Around Easter, James Watkins, owner of Faith Boost in Pequot Lakes, was on a search for a new way to keep money flowing in the winter.
“We had a rough winter here trying to get through winter,” Watkins said. “It's a little store in a town that doesn't function a lot in the winter. It slows down a lot. We were negative in the bank accounts and we needed to do something. We prayed at church and after that we launched it the day after Easter.”
He took a leap and started another business on the side, making wooden dock sections work for their owners and earn money.
“I went out to sell dock tattoos to the restaurants, introducing it to them as an option for marketing and a way to sort of make revenue on their docks they have probably been spending money on for years and years,” Watkins said.
Watkins' business, Dock Tattoos, takes a previously untapped advertising space and imprints it with logos and contact information.
“You drive up here from the Cities, but you spend 80-90 percent of your time while you are up here on the lake. Your valued families and customers are on the lakes, so this is like a billboard,” Watkins said.
He offers this service to area businesses, and then he finds host docks where those tattooed dock panels can go on display in exchange for a rental fee to the host business. His first was Bertha Boatworks.
“That's a really great place for restaurants since restaurants and bars don't really want others advertising on their docks,” Watkins said.
Watkins has since worked with Zorbaz on Gull in Lake Shore, The Wharf in Crosslake, Ernies on Gull in East Gull Lake, and Moonlite Bay Family Restaurant and Bar in Crosslake.
He uses a combination of materials and techniques that he compares to tattooing. To weather ultraviolet bombardment and water from the lake, Watkins routes, embeds, engraves, embosses and dyes the wood on these docks with messages as simple or as complex as his customers request.
“We feel like there's a pretty good longevity when you are dealing with basic logos and basic information to get web addresses and phone numbers and photos from a company,” Watkins said. “It's as similar to a tattoo as you can get. You can't take this off with a wire brush; it's on there.”
Simple logos and contact information are the most affordable and most durable option; however, customers can get almost as complex as they desire. The more complex, the more cost and the more maintenance the dock requires.
“Something like that would come with different charges and it will probably come with maintenance fees to maintain something of an art piece. I think anything's attainable, but there's going to be a cost,” Watkins said.
Part of the service is not only connecting host businesses with dock section advertisers, but maintaining those sections and touching them up as time goes on.
“As long as they pay their annuals, we maintain them through the restaurant and them, so they maintain the tattoos and can be presented for several years,” Watkins said.
The business is run jointly by James and his wife, Shannon Watkins, and they recently have had help from a visual arts student as well.
“We're really just trying to keep it to three of us,” Watkins said. “I think eventually it's going to go to a machine and be processed. You can't do the whole tattoo that way, but you can certainly save some steps with the routing process.”