This November marks 30th business anniversary for Award & Sign. We interviewed President and Vice President Sherry Armstrong and Laurie Schlager to take us down memory lane of where it all started.
How did you find an interest in the field and what made you want to be involved in the industry?
Sherry: I was teaching racquetball at a Jewish Community Center and I noticed a guy stop in with some sandblasted awards for a tournament. I found it interesting because I was raised around athletics and I was used to seeing the traditional trophy cups. I thought the glass was so unique and it immediately sparked an interest.
When I moved back to Denver from Ohio, I brought it up to the owner of the club. We then both went out on a quest to learn how to sandblast. We ended up flying to a show in Chicago, where we thought we might be able to talk to some people who have been doing this for a while. When we tried to begin conversation about the process with one man, he turned away. Years later, after Laurie & I started the business, coincidently, that same man came to our booth and bought some pieces from us.
How did you eventually learn the sandblasting process?
Sherry: Since we didn’t have the technology and means of communication we do today, it much more difficult to learn a new task. We searched through magazines, made phone calls and finally found a few references. We then started screen printing in our basement. We didn’t have the proper ventilation, and with being in such a small area, I ended up getting sick from the chemicals.
How did the sign part of the business come into play?
Laurie: In the early 80’s, I was also working at the racquetball club. Sherry was organizing the tournaments, and I was assigned to create the sponsor booklets for each tournament. I approached a printer for the booklets, and he asked me who did the artwork. I let him know I had created the artwork, and he offered me a job on the spot! I then decided to teach myself graphic design. Again, there were no computers or design technology, so I did everything by hand.
I then approached Sherry and offered to design tournament banners for her. I would go home and draw out the banners, and then bring them to the club where I would gather a team to help paint them. After doing this a few times I started my own business called “Laurie’s Graphic Design.”
Sherry had mentioned there was a store going out of business that had a six-head screen printer. We ended up purchasing the machine and started to print apparel. After a few years of that, we found a small space for sale and we went into business together. The store we purchased was actually in the same building our current production facility is in. The area was about 1400 square feet. We stacked materials and inventory along the walls to make as much room possible for our six-color print machine, and everything else we needed. At this time, we were more of a trophy store than anything else.
Sherry: We encountered a few learning experiences when we first opened as we were still learning so much about the processes. We moved to our current building in November of 1987. It was still a small space, but much better than the previous area we were in. The production facility, sales, and our offices were all in one area. It made things easy for communication, but was a little hectic otherwise. In 1994, we bought a majority of the current production area.
Sherry: I remember buying our first computers, I got four of them that were 25MB for $3600.00. Not long after, we were already having to clear out our storage with them only being 25MB. Since we had no graphic design software, we would purchase huge booklets full of clip art images. We also had a “vertical camera” where we had to separate the positive and negative pieces of film.
After 30 years of learning and transforming with technology, we are finally where we are today with laser machines, uv printers, sublimators, etc!
Who was your first big client?
Sherry: Our first big client was Hewlett-Packard, or HP, when we got started in the promotional product field. Part of the reason we had some of the learning experiences we did was because I was determined to create my own pieces. For an example, we produced 15-20 slate awards that required a lot of gluing and attaching. It was a very messy process. Unfortunately, by the time the pieces reached their destination, they had all fallen apart.
Laurie: My first big job I remember was for Apple. We created about 8-10 banners for them with their logo. And if you remember Apple’s older logo, it had multiple colors in it. We had to create our own equipment to accommodate for the size of the banners to be screen-printed on. It was a long process, we had to work at night because the screens couldn’t be exposed to light, so we would cover them with garbage bags, and the next day we took them out in the sun to be exposed. It didn’t always work, so there times we had to go back at night and recoat them, and try again the next day.
Tell us about your team members who have been with your company the longest.
Sherry: Scott, our current production manager, started with the company about 15 years ago. Scott’s mother actually used to babysit my kids, and that’s how I met Scott. I’ve known him since he was five years old. After starting as a prep guy, he worked his way up, and is now running all of production. Tiffany, our bookkeeper, also started with us 15 years ago. I still remember her interview, she told us she was a hidden treasure, and she was right! Our company would not be the same without their commitment and dedication to Award & Sign.