mantissa Blue, playing funk covers from famous bands including The Commodores, Chaka Khan and Rufus.
After high school, David attended MU studying graphic design, but dropped out after a couple of semesters. Working in the music field was what he really wanted, so he attended a two-week recording engineer workshop in the summer of 1978. He was taught by professionals: producers and engineers who dissected sound from the ground up — from the source to what one hears. From 1979 to 1981, David interned in Madison, Wisconsin, working in a recording studio. While there, he met touring musicians such as Fleetwood Mac and Elton John.
He then returned to Columbia to work at Roth’s. For his music fix, he started The Numbers, a band that played Buddy Holly songs. Roth’s had become so successful that the family opened three more stores — in Jefferson City, Sedalia and Osage Beach. In 1984, David reluctantly put his musical pursuits on hold and moved to the Lake. “There’s nothing down here,” he said at the time.
He jumped into the business world where he learned about buying, merchandising and, more importantly, customer service. He got married, inheriting a stepdaughter and had a son. He designed and helped build a beautiful home on a cliff overlooking the main channel. He decided to build a home studio, saying “I’ll write songs.” David bought a Mackie Mixer, which for the uninformed is a board with all kinds of buttons, knobs and sliders. The board brings together different recorded instruments in one place. The operator can change the volume, dynamics and effects.
There was only one problem with the mixer: all the ugly exposed wires. David remembered watching a cabinet being wired when he was interning in Madison, so he designed and started building a cabinet in his garage. A neighbor, who hardly ever stopped by, showed up while he was working on the console. This neighbor happened to own a countertop company. When David asked him about making a top, the man replied, “How many you gonna make?” And a whole new world opened up.
David called Recording magazine to ask about ad rates. The woman on the phone asked him what he wanted to advertise. When he described his console, she said it sounded interesting. She also said the magazine was doing an article on studio furniture and asked David to send her a photo. The photo appeared at the end of the article with the tagline, “How’s this for a slogan ‘Makes your Mackie bus look like an SSL.’ ” According to David that translates to “Turns your Ford Escort into a Ferrari.”
After the article came out, the phone started ringing, and in the fall of 1994 Argosy was born. One of Argosy’s first clients was Boyz II Men. The desk they bought was loaded onto a trailer and driven to Pennsylvania. A few weeks later the vocal group was on the cover of EQ (electronic musician) magazine shown seated at an Argosy Console. Although the company was not named, word spread, which led to more clients and additional furniture designs. In its first year, Argosy sold 55 desks.
David launched a website right after the internet came into being. He outsourced the manufacturing, and rented space in the basement of Stonecrest Mall in Osage Beach. With his friend Tim Thompson, who worked for free the first year in exchange for five shares of stock, plus a few people from Roth’s, he began packaging and filling orders. The cabinets were delivered fully assembled. Getting one through the 32-inch basement doorway was a daunting task. One UPS driver came to pick up about 50 boxes the first day of her employment — David says it was also her last day.
In the mid-’90s, the Lake area was exploding with new businesses opening everywhere. Roth’s was competing with the newly opened outlet mall, and eventually the mall won and Roth’s closed in 1997. Argosy rented a building in Industrial Park in 1996 and began manufacturing in-house. Eventually the company rented several more buildings in the park. Throughout his journey with Argosy, David says he has had divine intervention. Remember the neighbor who appeared at just the right time? And the phone call inquiring about rates that led to massive exposure?
Now that the business was humming, they needed a forklift. But with a price tag of $30,000 it was out of range. Then someone stopped by with a forklift that had been bought at auction. He sold David half-interest for $500. The propane lift named Stinky is still in service today. One of the first retailers to buy a desk from Argosy was Chuck Surack, who owns Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The fledgling company couldn’t sell at wholesale price, so Surack bought at retail. Today, Sweetwater Sound is one of Argosy’s biggest retailers.Through the years, Argosy has had some notable clients, such as Snoop Dogg, Ozzie Osborne and Mary J. Blige. David recalls one time when he was installing a console at a studio in Burbank,
California, that was closed for the weekend. He was told Meatloaf would be stopping by for a voiceover and to send him upstairs.
“So, while taking some trash out the back, I saw a station wagon pull into the parking lot. A guy who looked like my high school math teacher got out,” David says. “It’s Meatloaf. I had no idea what his (real) name was, so I said ‘Hello, Mr. Meat?’ He just looked at me and grumbled something like ‘I’m here for the thing.’ So now I can say I talked to Meatloaf!” David got back into playing music, adding an electric bass guitar to his repertoire. He began playing with the band at Osage Hills Church in Osage Beach. He says he has always had faith, just not a lot of church faith. Before playing at the church he called himself a “Chreaster,” going to services only at Christmas and Easter. He also was asked to fill in for a couple of months at the Main
Street Music Show. He ended up staying.
And at age 44, David decided to go back to school and earned a Liberal Arts Degree from DePaul University in Chicago. In 2007, the company moved to its present facility — a 32,000-square-foot building in Eldon. Once again, celestial intervention happened when they were in need of commercial ovens. A baker appeared who was going out of business and sold them two ovens for pennies on the dollar. Argosy employs 20 people at the design manufacturing facility. The laid-back atmosphere reflecting David’s personality can be seen throughout the facility. David’s “office” is one big room with four workstations fashioned from Argosy designs. The manufacturing section of the building is brightly lit and spotless.
Another life lesson from David: “You work for your employees as much as they work for you.” He practices what he preaches with camaraderie and employee restrooms that rival high-end lavatories. In 2015, 20 years after founding Argosy, David handed over the reins to his good friend Tim Thompson, naming him president of the company.
“Share your knowledge – replace yourself – work yourself out of a job. Everyone will be happier,” is one of David’s life lessons. These days, David goes to the office daily but doesn’t have a set schedule. “My staff makes rules for me,” he says. David wanted more time with his music and his new wife — whom he describes as happy-going and smart. His first marriage ended in divorce and eventually he took to social media and online dating.
He had a scary start. He had coffee with a woman who could barely speak English, looked nothing like her picture and announced she came to America with the circus. Stung once, before David set up a meeting with Kellie he had her vetted. He learned she worked for the State Highway Patrol in IT, had been divorced for eight years and insisted she wasn’t getting married again. They met at Main Street Music Show where he was playing.
They dated for about 18 months before tying the knot.
He plays with the i-Berrys Band, which performs not only at the Lake, but also in Kansas City and St. Louis. They play Celtic Irish Rock and are booked up through 2018. David’s life hasn’t been lived according to “the rules.” His passion for music led to starting a company that has a network of 62 resellers in 26 countries. And it all began when he wanted to build a home studio, which he did, although he has never published a song. The biggest accolade David says he has ever received was from his father who, before he died in 2013, said to his son “I’m proud of you.” •