Johnny Owen of Johnny O’s Awards has fulfilled Aberdeen, North Carolina-area residents with their engraving and recognition needs for the last 40 years. Owen has come a long way since starting out on pantographs.
After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill in 1979, Owen went to work on for a man in the janitorial supplies business who eventually opened a trophy business with another person. Since they were both traveling salesmen, Owen was left to run the shop and eventually bought the shares from one of them. Through a series of changes in partners and a number of locations, Owen himself has run Johnny O’s Awards, as it’s known today, since moving into its current location in 1994.
“I bought the lot where I am now, had a building built, and changed the name from Sandhill Trophy (I think it was called then) to Johnny O’s Awards,” says Owen. He adds that the name of the business comes from his father’s nickname for him: Johnny O.
When Owen first started out in the business, there was no computerized engraving. “I had hired one of my cousins and she’d just sit there and scratch out plates all day,” he reminisces. In addition, Owen explains that he was on a traveling softball team and had to drive an hour or two to play a couple of games, then drive back to work on trophies at night.
“It was crazy – you had to do what you had to do and it’s still that way,” says Owen. “But if I didn’t have these computerized lasers now, then I would probably have 20 people sitting back here with pantographs engraving.”
In addition to acquiring new and more capable engraving machines, Owen eventually brought on sublimation due to his son Bryce’s encouragement, who started working full-time at the shop once graduating from NC State in 2016.
Despite all that has changed in the business over time, Owen can still be found in back operating the engraving machines while his wife, Martha, Bryce, and a couple of other employees help run other aspects of the business.
“It’s good to have my family here,” he states. “We get along fine, I think, because we are spread out doing different things.”
According to Owen, the business continues to grow and serve new and existing clients. Owen adds that he engraves for just about all of the jewelry stores in the area, as well as serving local and national corporate clients with recognition pieces.
“It’s amazing how we’ve taken off now after 40 years,” says Owen. To celebrate the anniversary, the team at Johnny O’s printed some T-shirts, baseball caps, and other similar items for the staff to wear.
Owen explains that in celebrating the 40 years, he didn’t want to discount any of his previous partners who helped get the business to where it is today. He credits a previous partner named Don Richardson, who Owen worked with to expand the business with sporting goods.
In terms of the future for Johnny O’s, Bryce plans to take over the business once his father is ready to retire.