With a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, and a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Technology, Kathleen Armour Walker seems an unlikely candidate to own and operate one of the most successful and unique Pewter businesses in the country, Tennessee Pewter. But an innate sense of business and a palpable enthusiasm for her product has ensured that the expertly crafted pieces from her boutique company be in collections world-wide. The advice and expertise on the subject of pewter from the charming, competent Southern Belle is a highly sought commodity.
Appreciation for the beauty and permanence of pewter originated when her husband initiated her own collection during their dating years. When Tennessee Pewter was listed for sale in the Memphis Commercial Appeal on a Sunday night in 2008, she “couldn’t imagine it not being in existence anymore.” In the week to follow, she, her husband Dan and her parents reviewed the business and its possibilities, and a life changing decision to buy it and join the pewter industry was made. In the ensuing years, she has literally changed the face of the original business, and turned it into one of only a handful of companies doing pewter in the same way and one of the most successful ones in the world.
When it was moved from its original site in Grand Junction, TN to Brownsville, TN, the building to which it was relocated collapsed during the extensive renovation. So in 2009, it was reestablished in its current location in Somerville, TN. Walker’s Dad, fully employed in Memphis, was convinced by his persuasive daughter to “retire” and join her in the pewter business, and the two set about to learn the craft together. He learned some of the process from several master spinners in the country, but because there was nobody doing pewter work nearby to advise them on the craft, they both learned largely through “on the job training.”
The enormity of the business is disguised in a quaint house, and is made even more elusive when one is greeted at the showroom entrance by the lovely owner or her charming Mother. One would never guess from the calm demeanor of this gracious hostess that she has an order of 400 juleps to complete and ship that day. The showroom is filled with examples of the “authentically beautiful pieces,” but most of what they create never hits the showroom floor. Although the showroom is always open for customers, her actual “front door is her website,”email@example.com.
The timeless goblets, coffee services, juleps, bowls and other pieces are shipped all over the globe. Many Heads of State have received a gift of her pewter, not only because it is a metal and color that is acceptable in most cultures but because it is a beautiful and quality made item. Many large globally represented corporations present gifts of her pewter to dignitaries around the world, and the office of the Governor of Tennessee is a regular customer. Not only is each piece branded with the Tennessee Pewter logo, but also with “Made in the USA,” another thing about which Kathleen Walker is passionate.
Much of her success can be attributed to her appreciation of her customers and her involvement with them. She’s loves participating in the “joys of people’s lives,” such as anniversaries, weddings, births, and birthdays, and after experiencing some serious family illnesses, is heartened to be in an enterprise which allows her to be around people at “exciting times in their lives.” She has a contagious zest when working with someone such as a husband who is planning his wife’s annual Christmas gift. And, she and her family will go to almost any length to insure that an order, even if last minute, is delivered or shipped at the specified time.
It is unusual for a woman to be an expert in the pewter industry and it was not necessarily easy to prove her worth there. But Kathleen Walker’s drive, her entertaining experience, her passion and her Southern charm are unique industry qualities which have served her and her customers well. Brides from all over the country are grateful and overcome by her willingness and confidence in guiding them through decisions about their wedding, often resulting in the purchase of an entire collection; her understanding of entertaining invaluable in the decision making process. She is often asked if “her accent is real,” but is also often told that, “nobody here will spend this kind of time with me.”
Kathleen Walker’s career choices have been calculated, including the one to work in the intimate shelter of her family, and that loving intimacy is reflected in the spirit of the work. The challenges of the pewter business began immediately, not the least being the collapse of the first building, but certainly included the reluctance of the industry to except her. But her tenacity and the gift of being able to experience the trials and the joys of the business while surrounded by family has been a nurturing and sustaining factor. As with many Southerners, she draws strength from her roots.
Enthusiasm for the business has never dwindled and she continues to be excited to arrive there each day, delighted to meet the challenges du jour. Tennessee Pewter has weathered the struggling economy and Walker and her family are indebted to their customers for their support. “Many of our customers are not wealthy, and it’s gratifying to me that even in these tough times, people will spend their hard earned money here. But they know they will be getting a beautifully made object that will last a lifetime.” firstname.lastname@example.org