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J.R.Watkins: 146 Years and Still Counting

Updated on February 20, 2022
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Barb managed a busy international trade union office and authored a regular office management column for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

JR Watkins tinkered around in his own kitchen and created his signature red liniment product, still in demand today.
JR Watkins tinkered around in his own kitchen and created his signature red liniment product, still in demand today. | Source

Watkins Recognition

Have You Ever Heard Of JR Watkins, Or Used The Products?

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JR Watkins cooling white cream liniment, re-tweaked up from the traditional red  liniment.
JR Watkins cooling white cream liniment, re-tweaked up from the traditional red liniment. | Source

An Inside Look At The Watkins Museum

JR Watkins Known For Quality Flavoring Extracts

JR Watkins holds the number two spot in the U.S. among  companies producing quality flavoring extracts.
JR Watkins holds the number two spot in the U.S. among companies producing quality flavoring extracts. | Source

J.R. Watkins Expo

Have You Ever Used Watkins Vanilla Extract ?

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Congratulations to J.R. Watkins and Watkins Inc. on 146 years of trusted service to the public.

What does it take to be in business for over a hundred years? What kind of mindset, character, integrity and wisdom does it require to keep it afloat and thriving well into the next century? If I could I'd like to sit down and talk with J.R. Watkins. I'm sure he'd have much more to say after it's all been said and done. You know, things he would've done differently given the chance. Advice he give to anyone with the head and passion for business. Regardless of what anyone has to say about J.R. Watkins, he pulled it off. And then his family continued the legacy.

Now that’s a long time. I wasn’t even thought of yet when J.R. Watkins began cooking up pain-relief remedies in his kitchen. But I can see it with my mind’s eye. I can see the excitement of a child as he finishes a new and improved batch of what is still one of J.R. Watkin’s best selling pain-relief products, “Red Liniment” made with all natural camphor and capsicum.

Stepping Out In Faith

No doubt plenty of hard-working folk all across Minnesota were glad to see J.R. or one of his salesmen he stepped out in faith to hire. Minnesota was full of hard working folk who needed relief from their achy and sore muscles. And "Red Liniment" was a welcome answer to those aches and pains.

Yet even with the evident need it was not much different than today. It took tremendous courage to step out and create a brand new business out of a brand new product.

You had your fly by night snake oil enterprises with all their promises back then too and it sure didn’t make things easy for the honest hard-working guy trying to do some good for his neighbor. You could get yourself hurt back then if your product made someone sick, worse if they died. It definitely was risky, but J. R. had faith in the products he manufactured in his kitchen.

Hard Work Ethic

J.R. also had some other things working in his favor. He had a good work ethic. He was willing to work hard and endure through the many steps of changes he had to make to the product until it was ready for his customers. And speaking of customers, J.R. thought about his customers. He thought about his customers often. He knew if he had a good product, they would bring it into their homes and place it in their cupboards or on their nightstands. The customer would make that determination. So it was wise to think about his customers.

J.R.’s hard work paid off. He traveled all of Minnesota marketing his product. You might say it was his training ground. It was there that he became the first business to introduce trial offers and boldly offer a money-back guarantee if the customer was dissatisfied with the product. His business continued to grow with J.R. Watkins offering 150 products. With time J.R. Watkins soon had manufacturing plants around the world and became known as the largest direct sales company in the world. In fact, J.R. Watkins is the first known business to engage in direct sales to the customer.

Family Business

The Watkins family held on to the family-owned business for 110 years before it was sold to Irwin Jacobs, another businessman from Minnesota. Watkins, Inc. now manufactures, markets and sells more than 350 products worldwide via mail order, independent associates, online and retail stores. And like every other competitive business, the J.R. Watkins corporation as well as its distributor workforce have to work hard to keep up with customer demands as well as the constant changing marketplace. To survive in today's fast paced marketplace a business doesn't have time to relax on its laurels. The pressure is always on to do better than yesterday and to be on the lookout for newer and cleaner methods of processing products. When you're in business, you're in business for the long haul.

What a lasting legacy and picture of what the face of business should look like even today. In my book, any entity in business for 146 years should be able to tell us a thing or two about good business if we’re willing to listen.

© Barb Johnson


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