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Retailer Profile: Atta-Boy Awards, North Pole, AK

The White family has been personalizing awards and gifts at their shop, Atta-Boy Awards in North Pole, AK, for 45 years. Offering quality service at a fair price, Atta-Boy Awards has gotten an extra boost from the owners’ dedication, creative ideas, and positive outlook.

Retailer Profile: Atta-Boy Awards, North Pole, AK

A family-owned personalization shop in a unique city marks a milestone of success

By Julie Rogers

Bryan and Mae pose in front of Atta-Boy Awards.

The White family has been personalizing awards and gifts at their shop, Atta-Boy Awards in North Pole, AK, for 45 years. Offering quality service at a fair price, Atta-Boy Awards has gotten an extra boost from the owners’ dedication, creative ideas, and positive outlook.

For outsiders, Atta-Boy Awards’ location is fascinating. The store is in Alaska, which is practically mythic for its wildlife, wilderness, and wintry temperatures.

Adding to the appeal, the shop is in the city of North Pole.

“North Pole is a small community situated 12 miles southeast of Fairbanks, nestled between an Army post and an Air Force base. The city was incorporated in 1953 with the unique name as an effort to attract toy makers,” said Bryan White, who owns and operates Atta-Boy Awards with his wife, Maew.

That strategy didn’t work, but the city did make the most of its moniker with all the right attractions to support its motto: “Where the Spirit of Christmas Lives Year-Round!”

North Pole is “a thriving community where the light poles are giant candy canes; all of the streets are named in the Christmas theme; and the world-famous Santa Claus House, along with the world’s tallest statue of the ‘big guy’ himself, is right down the street from Atta-Boy Awards,” White said.

Nods to Santa Claus don't end with the town's name - buildings across North Pole, AK proudly display an array of decorations and other items celebrating St. Nick.

There’s even a man named Santa Claus, who sports a long white beard, among the members of the city council.

 

North Pole has about 2,000 residents and just one awards shop. Though there is one other awards shop in the Fairbanks area, Atta-Boy serves customers in a wide region.

In addition to individuals who purchase personalized gifts and engraving services from the shop, Atta-Boy Awards provides products to military clients, corporations, nonprofits, and approximately 70 schools in interior Alaska.

Though the shop is easily accessible to customers, the clients aren’t always easy to get to when it’s time to deliver their completed orders. “Frequently, awards are airfreighted out to remote Alaska villages that are only served by air,” White said. Wisely, the Whites have capitalized on their location when it comes to personalizing products, and their ideas are not only creative but successful.

“For many years, plaques featuring Alaska-shaped pieces of steel left over from the Trans-Alaska pipeline were very popular gifts,” White said. “Now, plaques shaped like Alaska made out of walnut or birch are quite popular, especially with military clients leaving the state. Also, small snowshoes mounted on plaques are always in high demand.”

45-year anniversary stickers are affixed to every product leaving the store this year.

Client loyalty is a testament to Atta-Boy’s quality work. “Many clients have moved overseas but still contact the store for custom awards, which are then packaged and shipped out,” White said. “Last year, four snowshoe plaques were sent to Australia.”

Atta-Boy’s product lineup covers the gamut, including the variety of awards and gifts you’d expect from a quality shop.

Signs, nametags, and electrical and plumbing tags are offered alongside products that might not be in demand in another state, such as personalized gold pans and hats and scarves. The Whites’ daughter, Katie, handmakes jewelry sold in the shop, too, and the latest offerings include earrings featuring laser-cut wooden Alaskas.

Artwork on products often features moose, bears, and other wildlife or military insignia and imagery on orders from nearby bases.

The most recent product additions are a variety of sizes and colors of drinkware. Considering that January’s average high temperature in North Pole is -1° F (-18° C), it’s no surprise there’s a healthy market for mugs and thermal cups.

“By adding both Alaskan color images and lasering for personalization, the result is a unique product that is quite popular,” White said.

