Ryan Watkins is a former firefighter turned entrepreneur who started Raw to Reclaimed Woodworking. He’s living the dream so many of us have: to find something we really love and figure out a way to make a living off of it! I had a great time talking with Ryan and his wife, Rachelle, for this interview. I hope you enjoy it too!
Are you a native of Charlotte?
I moved here from New York when I was 18 months old. My father took a job with the Pick and Pay corporate office, so I grew up here. My wife and I grew up going to the same pool in Matthews.
Both of our moms were stay-at-home moms and we did the same thing in Matthews. We went to the Matthews Country Club and never even knew each other.
So, what do you do?
I’m a woodworker. My first job in high school was working at Carolina Country BBQ. I was a busboy. I’ve always liked to work—I saw a quote: dirty hands make clean money. I’ve worked every job: restaurants to banks to welding to firefighting. I actually just retired from firefighting for 17 years.
I’ve always been very handy. I’m self-taught in woodworking. When we got our first house, I’d get estimates on things and think, holy moly, I can do this myself, so I started teaching myself how.
When we got married, firefighting was what I wanted to do. I began volunteering with the Matthews Fire Dept and then the town saw we needed full-time employees. I started in 2005 and worked my way up to become captain after four years. I retired basically because of a back injury. Fire service is hard on your back: the gear, the truck, the work.
The injury I had made it difficult to continue my job as a fireman because I knew I was going to eventually be bedridden if I didn't make a change. At this station, I’d have to train on nights and weekends. With my kids, their lives got so busy. I’d have no time to be with my family. I needed to make a change to continue to live a really full life while also providing for my family.
So, how did you make the transition to woodworking?
A friend of mine was an interior designer and wanted custom work done. It started out as a hobby. This was something that God had prepared for me to do so I could continue to work and provide for my family.
My business first began in my personal garage for the first eight months. Then, I got a huge order with Killington’s in Fort Mill. The team there found us and needed 32 tables made. They wanted reclaimed lumber on walls and shelves built. We were in a 250-square-foot garage and had to figure out how to build 32 tables. My wife said, if they say yes to this, we need to move.
It was good exposure and experience, and ultimately, a game-changer for the business. We started looking at commercial properties and nothing was working. Then, when my wife was randomly on Craig’s List, a guy messaged her about a space (yes, we know it sounds creepy but something about the message felt right). She saw it and immediately knew this was the place for us. This space we are in now is 2,000 square feet.
The conversation became, if we get this place, Rachelle (my wife) has to take the on the crazy side of business: the quotes; the random questions; the chasing the payments.
So, we took it.
How long ago was that?
We moved into the new space this past March.
Was it a good move?
Yes. It was exciting. But, I also had to upfit this place to be a free-standing business. I got a new table saw and a new joiner. I had to build some tables, get a dust collection system set up. And this was right before we got the Killington’s job. I had to make sure it was ready to go.
That was a great learning job. The business stopped, and we were just doing things for them. We realized through that we had to keep business going. It’s one of those lessons you learn as a new business owner.
Don’t you find, that as newer business owners, our stuff gets done last?
Oh, yes. We want to redo our dining room table. We’re hosting Thanksgiving this year. Our current table was built before what I now know. We want to display what I do, but finding the time to do that is so hard.
What has been your biggest lesson so far?
I figured it was going to be a man and his tools. There is so much more than just making man glitter. It’s a lot of work but different kind of work. I want to be a businessman. I want to be an example for my children. I’m used to being the worker. Now, I’m the bossman. It’s learning the business side of things.
I heard a quote that I’m willing to do an 80-hour work week to avoid a 40-hour work week. I’m very good with boundaries. When I’m home, I’m home. I try to be the husband and dad. My wife and I were trying to figure out how to get things into a new routine.
It was hard to stay out of each other’s way. We worked hard to build a boundary between the on and off switch. Having a separate location has helped having the space to work together.
What was your favorite piece you built?
They are all fun to do. Some are more challenging than others. I did some where I really liked the finished product, but they were harder to build. I built a sofa table – 10-foot long table with trapezoid shaped legs – clean and simple. It was made out of 2-inch, very heavy, ash lumber and had to be built in four pieces. The top was all one piece. We had to haul this thing through mud and muck.
I just installed 150-year-old barn beams. These beams came out of a Minnesota barn where they trained World War II fighter pilots. This guy in our church wanted some of the beams installed in his mountain house for mantels. I got to take old pieces and bring them back to life by cleaning and working them into something new. These beams originated from 400- and 500-year-old trees. That is just cool to me.
Now everything is just grown to harvest. I liked to see something old be reclaimed and be brought back to life in a new space. It’s a living, breathing thing that I want to see life come back to.
The name of my company is RAW to Reclaimed because of my initials, and then, I like to reclaim the life of a tree.
How can people find you?
On a google search: RAW to Reclaimed Woodworking, Matthews, NC
Any you can drive up to my store!
Alright, it’s time for my standard questions that give our readers a look into other fun things about you. So, what’s your favorite…
Restaurant: Fuzzy Tacos
Sports team: Carolina Panthers
TV show: Last Man Standing
Movie: A Christmas Story
Book: The Bible
Place to work out: YMCA
App: My fraction calculator
New thing in CLT: all of the breweries. I especially love Sycamore Brewery.
Old thing in CLT: Downtown Matthews
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