Sun, April 21, 2024

Class project turns into full-fledged business for local kayaking entrepreneur

Cole Watkins turned a class project into a successful kayaking business.

Watkins, owner of Cole Watkins Tours, was required to create a business from the ground up for an entrepreneurship class he took at Augusta University in 2011. The class voted on the best businesses, and his business made it to the top five. Watkins received marketing and financing kits, so he decided to take a chance and officially launched the business on May 26, 2011.

Cole Watkins carries a kayak. He started the business with three kayaks, but his fleet has grown to about 30. (Photo courtesy of Cole Watkins)

“I was really strapped for cash, and I only had three kayaks at the time,” Watkins said.

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His funds were so limited, he initially wondered if he should invest $25 in buying business cards. Watkins offers group kayaking tours, and if more than three people signed up, he had to borrow more from friends. Cole Watkins Tours now has about 30 kayaks and three guides he employs as subcontractors.

“I never thought it would turn into this,” Watkins said.

He mainly operates the business on weekends because he also has a full-time job and a family. Watkins offers customers four guided tour routes, primarily in Columbia County. The most popular tour is the one at Betty’s Branch in Evans. Another route takes kayakers by Stallings Island, a national landmark that’s home to goats, donkeys, deer and other wildlife (see photo above story).

“There’s a lot of history on the island,” Watkins said. “It’s the birthplace of pottery in North America.”

He said offering guided tours is what makes his business unique in the CSRA. Watkins has many competitors in the Augusta area, including Outdoor Augusta, Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental and Two Dudes and a Boat Kayak Rentals. The business also offers kayak rentals for those who don’t want to take a guided tour.

A guide with Cole Watkins Tours shows guests points of interest on a kayak tour. (Photo courtesy of Cole Watkins)

But he doesn’t try to compete with those businesses. Instead, Watkins wants them to succeed.

“If I can’t take people on a tour during the week, I tell them to call another company and have fun,” he said.

One thing that irritates him is hearing people say they don’t like living in Augusta because there’s nothing to do here.

“People who say there’s nothing to do haven’t looked very hard,” Watkins said.

After nearly 11 years in business, his journey has come full circle. He’s been named the 2022 Young Alumnus for the Hull College of Business at Augusta University.

For more information or to book a tour, visit colewatkinstours.com or call 706-840-0433.

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