Most Saturdays, Tommy Hawkins sets up bird houses and feeders on Providence Road – one location is across from the KinderCare, close to Providence Road Sundries and the other is just south of Interstate 485, near the Verizon Wireless. He’s been selling his bird houses, now called Tommy’s Bird Villas, from the back of his truck for 16 years.
Hawkins, 74, is a Kings Mountain resident. He was bored after retiring from Campbell Soup Company in 1999 and spent time at his friend, Stacy Parker’s, vinyl window workshop. The idea to build bird houses came to him while he was there. Hawkins had researched building bird houses through the National Audubon Society, and he knew it was big business.
“I kept nagging him (Parker) about making some bird houses,” Hawkins said. “He put me off, and he said, ‘I don’t have time to fool with that.’”
Hawkins kept pestering Parker with his bird house idea until Parker surprised him with a 14-inch plywood cutout for a bird house. It took them all day to build it, and they sold a few.
Soon after they started, Hawkins learned about Azek, an expensive high-end PVC material. After some debate, Hawkins and Parker decided to try it.
“It will not crack, peel or chip,” Hawkins said. “It won’t mold or mildew. It’s white throughout. It is an awesome, awesome product.”
To make a profit, they figured the bird houses would have to be priced at $200 to $300. They weren’t sure how the Charlotte market would receive bird houses at this price point.
“We tried it and we built the first one out of it (Azek),” Hawkins said. “We never have looked back.”
Parker closed his vinyl window business and went full-time with Hawkins building bird houses and feeders. Sadly, Parker passed away a few years ago, and Hawkins partnered with a North Carolina master craftsman who manufactures the houses and feeders.
Their bird houses and feeders are priced between $125 and $425 and range in size from 6 inches to 16 inches (feeders don’t come in the 6-inch option.) They are maintenance-free with copper roofs. The feeders have an acrylic tube inside for the seed. Hawkins guarantees his products for 25 years and sells more than 500 a year.
Customers buy the houses and feeders as gifts for anniversaries, birthdays, weddings and Mother’s Day.
One customer left a lasting impression on Hawkins. A woman stopped by and looked at the 12-inch feeder. She was hesitant about the price and even walked back to her car to leave. She turned around and bought one, and told Hawkins that she was getting it for her mom. Six months later, Hawkins received a handwritten letter from the customer. According to Hawkins, it read: “I’m so thankful that you were on that corner that morning when I bought that bird feeder for my mother. My mother has a life again. My mother is bedfast in a nursing home and she wakes up every morning to see her birds. Mama has a smile on her face and that bird feeder has given her something to live for.”
Hawkins moves around quite a bit – find him set up on Providence Road, Rea Road or on Highway 521 from 9:30 a.m.-5p.m. on Saturdays.
“I sort of just move around and cover as much ground as I can,” he said.
Hawkins’ been known to cruise up and down the east coast selling his wares too – call the number on the side of his truck (704-472-8138), and he’ll pull over to sell you a bird house or feeder. Not interested in chasing him down? Shop online at Tommy’s Bird Villas.
Photos: Courtesy of Tommy Hawkins