October 5

A Winning Business

Athletic Awards thrives as South Lake Union grows up around it.

When Weyerhaeuser moved from Federal Way to its new headquarters in Pioneer Square, the company wanted some gifts for its employees, and it wanted them quickly. So it called Athletic Awards, a mainstay business in South Lake Union.

Weyerhaeuser wanted its logo laser-etched on wood planters that would be distributed to employees. “We got the call on Thursday, the wood came in Friday, and they needed them on Wednesday,” says Ben Holmes, a salesperson and assembler at Athletic Awards. “And it was Labor Day weekend.”

Holmes spent his holiday in the office, and the order was fulfilled. “We got nothing but, ‘Thank you, they look great,’” he says.

Orders like this have become a cornerstone of Athletic Awards’ business. The company, which opened its mustard-yellow office with “the world’s largest trophy cup” on Republican Street in 1983, has made a habit of defying customers’ expectations and building long-term clients in the process.

“People come to us constantly after they’ve gone somewhere else, and (that company) dropped the ball,” says Monty Holmes, Ben’s father and the owner of the trophy shop. “They come to us and say, ‘Our banquet is tomorrow night—what can you do for us?’ We instantly pull our inventory and make them something totally custom and special.”

The Weyerhaeuser order exemplifies this approach to customer service, but it also indicates how Athletic Awards’ business has changed as its neighborhood has matured. The company previously specialized in, as its name implies, trophies and the like; there were plenty of three-trophy orders for first-, second-, and third-place finishers. But as corporate tenants have moved in—and noticed Athletic Awards’ huge trophy atop its roof—the company has diversified its income stream. Monty Holmes says sales growth for corporate jobs such as etched gifts and embroidered clothing is growing twice as fast as traditional trophy sales.

It’s a far cry from the company’s early days, when Monty’s father, Loren, opened the store. “Dad and I were selling anything we could to get by,” says Monty, who took over the company in 1990. “We’d sell Christmas trees in the parking lot … we’d have furniture from Antique Liquidators in the showroom.”

Such methods aren’t necessary any more. Athletic Awards makes all the trophies handed out by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. On the organizational front, clients include the University of Washington, Amazon, Holland America, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University, and Boeing.

The company’s production methods have also changed. Today, machines handle the majority of etching and carving, but in the early days, “my grandparents had some manual engraving machines at their house,” Ben Holmes remembers. “They’d be engraving at night for bowling leagues, and I remember my dad running all over the place for delivery.”

Now, as glass-clad offices and apartments erupt around Athletic Awards, passersby notice its unique facade, and some of their companies become customers. Monty Holmes embraces the area’s resurgence, and his company is giving back to the community: Its Fill the Cup event, beginning October 11, aims to collect 10,000 pounds of food in 10 days for the Queen Anne Food Bank.

Athletic Awards will remain a family affair, and that sentiment isn’t exclusive to ownership: Many of the company’s eight employees have been around since Monty took over the company. Keeping the business in the Holmes lineage means customer service will remain a hallmark.

“We did an order for Nordstrom, and got a letter commending our customer service,” Ben Holmes says. “When a company that’s known for having the best customer service tells you that you have great customer service, it makes you feel good, but it also shows we’re here to help you out.”

Story by Jake Bullinger, Photos by Daniel Berman

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle