Back >
< Back
Contains 0 items
Subtotal: $0.00

From the Golf Course to the Awards Business

It was at the golf course where Laura and Tom Evers received two of the biggest opportunities of their lives.

From the Golf Course to the Awards Business

Laura and Tom Evers Overcome Challenges to Provide One-of-a-Kind Products


It was at the golf course where Laura and Tom Evers received two of the biggest opportunities of their lives.

The first was in Louisiana, where Laura (district manager of a franchisee in southern Florida) was introduced to  Tom (golf professional/general manager). Given that they have now been married for 40 years, that appears to have worked out pretty well.

And in 2005, they were both working at a course outside Harvard, IL, when the owner of the local trophy shop mentioned during a golf outing that he wanted to retire. The Everses decided to take over and now operate First Place Promotions & Awards, with Laura as president and Tom as vice president.

Harvard is located in a rural area of northern Illinois but is also at the end of a commuter train line to Chicago. When the previous owner opened the shop on March 17, 1980, it was known as “The Trophy Store,” which summarized the extent of its business for the first 25 years. Meanwhile, the Everses had moved back to northern Illinois where Tom  grew up. At the golf course, Tom worked as the general manager and Laura as food and beverage manager. (Though Laura had also gained further business experience from several positions with the Burger King corporation and running her own franchise before providing drinks on the links.)

“The golf course we worked for had been owned by the same people since it was built in the ‘70s, and they were gettingolder and would not tell us what their exit plan was,” Laura recalled. “One of the owners died suddenly and we thought it would be a good time to look for something else. We
liked the community and had just built a house on the golf course and did not want to move.”

The golf course was already a customer of the trophy shop when the original shop owner shared his retirement plans with the Everses. Initially thinking about it as an option  for their son, the couple spent months learning about the awards business and production process. Negotiations then led to a price for the business and storefront building.

“Originally, Tom was going to stay at the golf course and I was going to run the business, but we decided it would be better if we both started over at the same time,” Laura said.


Facade before renovations


Facade after renovations. Signage to be added in 2021. Photos courtesy of Annie Howe of Howe Photogenic.

“We bought it and kept the (Trophy Store) name for a few years but felt it really did not say who we were. Trophies were less and less a part of the business,” Laura said. “It was 2010 when we changed our name to First Place Promotions & Awards to show more of what we could do.”

Besides still offering trophies, First Place offers personalized gifts, embroidery, screen printing, spirit wear, and promotional products. Laser engraving, rotary engraving, sand carving, full-color sublimation, and embroidery are all done in-house, and the business outsources screen printing and promotional products.

As you might expect in a rural area like Harvard, First   Place has a lot of agricultural customers. When apparel vendor SanMar added a custom line of Carhartt work gear  to their lines last year, First Place found that many of their agricultural and trade customers loved brand items that are made to be decorated and are easy to embroider.

First Place also works with schools from several surrounding counties and, of course, many golf courses and golf clubs.

“We’re known for our customer service, working with all kinds of budgets and deadlines. Most new customers are referrals,” Laura said.

The busy season starts in April, with the end of school, and goes to October—encompassing local festivals, county fairs, and back-to-school events.


Harvard at one time was known as the “Milk Capital of the World,” with one of the longest continuing festivals in the state of Illinois—“Milk Days,” which took place on the first weekend in June. The Everses have created a milk can trophy for the winner of milking contests, local dignitaries, and any visiting celebrities who don’t know how to milk cows. Other unique awards were trophies made for themed family reunions that utilized a rubber chicken and a “grill and chill” trophy with a beer bottle.


Lynette Streit and First Place’s 4-head ZSK embroidery machine in action. Lynette has been with First Place since 2012. Photo courtesy of Annie Howe of Howe Photogenic

“These are not usually very profitable, but it’s fun for all,” Laura said. “(We’ve enjoyed) the challenge of trying to figure out how to fulfill a request (and) special awards where we were happy to be part of the story.”

Besides creating one-of-a-kind products, First Place has tried to create some unique marketing through social media, giving shout-outs to their customers and events they’ve provided items for. A few years ago, First Place also shared posts chronicling the adventures of “Trophy Tom.”

“A cartoon character—a cup on wheels with a face and a mustache,” Laura explained. “He was photographed all over the place, and if someone could identify the location, they won a personalized prize.”

Both the Everses agree making lasting memories and impressions for people has been one of the best things about the recognition industry, and that learning the industry from scratch was only the first challenge they faced.

“Learning how to engrave, learning graphic arts, the recession, and now COVID. There have (certainly been) challenges.”

Laura said becoming members of the Awards & Personalization Association has been key for dealing with those challenges.

“We went to the Expo with the previous owners before we bought our business. That was part of our decision process. We were very impressed with the training sessions and people we met at our first Expo,” Laura said.

“Joining the (ARA at the time) allowed us the education and networking opportunities to close the learning curve that was ahead of us. All of the people were so friendly, helpful, and supportive.”

“The Member2Member forum is worth the membership,” she continued. “Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. When we’re stumped, we go there.”

The next challenge for First Place Promotions & Awards is   the rehabilitation of their location, which was built in the late 1800s and hasn’t been updated since the 1950s.

“It was showing its age,” Laura admitted. Thanks to interest- free loans for facade renovation in Harvard’s business district, the Everses expect First Place to sport an improved appearance for 2021 and beyond.

Besides running an awards business, the Everses are active volunteers and coordinate with several community groups. They also have a 12-year-old grandson who likes sports—all of them.

“So we go to lots of games and practices and cheer him on,” Laura said. They’re also passing down some of the skills that have most affected their lives together.

“Tom likes to teach him the game of golf, and I like to teach him how to cook,” Laura noted.

Like so many other businesses, the events of 2020 forced First Place Promotions & Awards to “try to make lemonade out of COVID,” Laura Evers, president of First Place, noted.

Before the pandemic, First Place employed up to seven people for different tasks, but that number is now down to two. The company needed a disaster loan and money from the Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Administration after business was virtually stopped.

But Laura said the best advice she’d like to share with all Awards & Personalization Association members is “there is a silver lining even in a rainy day.” Having less traffic in the shop has made some aspects of the company’s planned renovations easier. Though the awards end of the business is at the lowest, screen printing and embroidery have picked up for First Place. The Everses are also using this time to evaluate processes and products.

“Once things get back to normal, we are going to be ready with a new image inside and out,” Laura said. “We  will look new and fresh when
people start to come out of the darkness.”

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.

Learn More

© Awards and Personalization Association
Contact Us
Awards and Personalization Association
8735 W. Higgins Road, Suite 300

Chicago, IL 60631
(Fax) 847.375.6480

Connect with Us