Local Company “Plus” COVID-19 Equals New Market Opportunities
3 May 2020
Trophies Plus, Inc., has historically made awards and signs for high schools and youth organizations around the Midwest. But as the COVID-19 crisis spread to rural Iowa, the company has learned to lean on the “Plus” side of its name.
“We’ve had to turn to markets we were not involved in prior to this crisis,” said Jim Jensen, owner of Trophies Plus. “None of them are very profitable right now, but it allows me to keep my people employed and busy until things start moving again.”
Trophies Plus, of Carroll County, specializes in creating custom branded awards and promotional products for over 400 high schools nationally, including 200 in Iowa alone. It also provides custom awards to national sporting and academic events and corporations, like the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, Iowa Games, the United States Academic Decathlon, WNIT Basketball and Volleyball, the United States Chess Federation and AAU Wrestling.
Reaction to COVID-19
But the demand for those products has dwindled as schools and organizations cancel their typical springtime activities. So Trophies Plus has turned to alternative products to keep their business active.
“To start, we changed our chenille department that makes letterman jackets over and started sewing masks and hospital gowns for local nursing homes and hospitals,” said Jensen. “And we put our lasers to use by cutting out plastic to help make face shields.”
The company also began making personalized signs for order to thank community essential workers or recognize graduating high school seniors. Trophies Plus charges $25 per sign but donates $15 per sign to a food bank or charity in the community the sign went to. So far they have over 100 signs in Carroll, Sac, Calhoun and Audubon Counties and have shipped signs to other communities all over the Midwest.
Original COVID-19 impact
The change in production was necessitated by the fact the company has experienced over $800,000 in cancellations so far, as schools and sporting events were cancelled, with no need for the event awards. And Jensen said this could impact Trophies Plus over more than just this year, with the possibility of an additional $350,000 loss.
“We expect track to be completely cancelled for most of the country, but we had already delivered the majority of Iowa track items in January, ” said Jensen. “If they don’t need them now, they will most likely use them next year, which means they won’t order next year.”
Another large source of their income is the senior awards, academic awards and those for clubs like speech and drama typically handed out at graduation ceremonies. But a few schools have called saying they plan to do a virtual graduation.
“We will roll with the punches, but either way, I have to assume there won’t be the volume we are used to,” said Jensen.
Help of a small community
The change in production would not have been possible alone. While the company did receive funding through the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), Jensen said he is not sure that would have been possible without the help of their local bank.
“I have to say one of the largest benefits was working with my local bank, because Ryan Milligan and his team at Commercial Savings Bank in Carroll were completely on the ball with all of the programs available to their partners,” he said. “They care about their customers and want us to survive, which is a lot different than national banks where you are just a number.”
Jensen said he is hearing horror stories from industry colleagues in larger cities where their banks have not submitted their applications for the stimulus package and are even having issues getting answers from their banks. In contrast, the Carroll Area Development Corporation, local bank and many local agencies and government offices have been emailing and updating information on options and availability of help since this began.
“Having that support group, along with other business leaders, has helped us realize that everyone is dealing with the same worries,” said Jensen
Those worries are sure to extend into the summer months as areas attempt to move back to historical business and life patterns. But Jensen said he is not sure what that “normal” will look like. He is hopeful regular business will pick up but he also sees an opportunity to focus on the markets Trophies Plus has not generally been not involved in. The company has been working with an advertising firm to start to figure out what the new Trophies Plus will look like, and will be aggressively marketing starting in a couple weeks.
“I believe we have created some new customers within the healthcare industry, based on our help with gowns, masks and face shields,” said Jensen. “I don’t know exactly what the future holds for us at Trophies Plus, but I’m sure we will be here at the end of this.”