Thomas Wright of Richmond was having difficulty finding an awning company that could meet his needs until he called Watkins Awnings.
“Some of our awnings are half-dome, and we wanted to use striped materials. A lot of people said that what we wanted wouldn’t be possible,” Wright said. “Watkins Awning was able to do things that other awning companies couldn’t or wouldn’t do. It takes skill to do it well, and they did the seaming and proportion perfectly. They did it right the first time.”
The Goochland County-based company sells, manufactures and installs custom-made awnings, interior storm window panels and removable porch panels.
“Everything is custom-made from scratch,” owner John Watkins said. “Everybody at the company is cross-trained in the business.”
Watkins (no relation to Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan) started the company in 2009.
He began working in the industry in 1978 as an employee of Thermo-Press Corp. in Richmond, which made acrylic panels for interior storm windows. He bought that company in 1990. Five years later, he purchased Norvell Awning Co. and created Norvell Thermo-Press.
“I sold that in 2007 when the economy was strong and business values were high,” he said. “It was a good time to sell.”
Norvell Thermo-Press filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in 2009 under the new owner.
After that business closed, Watkins decided to start his own company.
“I decided at that point there was a void in the market and it would be a good time to start a business,” he said.
Watkins re-established his relationships with suppliers and was able to locate and hire back two key employees from his old business.
“We started off really small,” he said.
Most of Watkins Awnings’ customers are in the Richmond area, but it also does business in Williamsburg, Fredericksburg and Charlottesville.
Awnings represent 70 percent of the company’s sales. The remaining 30 percent is evenly divided between interior storm window panels and removable porch panels.
The company, a Class A contractor, works with residential and commercial customers.
“We work with a variety of businesses,” Watkins said. “We do everything from storefront awnings to large canopy awnings like the deck canopy we did at Legend Brewery. We also did multiple patio canopy awnings at Kingsmill Resort (in Williamsburg).”
Watkins Awnings also makes and installs patio awnings for restaurants and awnings to provide shade around pools.
Adam Megenity, senior vice president, partner and director of property management for Henrico County-based real estate firm Commonwealth Commercial Partners, uses Watkins Awnings’ products for several properties.
“As long as he is in the market, he is my preferred go-to vendor because of his quality of work and his honesty,” Megenity said of Watkins. “He is a handshake type of guy, and he will make it right if there is a problem.”
Watkins goes to the homes of customers or to businesses to consult with them.
“We don’t have a showroom,” he said.
The company’s volume has increased about 20 percent each year since 2009. The volume of work has outgrown the company’s approximate 3,000-square-foot manufacturing area in Goochland.
“We will have to add space or look for another facility,” Watkins said. “I need to at least double the space.”
Most of the company’s high-grade acrylic interior storm window panels are used in historic renovations. The panels help save energy and are easily removed. They also can be purchased with a UV filter that filters out light.
“Architects recommend us for historic projects,” Watkins said. “We did interior storm window panels for The Bottomley House at University of Richmond’s Jepson Alumni Center. That has historical significance.”
Residential customers will use the interior storm windows if they don’t want to change the appearance of their house from the outside or if they have casement windows that roll out.
The company uses the same high-grade acrylic product for removable porch panels. The panels can be installed to winterize the porch in colder months and taken down in the summer.
The company also specializes in re-covering existing awning frames.
“We do a lot of re-cover work,” Watkins said. “A lot of times that is harder than doing a new awning.”
Beverly Webb, vice president of commercial real-estate firm Dumbarton Properties Inc., likes the personal attention he receives from Watkins.
“He always had great ideas as to types of awnings and colors,” he said. “His product is wonderful.”