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Appleton Trophy Keeps Growing: Third-generation family shop holds on to what works, embraces what’s new

Appleton Trophy in Wisconsin finds blend of old and new keeps business booming.

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As the third generation of his family to own Appleton Trophy & Engraving, Jay Parish has found an interesting way to mix the technology of the 21st century with the machinery of the 1950s. 

Parish was quick to move his company to the social media universe, with active pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. In October, the store posted a photo on Facebook of a new gift item, a bamboo cutting board engraved with a recipe-in the recipe writer’s handwriting. The post was shared more than 200 times by mid-November, and at least three people a day call about the unique item, says Sue Van Rooy, Appleton’s co-owner. In addition to promoting products, Appleton Trophy’s Facebook page features photographs of community events and even the Parish family.

“If you’re not visible online, you’re going to miss out on a lot of business,” Parish believes. A blog on the website offers suggestions for baby, wedding and anniversary gifts, as well as examples of the industrial engraving and corporate branding the store provides. 

With this embrace of the Internet and social media, why is Parish concerned about how things were done before he owned the store? Well, the back of his shop still houses a rotary engraver from the 1950s. Because so many shops have abandoned that tool, he gets orders from around the country, he says. A 20-year-old, 25-watt laser engraver also comes in handy. 

“We use that almost every day. If it keeps working, why replace it?” says Parish, who bought Appleton Trophy from his father in 2011 after serving four years in the U.S. Navy.

BACK IN THE DAY

Parish isn’t sure why his great-uncle Jack and his grandfather, also named Jay, started Appleton Trophy in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1956. It opened near the Fox River, which runs through the middle of town, then moved to North Richmond Street. The elder Jay Parish sold the business to his sons, Thomas and Jay-the current owner’s father and uncle, respectively-in the 1980s. 

The sons purchased a vacant lot “four doors down” and on the opposite side of the street, where in 1985 they built the 8,000-square-foot store that still houses the business. That last move led to Van Rooy’s joining the company 28 years ago. 

While she worked as a waitress at a restaurant across the street, the elder Jay Parish would stop in for lunch and an afternoon chat. He told her the store needed some help; she interviewed with Thomas Parish and was hired on the spot, she says. “I never thought that I’d be a co-owner here,” says Van Rooy, who bought into the business three years ago.  

During her tenure, she’s seen innumerable changes. “When I started here, the trophy business was big,” she recalls. Customers lined up at the counter to order bowling trophies. Though he was a pre-teen at the time, Parish knows how important that business was. 

“Without bowling trophies, we never would have made it,” he reflects. 

Now, the co-owners say, the shop never makes bowling trophies, even though trophies for kids’ events and car shows are still popular, Van Rooy says. 

The equipment isn’t all that has been in the store since Jay was a child, though. Some of the employees have worked there for more than 20 years. “They remember when I was running around as a little kid,” he laughs. “I remember… putting stickers on the bottom of trophies.”

Van Rooy says those employees set Appleton Trophy apart from its competition. “We have a really good staff. Our staff is extremely friendly,” she says. They take pride in turning around orders on the same or the next day, especially for gifts, and rarely turn someone away. 

With a wide selection of products and services, Appleton Trophy looks more like a gift shop than a typical trophy shop, Van Rooy adds. 

Thomas Parish’s wife, Betty, was the one who introduced gifts and glassware, which attracted more walk-in traffic and gave corporate customers more choices for gifts, Jay Parish says.

Thomas Parish purchased the store’s first computer from Radio Shack in 1983, Jay Parish says. Van Rooy recalls that Thomas Parish bought the shop’s first sandblaster a few years after she started working for him. “He’d sit back there for hours, sandblasting (photos onto) mugs,” she says. He also put in a system to etch glass and crystal, she states. 

NOT JUST A TROPHY SHOP

Appleton Trophy does more than just trophies these days. Jay Parish has also picked up business from nearby corporations that have been unsatisfied with gifts ordered via the Internet. When those items arrive broken or with a misspelled name, the company representatives often bring them to Appleton Trophy for repair-then they realize they should just purchase the products from the shop in the first place, he says. 

Many of the corporations in northeastern Wisconsin are manufacturers that bring in industrial pieces for engraving. Just recently, a Kimberly Clark manager needed serial numbers put on cutters used for making toilet paper cores, Parish says. Guns are another big area of engraving work. Manufacturers use the store to engrave their logos on products before they are sold, and consumers want their names and, sometimes, phone numbers added to a gun. Others seek names and images, such as a deer, engraved on guns they are giving as gifts. 

Appleton Trophy has also employed a jeweler for the last eight years. Offering jewelry-belt buckles, rings, and even memorial gifts such as a loved one’s thumbprint on a custom pendant-and engraving is a good fit, Parish points out. “We can cast jewelry and make everything right here,” he says. “It’s kind of nice that the engraving side can help the jewelry side.” 

Last year, the store added a UV printer that allows the shop to offer printing on ceramic tiles, golf balls and a variety of substrates. They use the printer to create nametags and luggage tags for local businesses and civic organizations, the co-owners say. The printer also allows the shop to print pictures on ceramic tiles. 

Van Rooy loves the variety of the store’s products and the different demands of the customers. “You never go up to the counter and have the same (request) twice,” she says. “One time you go up there, it’s a plaque; the next time, it’s an engagement ring.”

Parish also enjoys his work. “People are happy. I have fun doing it. I’d like to keep this going with my family.”

Victoria A.F. Camron

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