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These are a Few of Our Favorite Things

Every year, Awards and Personalization Association members make major moves; craft countless cool and creative products; and make proud recipients across the country smile with their gifts, awards, apparel, and more. Here, just a few of our retailer members share their greatest successes from 2018, their favorite shop tools and processes, and their best advice to help your business grow next year and beyond.

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

Member Retailers Share Their Must-Have Tools, Greatest Successes, and Best Advice

(Originally published in the December 2018 issue of Insights.)

Every year, Awards and Personalization Association members make major moves; craft countless cool and creative products; and make proud recipients across the country smile with their gifts, awards, apparel, and more. Here, just a few of our retailer members share their greatest successes from 2018, their favorite shop tools and processes, and their best advice to help your business grow next year and beyond.

Meet Our Retailers

John Burton
Burton Awards,
Meridian, MS

David Cassens, CRS
Arista Trophies & Awards,
Bergenfield, NJ

Selena Harrell
I Can of Cairo,
Cairo, GA

Lisa Higginbotham, CRS
5Star Awards Inc,
Cary, NC

John Stangle, CRM
Creative Awards & Screen Printing,
Wichita, KS

Mark Warren, CRM
American Awards & Promotions,
Milton, WI

Reaping the Benefits of Membership

From having access to expert advice 24/7 to spending 4 days soaking up the sun—and your fellow professionals’ knowledge—at the International Awards & Personalization Expo, membership in the Awards and Personalization Association certainly has its benefits. Our panelists share their favorites.

"As I approach my 33rd year as a member—having started with TDMA, then the Awards and Recognition Association, and now the Awards and Personalization Association—I would still say that the trade shows are a great value. Learning about new products, getting hands on with products and equipment (because everything can look good on a computer screen), and networking with the other retailers and suppliers. However, on a day-to-day basis, the Member2Member Forum is my favorite and probably the most rewarding benefit." —David Cassens, CRS, Arista Trophies & Awards

"I don’t have a favorite member benefit, but I do have my top three: the Member2Member Forum because I have learned so many tricks and tips from other members; the Insights magazine because of the great articles and pretty pictures; and the trade shows because I get so see all my friends from this industry and learn from them." —Mark Warren, CRM, American Awards & Promotions, Milton, WI

"The International Awards & Personalization Expo because A) it’s Las Vegas, baby! B) You make friends with people from all over the world. And C) you get to learn new techniques and processes to make more money. With the education seminars, you can learn so much in such a short time—and it is FREE! The Member2Member Forum also is great because I can learn something new every day, or give advice to someone else." —John Stangle, CRM, Creative Awards & Screen Printing, Wichita, KS

I Can’t Live Without My…

It’s often easy to overlook the tools you use every day to make your processes more efficient and help your business run more smoothly, but these unsung heroes deserve a place of honor in every shop’s back room! Our panelists share the one shop tool they couldn’t work without and why it’s their personal favorite. Read on for a few ideas about tools that just might become your personal favorites, too!

"I have items that I brought with me from my days in commercial printing in a previous life. One of them is a printer’s magnifying loop—mine is a Superior Achromatic 12X. Back in the day, I used it to look at registration on press. In this life, I use it to look at edges, cutters, sandblasting detail, and so much more. A standard magnifying glass is just not enough for me.

The other item I use all the time is my e-scale. When I am matching plates for a customer, it saves me a whole lot of time. Both of these old-school tools go directly to my company core value of craftsmanship.

If you were to ask my team, their answer would be a digital caliper. Especially with all the cups we do, a caliper gives us exact measurements to set diameters." —Lisa Higginbotham, CRS, 5Star Awards

"The little 6-in. ruler from JDS and furniture stain markers." —Selena Harrell, I Can of Cairo

"A ruler—need I say more? The recent purchase of tabletop belt and disc sander has been a great addition to our shop, as well. I barely use my Dremel anymore for grinding or cutting." —David Cassens, CRS, Arista Trophies & Awards


The new storefront for American Awards & Promotions offers nearly double the space and a highly visible location.

So Many Successes

Whether it was moving into a prominent location, landing a sale years in the making, or completely unplugging after nearly 2 decades of hard work, these retailers saw more than a few notable successes in 2018.

"Our greatest success of 2018 was the acquisition of a new facility in May, for which we recently finished major remodeling, so that we can move our business. The new facility will provide many advantages over our current facility, including having everything on one level, increased overall space (4,200 sq ft to approximately 7,400 sq ft), more dedicated parking than necessary, and excellent visibility from the busiest four-lane highway in our area. Hopefully, we will be moved into the new location by the middle of December." —Mark Warren, CRM, American Awards & Promotions, Milton, WI

"This year I landed three large accounts that I have been pursuing for between 3 and 5 years each. Successes like these have led to a revenue increase of more than 30% year-to-year for the last 3 years in a row." —John Burton, Burton Awards

"This was a terrific year for us and started with our daughter Lily winning the JDS Industries Scholarship from the Awards and Recognition Industry Educational Foundation, which meant the world to me. Lily did that completely on her own, and I did not see her essay until after it had been submitted. (My husband) Jeff and I and the 5Star team are incredibly proud of her.

On top of that, Jeff and I were able to go on the vacation of a lifetime, a bucket-list trip to Alaska this summer. It was our first non-work-related trip in our marriage, and the first for me in the 19 years I have been in this business! The credit goes to my fabulous team, because I could never have done this without knowing I had a team that would take care of our customers and continue to produce at the level we are accustomed. For me to be unplugged for 10 days is unheard of!" —Lisa Higginbotham, CRS, 5Star Awards"


Although David Cassens of Arista Trophies had a difficult 2018, he and his staff did create a beautiful tribute to a former employee, showing just how meaningful recognition can be. “We lost an employee (Kaya Rayne Lecour) to the heroin epidemic last September when he was 22 years old," Cassens said. “We made up a plaque this year that honored him, which meant a great deal to his mom."

