Once the largest direct-sales company in the world, Watkins now occupies a specialty niche market with its natural home and personal care products.
According to the J.R. Watkins Company website,
Joseph Ray Watkins founded Watkins Incorporated in 1868 from the kitchen of his home in Plainview, Minn. Made from camphor (extracted from evergreen trees) and capsicum (from red peppers), Original Liniment offered relief for tired, aching muscles. J.R. Watkins was so confident of his home-manufactured natural product that he introduced the now famous Watkins “Trial Mark” bottle, along with the first-ever money back guarantee.
By 1885 the production of Liniment had outgrown his home and the town of Plainview, so he moved the company to the booming lumber town of Winona, Minn., which boasted five railroads and was already an important port on the Mississippi River. In Winona, J.R. Watkins incorporated his company as the J. R. Watkins Medical Company. At the turn of the century, the company’s expanded product line included an array of natural consumables for everyday living, including Medicinal Salves, Vegetable Oil Soap, Rose Perfume, and many natural spices and extracts.
Originating as a rural business, by the 1920’s demand was clearly growing beyond farming communities for J.R. Watkins’ natural concoctions and he expanded his reach into the urban centers. In 1913, J.R. Watkins had already added Canada to his distribution and by the 30’s the J.R. Watkins Medical Company was a thriving international corporation with facilities and distribution in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England. Today, J.R Watkins continues to operate internationally, with products sold in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and the Philippines.
Since its beginnings, Watkins has been family owned and operated. J. R. Watkins’ descendents—Watkins and Kings—guided the company through its first 110 years. In 1978 Irwin L. Jacobs purchased Watkins, and the Jacobs family continues the Watkins’ tradition of manufacturing the highest quality products and providing outstanding service that exceeds expectations.”
According to the Minnesota Historical Society Press, “The secret to Watkins’s success lay not only in his money-back guarantee but also in his sales force, a well-trained, highly motivated bunch that sold his products door-to-door.”
The Watkins Company also produced publications, including a yearly almanac.