Just north of St. Louis Street, Glenstone Avenue ascends a bridge to avoid a set of railroad tracks, consequently leaving several businesses along Trafficway far out of sight. A digital sign reaches up from Collegiate Awards on the east side of the bridge saying, “We’re down here.”
Despite the unique location, the family-owned business stays busy, selling more than $1 million worth of products last year – from traditional awards, such as trophies, plaques and medals, to signage and various custom gifts. Think S’well bottles with company logos and Guaranty Bank nametags.
On a grander stage, repeat customer Johnny Morris has handed out Collegiate Awards-made custom wine bottles to Mark Wahlberg, U.S. presidents and other special guests of Bass Pro Shops and Big Cedar Lodge.
Principal Erin Boster runs the shop, along with her husband Frank, twin brothers Craig and Brad Stout, and her semiretired father Tom Stout.
“We’ve been a part of family businesses our entire lives,” Craig Stout says. “So it’s kind of a dynamic that we’re used to.”
The family has owned businesses in the Kansas City area for generations, employing up to 1,000 at one time.
Tom’s father Roy Stout co-founded S&K Industries Inc. in 1961, eventually landing a deal to manufacture highly detailed gunstocks for Remington Arms Co. LLC.
“We were the first people to ever use lasers to do checkering on gun stocks, so we had a lot of experience with lasers, before we started doing this,” Tom says of the family’s transition into other custom products. “We started the award business as an offshoot from that.”
Tom claims S&K was at one time the largest user of walnut wood in the world, and it began to use excess pieces to make trophy bases and plaques for wholesalers. S&K also did work for Hallmark Gold Crown Stores, manufacturing store fixtures and producing gift plaques for retail – further foreshadowing the family’s award-product business.
The family also owned Carrollton Specialty Products Co., contracting various projects for Hallmark Cards Inc., Craig says.
“Anytime Hallmark had some kind of special fold, or something glued onto a card or a ribbon attached, they would send the material to us. We unpackaged it, performed the necessary work to the card, repackaged it and sent it back to Hallmark for distribution,” he says.
But the family walked away from both of these clients around 2008. Remington purchased S&K for an undisclosed price, and Hallmark outsourced the work Carrollton had done to others overseas.
Collegiate Awards was founded in 2005 – with Carrollton as the parent company – in Moberly, before moving two years later 35 miles south to Columbia, Erin says. The family members all had ties to Springfield and decided to open what later became the company’s sole location in 2011.
Collegiate Awards, with seven staff members, employs much of the same capabilities as the former family businesses, just on a smaller scale.
“We have a smaller showroom,” Erin says of the 1,000-square-foot office connected to 6,000 square feet of production and warehouse space. “Mostly we try to invest in technology more than our show space. The printing and engraving capabilities that we have are pretty top notch.”
The production room, filled with trophies, plaques, signage and nametags in various stages of completion, has three laser engravers representing investments of $50,000 to $100,000 apiece. With repeat customers including Drury University, Kickapoo High School and Guaranty Bank, more than 1,000 products are built, customized and shipped each week. The e-commerce site at CollegiateAwards.com has processed orders from Europe. In 2016, the shop moved more than $1 million in product – 30 percent more than the two previous years.
Collegiate Awards is the official supplier of awards for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the Iowa State Fair.
The variety of items customized with lettering or image engraving is growing, Erin says. The staff recently started offering wine bottles with engraved and hand-painted designs that are given as weddings favors or as gifts following home-loan closures.
“It’s constantly changing,” Erin says, noting Collegiate Awards is an official retailer of Nashville, Tennessee-manufactured Orca tumblers and S’well bottles. “Right now, tumblers are a real hot item – Yeti kind of started that trend.”
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The move would come with a new property tax levied on residents of regional school districts.
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