University alum creates two successful Flagstaff businesses

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Craig Watkins finds creative inspiration at Northern Arizona University.

“What are you going to do with your degree?” Like most college students, Craig Watkins, who graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology, thought his answer to this simple question would be obvious. His path, he discovered, was a lot more complicated than drawing a line from point A to point B: rather than pursuing a career as a speech pathologist, Watkins became a successful entrepreneur, opening two of Flagstaff’s most popular businesses – The Aveda RED 115 Spa and Beauty Salon, and Pure Elegance bridal boutique.

How did he make the leap from speech pathology to bridal business expert? According to Watkins, his time at Northern Arizona University gave him the inspiration and courage that he needed to pursue his dreams, regardless of what form they take.

Bravery and passion: transferable skills

Though his future path lay in a different direction, his instincts for helping people to express themselves were present from the beginning. Watkins originally chose to study speech pathology because he was interested in multiple aspects of language, but was especially drawn toward how therapy could be used to help those with speech impediments and other problems.

Watkins credits Orazio Giusti, a former professor of modern languages within the Department of Health Sciences who passed away in 2006, and William Culbertson, a professor of phonetics and speech and language sciences, as two of his most influential mentors because of their ability to transcend language and use it in practical, scientific applications.

Watkins says their support and passion for the subject gave him the courage to explore new opportunities and expand his horizons. This ability to face daunting situations transferred over to his current job as co-owner of two local businesses. 

“By going to NAU, I learned I could do anything I wanted to,” Watkins says. “It really opened my mind to the possibilities, and I don’t think I would be doing what I do now if I wasn’t pushed at such a young age.” 

Giving back to the community

After graduation, Watkins moved to San Francisco to attend a fashion institute while working in the apparel industry. Later, he relocated to Sacramento, where he began working at a hair salon. That was when Watkins first learned of Aveda and their environmentally-conscious line of beauty products. From a young age, Watkins always had an affinity for fashion and style, but it wasn’t until he returned to Flagstaff to visit his mother on vacation that he decided to open a beauty salon and stay for good. 

Now, Watkins thrives in giving back to the Flagstaff community he grew up in. In addition to his business ventures, he also works with the Chamber of Commerce in their Skills 4 Workplace Success program, where he visits local high schools and Coconino Community College to teach students how to prepare for job interviews and use the necessary resources to further their career goals. Recently, Watkins was named volunteer of the year for his work with the Chamber of Commerce. 

Going forward, Watkins is pondering different avenues for expanding his business, especially through the internet. However, Watkins says he would prefer to keep his business as local as possible, and to look for ways to help university students take advantage of opportunities to stay in Flagstaff.

“If NAU keeps cranking out talented people, I’m going to be ready to hire them,” Watkins says. “We’ve got this great university here, and I think people want to stay here because it is such a unique and beautiful place to live. I want to help create a local economy that’s going to support that.”