Expo Excitement

It’s no secret that the International Awards & Personalization Expo is THE event of the year for our members—but what gets them so excited about expo? Our retailers share why they attend annually and what they look forward to every year.

"My favorite part of every trade show is almost always the same: the education. There is so much to learn, and the International Awards & Personalization Expo is a great way to get a lot of education in a short period of time—not just from the presenters, but from the other attendees who are participating in the classes as well." —John Burton, Burton Awards"

"The round tables, the mixers, and catching up with old friends and discussing how the industry keeps changing." —David Cassens, CRS, Arista Trophies"

"My favorite part of the International Awards & Personalization Expo is all about getting a better education. I am very passionate about this industry and I always want to learn more. I use two strategies at the expo to do that. First, I attend as many education sessions as I can. Second, I network and learn from all the vendors and other retailers. I learn about all the products vendors offer and how best to sell them to my customers. I learn about the equipment vendors provide and how best to operate that equipment to help our business make more money. I learn about the various service vendors provide that will help make my life easier when running our business. And I learn tips and techniques from other retailers on how to better run our business." —Mark Warren, CRM, American Awards & Promotions, Milton, WI

Personalization Pet Favorites

Whether you’re a savvy sandcarver or an expert engraver, love plaques or prefer apparel, every awards and personalization professional has a personal favorite process, product, or piece of equipment. Our retailers share which ones they prefer—and which they think are best for business.

"Sublimation. My customers love the full color and use most of my products to collage a family history." —Selena Harrell, I Can of Cairo

"From my first time at the then-Awards and Recognition Association show in Las Vegas when I put my hands into a sandcarving cabinet, I fell madly in love. That was in 2006. It took me one time blasting a test item and bought the machine. Sand carving raises the bar. We etch fabulous crystal awards and beautiful wine bottles. Sandcarving totally feeds my graphic design inner soul, and makes my corporate client base very happy. Jeff [my husband] was a little freaked out that I made a purchase decision quickly and didn’t even think twice, or consult him! The machine arrived and we both went out to San Diego to learn more and how to use it. Six months later, the first job we got to run on the machine paid off the investment. It was a deep multistage carved award that we continued to produce for the next 7 years. Sweet!" —Lisa Higginbotham, CRS, 5Star Awards

"UV printing because it can turn an ordinary object like metal, wood, plastic, glass, or fabric into a colorful and unique item." —John Stangle, CRM, Creative Awards & Screen Printing, Wichita, KS

Marketing Moxie

No business can succeed without a well-informed customer base—but how do you spread the word about your products and services? Our retailers share their best advice for successfully marketing your business.

"Make sure you are highly rated and ranked in online search engines. Even if you are brand new to a town and open a new business there, roughly 20% of the population in any given year also is new to the area, and thus have no loyalties to other shops; they are looking for someone like you to help them. People ask for advice from friends and neighbors about who to use for different services, but they also search online. Make sure they can find you there so that you have an opportunity to win their business." —John Burton, Burton Awards

"If you are in a small town, supporting your local schools and civic organizations when they ask for help will spread the word about you faster than any other advertising." —Selena Harrell, I Can of Cairo

"Branding, branding, branding! Put your logo on everything! Do you drive a car around town to chamber events? Wrap it! Don’t reuse supplier boxes; get tape with your company name, logo, and info on it and use that to tape your boxes. Do you have logo stickers with your website’s URL on them? Put those on everything going out the door. Make sure when you spend money on advertising and sponsorship that your logo is prominently featured. Links back to your website are gold. Be recognized; be branded!" —Lisa Higginbotham, CRS, 5Star Awards

"Word of mouth advertising—it is free and the gives you the most bang for your buck! Whether it is talking to your neighbor or a stranger, in person, online, or at a party—you never know when you might know someone who knows someone who might need what your company can offer." —John Stangle, CRS, Creative Awards

Forum Facts

Longest Thread: 135 posts

Number of Registered Forum Members: 1,635

Most Posts Made in Any 90-Minute Period: 63

Average Number of Posts per Member: 37

Total Forum Posts in 2018: 5,438
Need a specific product? Encountering an issue? Want to show off your work to your fellow awards and personalization professionals? Join the many members who already are asking questions and giving answers on the Member2Member Forum!

Most Viewed Thread: ARA Name Change
Remember when the Awards and Personalization Association went by a different name? The association has changed its moniker several times in its history: It started as two independent organizations in the 1960s and ‘70s before a merger created the Trophy Dealers and Manufacturers Association (TDMA). Then, in 1992, membership voted to become the Awards and Recognition Association. Now, the name Awards and Personalization Association reflects the broad range of products made and processes used by our members.

Top Poster: David Takes, Expressions Engraved
There’s a reason this power poster is on the Forum so often: He is the official moderator for the site. But he doesn’t just ensure everyone is following the rules; David Takes lends his knowledge and experience by regularly responding to individual posts with advice, insights, and comments. Take a moment to thank our moderator with a post on the Forum—you’re likely to get a kind response, and a few insights, in return!

Awards and Personalization Association

The Awards and Personalization Association is the organization for retailers and suppliers of personalized and customized items. By providing education, meetings, and access to a vibrant network of professionals, the Awards and Personalization Association is the one place to ensure the growth of your talent, your business, and your professional community.

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