ALWAYS UP TO DATE

Atta-Boy's official "greeter Spaniel," Willow

In addition to Bryan and Maew, daughter Katie works in the store between college classes, and they also are joined by Katina Whisel, the shop’s award designer and engraver, and Willow, the official “greeter Spaniel.” Since the shop opened in 1976, there has always been a Spaniel coming in to work with the Whites. An English Springer Spaniel, Willow is the fifth “generation” to work at Atta-Boy Awards.

The shop’s 1,200 sq ft don’t allow for many more employees, but the Whites get an incredible amount of productivity out of the space through their investment in modern, diversified personalization equipment.

“The workhorses of the store are the Epilog lasers, both of which run most of the day,” White said.

Adding color to products is no problem either; Atta-Boy offers two full-color transfer processes: sublimation and toner transfer. They have a Sawgrass sublimation printer and use TheMagicTouch’s toner transfer system, enabling them to choose which process will create the best results on each product.

Recently, the Whites purchased a Vision Engraving & Routing Systems router and engraver to ensure they can engrave items that the CO2 lasers can’t, like uncoated metals.

The Vision engraver represents a massive leap forward in technology from “the vintage Meistergram computer engraver that still runs on a DOS program!” White said.

One of the ways that the Whites stay up-to-date on personalization products, processes, and equipment is by being active members of the Awards and Personalization Association. They attend the International Awards & Personalization Expo—the industry’s largest trade show—in Las Vegas, NV, every 2 to 3 years.

“We return to Alaska with new products and many new ideas each time,” White said. “The educational programs are especially beneficial.”

‘POSITIVE EFFORT’

Forty-five years ago, Atta-Boy Awards got its start as L.E. White & Sons, Master Engravers.

“In 1976, Gerald Ford was president, gas was 59 cents a gallon, Apple Computer and Microsoft were incorporated, and Atta-Boy Awards began in the basement of the White family home, providing engraving services as a way to pass the time during the long cold Alaska winters,” White said.

In the business’s early days, White’s parents, Larry and Sharon, used a New Hermes pantograph to engrave Alaskan animals on Buck knives. Engraving with a pantograph was a very slow process, and all three White children were taught to engrave and work in the family business.

In the early 1980s, Larry White changed the business’s name to Atta-Boy Awards to reflect a new focus on recognition products.

“Slowly, the business grew to the point where a standalone location was necessary, and in 1986, the business moved to 543 St. Nicholas Drive in North Pole, where it remain today,” White said.

It was Larry White who joined the Awards and Personalization Association, back when it was still called the Trophy Dealers and Manufacturers Association. He was the association’s Alaska representative.

In 1998, Larry was ready to retire and to sell the business to White and his wife to keep it in the family. An Air Force pilot, White transferred to the Alaska Air National Guard at nearby Eielson Air Force Base, where he continued to fly jets until his retirement in December 2019. During White’s multiple overseas deployments, Maew and the couple’s children ran Atta-Boy Awards.

The Whites' daughter Katie.

Awards designer and engraver Katina Whisel.

Katie, Katina Whisel and Maew keep Atta-Boy running smoothly.

Now fully retired from the military, White says his next move depends on the next generation.

If daughter Katie is interested in taking over managing Atta-Boy Awards, Bryan and Maew would be willing to “semi-retire” to ease the transition.

But if Katie pursues her own path, the Whites are happy with that, too.

“We’ll continue to offer high-quality, timely service and fair prices for many years to come in one of the most unique locations in the world,” White said.

That positive take is no act. Atta-Boy Awards is praised in online reviews for being helpful and friendly.

“Reflecting on 45 years in business, my view is that perpetual optimism becomes a force multiplier,” White said. “There have been good years and lean years, but continuing to meet customers’ needs with friendly, timely service makes every year a good one. The advantage of the awards industry is that you’re always dealing with people’s achievements and successes. Everything we do is a reflection of positive effort on someone’s part, and that’s a wonderful profession to be a part of!”

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