Bellingham Tarp Business Seeks to Cover More Than the Pacific Northwest
As Jim Watt will tell you, living in the Pacific Northwest means getting familiar with tarps. With our well-deserved reputation for damp weather, tarps are a necessary part of keeping things dry around here. Watt, the owner of Northwest Tarp and Canvas, can provide you with custom coverings for pretty much anything, from boats to bikes, and even dog houses.
Watt is an energetic man with a lot of life experience and passion for his company. Born in California, he started as a parachute rigger in the Navy, packing and maintaining parachutes, and occasionally mending his shipmates’ camping tents. He stayed in the Navy for 20 years before using his VA allotment to attend school in Washington. As soon as he arrived on Whidbey Island in October of 1986, Watt fell in love with the area. After finishing his education, he decided to stick around, finding work as a Behavioral Health Counselor at St. Joseph Hospital, something he still does part-time.
A Business is Born
During his first years at the hospital, Watt bought a sewing machine and put his experience in the navy to work, doing projects on the side creating and repairing tarp and canvas out of his garage. The side project soon blossomed into steady employment, and in 2009, he founded Northwest Tarp and Canvas, and moved into a warehouse to expand the business.
Watt describes the tarp business in Bellingham as “surprisingly lucrative,” and says the company has grown steadily since its creation. Last year the business made over $100,000 in sales revenue, and he’s optimistic that they can break $200,000 this year. Part of this surprising growth comes from the fact that a significant chunk of his orders come from overseas – especially China and Taiwan. Watt even did a special order of two red tarps for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. These days, staying on top of business is a full-time job: Northwest Tarp and Canvas usually receives 30 to 40 online orders a day, with no signs of slowing anytime soon.
Watt hasn’t forgotten his roots though. Local business remains great as well, and Watt plans to keep growing in the region as long as people have a need for his product. Although most of Northwest Tarp and Canvas’ business comes from the local marina, what sets the company apart from local competitors is their custom covering service. A customer can put in a special order for a tarp or canvas cover of a household object or vehicle, and have it made to their specifications. They also sell fasteners, tarp-related hardware, and tools in the storefront, as well as online.
A Personal Touch
A key part of Northwest Tarp and Canvas’ approach is their commitment to building and maintaining a relationship with each and every customer. A customer came in during our interview and asked for a product they weren’t currently offering. Watt promised to put in an order that day for him. When I asked what he thought the most effective way the company reached their customers was, Watt told me that they attach a business card and a personal note to every order they ship. Customers often call the shop expressing their appreciation for the notes, and the customer loyalty Watt’s extra attention creates has led to many new clients simply by word of mouth.
Plans for the Future
While his current line of products isn’t going anywhere, Watt does plan to branch out into selling kayaks and kayaking accessories in the future. Driven by his passion for getting out on the water, Watt hopes to turn the storefront into the premier local destination for kayaking enthusiasts. Given his success in expanding the business so far, it seems likely that he can make that hope a reality.
Northwest Tarp and Canvas will be holding their grand opening this Saturday, November 1st, at their new location: 703 W Holly St, Bellingham, WA, 98225.