Purpose, people and principles endure at 139-year-old Charlotte Tent & Awning Company
Founded in 1880 in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, the Charlotte Tent & Awning Company legacy spans a vast range of economic, political and social evolution. From developing the American West with covers for wagons, to supporting military forces with canvas military bags in World War II, to shading storefronts and other businesses in communities of all sizes for generations—the company has always focused on improving the lives of others through useful products.
It’s a legacy that Travis Jenkins, the new owner of the company, takes seriously as he and his skilled team of designers, fabricators and installers prepare to roll out to the next generation of custom coverings.
From the Ground Up
Jenkins started as an installer for Charlotte Tent & Awning in 2006. Just 23 years old and studying to earn a degree in computer science (his sights set on a career in technology), he was looking for a job…not necessarily a career.
At the time, the company was relatively small, around 15 employees, and largely focused on the residential market. Then-owner Gary Westlund recognized Jenkins’ potential as an integral part of the company’s leadership team and began looking for ways to expand his skill set and experiences. He brought Jenkins into the office to learn the business side, including sales, bookkeeping, project management and estimating, while continuing to work in the field as an installer. By 2011, Jenkins was promoted to business development leader and, by 2016, to general manager with an eye on expanding commercial work.
In 2018, Jenkins bought the company from Westlund and currently serves as President. The company employs 36 people that include installers, fabricators, estimators, project managers and draftsmen as well as administration staff.
While much of the work is in Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, the company has provided covering solutions for clients in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, and even as far west as Missouri and Oklahoma.
In the early days, the company was heavily focused on the residential market. Over the years, it steadily expanded the commercial side of the business. Jenkins recalls, “One of our goals over the last eight years has been to explore opportunities in the commercial space.”
This focus has resulted in some outstanding opportunities. In 2014, the company subcontracted with a general contractor constructing the Charlotte Premium Outlets in Charlotte. For this project, the team designed, fabricated and installed awnings, canopies, sunshades, trellises, and green screens for 10 buildings. The contractor was so pleased with the quality and service that he hired the company to provide and install canopies and sunshades for 10 more buildings at the Tanger Outlets in Daytona Beach, Florida—one of the largest projects to date for Charlotte Tent & Awning.
Like any long-lasting business, societal trends directly affect services as well as the styles and materials of products. The tent and awning business is no different, which is one of the reasons that Jenkins and his team continually investigate new fabrics, materials and products.
Today, from louvers and sunshades to walkway covers and canopies, Charlotte Tent & Awning offers a variety of custom-built canvas and metal awnings to meet virtually any need. All stationary canvas and metal awnings, including standing seam and custom architectural louvers, are manufactured in the Charlotte factory. Other metal awning products include overhead-supported (wall-mounted) canopies and walkway covers.
Jenkins adds, “We offer a range of custom shapes and dies that are proprietary to our company. Fabrics range from traditional acrylic to back-lit vinyl that can be illuminated from within for greater nighttime visibility.”
Jenkins has plans to expand commercial opportunities still further. “Our team is very talented and highly experienced. I believe we can do things that our competitors would never consider.” A recent project for a health care facility is one such example.
“Our team is very talented and highly experienced. I believe we can do things that our competitors would never consider.” Travis Jenkins, Owner and President, Charlotte Tent & Awning Company
The Carolinas Medical Center (CMC) Cannon Research Center in Charlotte proved to be one of the most challenging projects to date. The owner sought to construct a semi-permanent 20-foot-by-80-foot ambulance cover extending from the research center over where the six ambulances park and plug in. The challenge was that there are only five columns to attach the cover. The general contractor approached Jenkins and his team with the design parameters for the cover and asked how they would design a structurally-sound system. Their solution: 6-inch-by-8-inch curved steel tube trusses and 8-inch-by-8-inch steel columns along with 20-foot-long stabilizing members.
Jenkins says, “This project really demonstrates the talents of our team of engineers, fabricators and installers. I think our people make us the best; we’ve got a lot of experience in the industry—but more importantly, we focus on problem solving and doing things that others say aren’t possible.”
By the Book
When asked what he is most excited about in leading a 139-year-old company, Jenkins is quick to say it is creating opportunities for those who work for him.
He explains, “I started as an installer and thanks to the previous owner, I had the opportunity to grow professionally. I want to give others that same chance. We’ve got people who have been doing awnings for decades and others who are new to the operation. It’s a great combination that I believe is vital for the future success of a business. My job is to create opportunities for growth and teamwork for everyone.”
One of the ways that Jenkins and his management team, which includes his project managers, production manager and install managers, use to build a culture of growth is the regular application of team building techniques, such as teamwork exercises and focused book discussions. For instance, once a quarter, the team selects a book to read and discuss. They have read selected books such as “Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life” by Spencer Johnson, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
Jenkins concludes, “I didn’t buy this company to be a boss; I did it because I believe we have the right people, purpose and principles to build on the legacy that was established by all those before me. We’ve got a great team. I don’t believe there’s any outdoor covering challenge we can’t solve.”