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Retailer Profile: Village Awards and Engraving

Village Awards and Engraving of La Mesa, CA, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

Retailer Profile: Village Awards and Engraving

Awards Shop Celebrates 50th Anniversary While Serving a Variety of Customers

By Brian Stanley

Village Awards and Engraving of La Mesa, CA, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

It hasn’t always been easy, according to owner Randy Formanek, but Village Awards has always been able to provide topnotch recognition and award products.

“I started my career, not knowing it would be a career at the time, in 1974 as a sophomore in high school at my grandfather’s engraving business,” Formanek said. “My two older brothers and a cousin all worked there during their high school years. It was a convenient way to earn some money.”

 

New Hermes laser and rotary engravers, the "Work Horses"

Work mostly consisted of engraving signs and nametags for local companies and hospitals. Bigger customers included 7-Eleven, which was opening many franchises in the region and needed nametags and small signs, and a community college that started a new class of students in the nursing program every few weeks.

“We also did small personal items like brass plates for photo frames, small jewelry items,” Formanek recalled. “The first thing I engraved was nametags. We were so limited in those days; nametags were pretty boring looking. I love how we can do full-color graphics on nametags these days, much more attractive.”

Nametags have also gotten much easier to work with in the last half-century.

“At my grandfather’s shop I would spend hours precutting phenolic nametags with a saw, beveling the back, then flat beveling the front and being careful not to chip that brittle material. I am so glad we have flexible plastic these days,” Formanek said.

Formanek’s grandfather retired in 1977, selling the business to an electrician who was looking for another career. Formanek stayed for another year, but business was too slow for the new owner to keep him employed.

“There were no computers in those days; graphics had to be drawn up by hand. My cousin was good at making logos by hand and taught me how to make them as well. This talent was something another shop needed, and the owner hired me on,” Formanek said.

 

Velcro-backed plaques for easy updating

That shop was Village Trophies and Engraving—the original name for Village Awards and Engraving. The shop started in the garage of Jim and Dottie Jones. The Joneses had been volunteers at the local little league district where they saw a need for trophies. They eventually moved into a storefront and operated with Formanek and two other employees. Jim Jones died suddenly in 1979, leaving his wife Dottie to figure out how to run the business. Later that year, Formanek had plans to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Chicago area. He left the shop in early 1980 for the next 2 years. He came back and spent an additional 5 years working at the shop with Dottie still the owner and one other employee.

“The shop was slowly losing business. In September of 1987, Dottie’s accountant said she should close the doors and that there was no point in continuing,” Formanek said. Instead, Formanek, who’d already been thinking about buying a shop of his own, agreed to buy the business.

“I had to move the business into a smaller space to save money. I found a nice little space just a few blocks away from where it was,” Formanek said. “We had a personal promissory note drawn up, and for the next 8 years I worked the business with my wife and three daughters and paid back every penny on the loan.”

Because Formanek’s wife and daughters had their own obligations and opportunities, Village Awards has been mostly a one-person operation for much of the past 35 years, and has weathered two floods, a minor fire, and some vandalism.

 

Baseball, soccer, and football trophies

“Somewhere in the ’90s, I decided to change the name of the business to Village Awards and Engraving,” Formanek said. “My thinking was the word ‘trophies’ sounded too limiting to what we do. The word ‘awards’ was more inclusive and might help to get those corporate accounts we all strive for in this business.”

Village Awards has used the same New Hermes Vanguard Optima laser engraver and Vanguard 7000 computerized rotary engraver for more than 25 years. Formanek also still uses a pantograph for engraving.

“I would say that is a specialty; not many even know what a pantograph is these days. We get a lot of those odd-shaped items to engrave because no one else can do them,” he said.

Village Awards added sublimation 5 years ago, which Formanek feels is great for school plaques, as it allows for full-color graphics and is better for small school budgets than engraved awards, which can be much more expensive. Village Awards customers include San Diego State University, Masonic organizations, Elks clubs, Optimist clubs, Kiwanis clubs, and other service clubs.

“We service Realtors, our regional chamber of commerce events, healthcare institutions, Native American casinos, car dealerships, mortuaries, a good number of our local K–12 schools, local hotels, police departments. Missionary plaques for our church. We make many awards for our local city municipality and of course those many personal onetime gift items,” Formanek said.

 

Ever-popular acrylic awards

Many regular customers are now in the third generation, which Formanek acknowledges has been a challenge for maintaining contacts. While the Yellow Pages was the main advertising outlet for many years, website and social media promotion are now ways Village Awards reaches potential customers.

Nametags remain popular, with Formanek reverseengraving and hand painting items if a customer wants something besides sublimation. Plaques are a specialty and seem to have replaced trophies for schools’ and little leagues’ awards of choice.

Recently, the building owner wanted to expand another business and offered to pay for renovations if Village Awards moved into an adjoining suite. Formanek said the remodel was long overdue and it felt good to clean house, especially because the global pandemic stopped business anyway.

“Shutting down has been a mixed blessing,” he said. “I saw this as an opportunity to de-clutter, get a new look, and start fresh in 2021. The new store is clean and functional for our needs. We are not sure what 2021 will bring. Will events start happening again soon so we can provide awards for them? We are so close to retirement, we would love to continue to see this through.”

Outside of world events, the biggest challenges for Village Awards these days are the societal trend toward immediacy.

“People want things quickly, and we have to quite often explain to people we are manufacturers, which requires customization. Not much in our industry is ‘off the shelf’ or spontaneous,” Formanek explained. “I can always anticipate the next question they ask after explaining we need more time—that question is: ‘Don’t you have this in stock?’ It is not always a question of items being in stock; it is the time it takes to make something.”

“I love this industry,” Formanek continued. “It took me a few years to realize I am not just earning money like I was doing at the engraving shop of my grandfather, but I am providing recognition for deserving people who are doing good things and influencing others.”

Formanek has attended several events he has made the awards for and enjoyed seeing people experiencing an event they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Formanek feels the Awards & Personalization Association is a great resource that serves as the recognition industry’s “chamber of commerce”—a place to share ideas and learn from other members in a noncompetitive way.

“I have attended countless seminars at the trade shows and have always kept an open mind for learning,” Formanek said. “Stay educated. I cannot count the many tips and tricks I have learned from the association and the many seminars I have attended teaching this old dog new tricks even after being in this business since 1974.”

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