Manitowoc, Wisconsin-based Manitowoc Trophy, an awards and personalization business, asks the public for help securing grant money to keep the business afloat.
The 35-year-old trophy and engraving shop faces tough economic times as events—where trophies and promotional products are needed—have been on hold since the COVID-19 pandemic began one year ago.
“The biggest challenge Manitowoc Trophy has faced is generating enough funds to keep our doors open to the public. A majority of our products are targeted to those with special events going on such as weddings, car shows, and year-end awards. Without these special events going on we’ve had to really dig deep to come up with new ideas to keep us afloat,” owner Jim Behnke tells GRAPHICS PRO.
Some things the shop has done to mitigate or overcome these challenges include offering curbside or no-contact pickup, online ordering on its website and Facebook, and expanding its product offerings into other areas like ADA signage, promo products, and gift items.
Behnke adds, “We have also had to be more creative in our marketing strategies such as cold calling, emailing, using our Facebook and Instagram to reach possible customers, and handing out fliers and packets with our products to those who do come through our doors.”
He says there have been some long-term effects on the shop and the industry as well, like potential customers “turning to other ‘cheaper’ online trophy and gift shop stores for their items.”
As a result, the shop has had to come up with ways to compete in response. This includes offering free shipping and other deals online competitors are offering.
“People have gotten used to staying home and searching out what they need,” he explains. “They are no longer window shopping or wanting to come in and see the actual product. Small businesses are not only hurting but also their communities in which they reside in.”
In hopes of offsetting some of the hardships even further, the shop entered into the 2021 FedEx Small Business Grant Competition. If the shop wins the money, Behnke says, he’ll use it to keep all employees on and allow them to keep their current hours.
He continues, “It would allow me to be able to keep up with our current bills and maintain our brick-and-mortar store. It would also allow us to keep up with the current trends and expand our product lines. We would also be able to continue to donate to local nonprofits and charities. By winning this money, it would allow a small business to stay open and continue supporting its community.”
The contest’s top prize is $50,000, the second-place prize is $30,000, and 10 third-place winners take home $15,000. Winners also receive money to put toward FedEx print services. Public voting closed on March 24, the Top 100 finalists are announced on March 31, and winners are announced on May 10. Check here for updates.
Manitowoc Trophy first began its journey in September of 1986. For Behnke, it was just a part-time hobby he enjoyed out of his basement. He mainly focused on traditional trophies, but over time the business grew. He began working a full-time job on top of his late nights spent completing items for Manitowoc Trophy.
In 1999, Behnke decided to take the journey of self-employment and open a brick-and-mortar location at 2402 Washington Street in Manitowoc, where he still runs the business today. With help from his son, the business grew to what it is today—a one-stop-shop for all things awards, engraving, and custom gifts.
Today, the shop employs five people and offers custom glass and acrylic awards, custom trophies, indoor and outdoor signage, personalized gifts, and promotional items.