Backstory

For the Watkins family, Daddy still knows best

jmgiglio@newsobserver.comNovember 5, 2012 

Derrick Watkins and his sister Elaine Watkins-Daniel of Watkins Shoe Repair on Peace Street in Raleigh on Oct. 30, 2012.

JESSACA GIGLIO — jmgiglio@newsobserver.com

  • Staying strong The Watkins family has shaped its shoe repair business by maintaining its strong work ethic and family values. Here’s their advice to other small business owners. • Be dedicated. Accept that the hours will be long. • Realize that it's not always about the money, especially if you’re just getting started. • Use common sense. • Work hard. When you own your own business, if you don’t do what needs to be done, no one else will.

Tucked in the middle of two cream buildings near the crossroads of Capital Boulevard and Peace Street is Watkins Shoe Repair, a quaint shop with a Carolina blue façade and posters of Michael Jordan taped to the inside walls.

Derrick Watkins’ father, June, was a fan of the NBA legend, and Derrick deeply shares his father’s passion.

It’s that commitment to family that keeps the small business thriving.

The younger generation of Watkinses – siblings Elaine, Derrick and Reggie – run the shoe shop together, and try to stay true to their father’s legacy.

June Watkins founded the business in 1976, and started his kids in his shop at a young age. As he trained them, he passed along his strong work ethic, customer appreciation and family values.

“My daddy got me started when I was 7 years old shining shoes,” said Derrick. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years.”

“Watching my dad work, knowing that it’s hard work,” said Elaine Watkins-Daniel. “Put your all-in-all and your best foot forward in what you do and how you do it so you can satisfy your customers.”

And the family knows that customers are what keep them in business. June Watkins, who died in 2007, was a patient and meticulous man, something that has kept everyone from governors to police chiefs to older people on limited incomes coming through the door.

Watkins-Daniel and Derrick and Reggie Watson keep those customers – and their father – in mind when making decisions on how to take care in their work while keeping costs low.

“I tell my customers that I’m a consumer, too. If I stick it to you, someone’s going to stick it to me,” said Watkins-Daniel. “And I don’t want to do that. And I don’t do it because it’s not the right thing to do anyway. We want to be fair. Daddy encouraged us to stand behind the work that we do.”

Through the years, the siblings have tried to keep their prices steady and fair and find other ways to cut back, including shopping around for materials as a way to lower expenses.

“We have to increase accordingly to what we’re actually paying for a particular item,” Watkins-Daniel said. “We shop like we’re feeding a family of 20. We’ve got multiple suppliers that we buy from. We see who has what on sale and then sometimes they want to be competitive, so they’ll match a price.”

The cost of materials has gone up, Derrick Watkins said. But they don’t want to sacrifice quality.

“We will ask people to go compare,” he said. “Most of the time, they’ll come back and say, ‘You’re right.’ ”

Also, keeping costs low means that the repair shop only takes cash or check.

“When my dad was living, we looked into taking credit cards, but we didn’t do it because we didn’t think he’d remember the processes,” said Watkins-Daniel. “After he passed and we started doing everything, I heard every story from every check processing company as how they could do this. They could actually make the sun set. And there was always some gimmick. You know, we can give you this for free. … And I kept thinking about this thing, I said, ‘nothing is free.’ There’s going to be a hidden charge somewhere.”

To keep the shop running smoothly, each sibling knows how to run every part of the business. It helps when one needs a day off or wants to go to church. Reggie Watkins, a senior deputy attorney general, works on Saturdays and helps out at night when he gets off work, said Derrick Watkins.

And there are perks to being your own boss.

“You’ve got the key to open and close your door whenever you feel like it,” said Watkins-Daniel. “But it also puts a damper on your business if you’re not here consistently so that your customers have a steady base.”

And while the siblings work together to shine scuffed shoes and fix worn heels, Watkins-Daniel and Derrick Watkins still look up to the way their father ran the place.

“It takes the three of us to accomplish what my father did solo. My father was the shoemaker’s shoemaker. He had a sense of looking at something, a creative skill … he knew exactly what to do.”

Giglio: 919-829-4649

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