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All things Apple Awards

Who is Apple Awards, what do we do and how can we help you honor and recognize achievement and loyalty to your organization and the people closest to you?

Where's My Name?

If you haven't yet heard, Coca Cola recently launched a new campaign with an ad showing ordinary people being given a bottle of Coke with their name on it - a very simple gesture that really spoke more about the concept of recognition than about the product itself.  

The resulting backlash is not "why can't I get a bottle of Pepsi with my name on it?"  It's "why can't I find MY name on a bottle?"  And I'm sure most people can identify with the question if they've ever tried to find their name on a key chain or coffee cup or whatever...  Our names are special identifiers to us.  We love to see our names and we love to be recognized in print.  

Apple Awards is in the business of recognizing people in a personal way.  Your name and/or the name of the person you wish to recognize is the focal point of everyday work at Apple.  A great variety of useful and beautiful objects are on site just waiting for personalization with sand etching, laser engraving or stamping.  

Let's face it, Coke is not going to market bottles with Rumplestiltskin, or Methuselah, or Acidette on them but if you wanted, you could get those names on a crystal apple and present it to a surprised and happy recipient.  You could do it here at Apple Awards, and it would be fun. 



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Meeting Challenges

It's September 11, 2014 and today's news coverage is all about remembering the challenges of 9/11/2001.  A creed comes to mind which was used that year by the USPS in a commercial.  It describes a response of Americans in general to challenges of many different kinds. It goes like this:

"We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride.  And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever."

Going about their lives at Apple Awards got a bit challenging for the team last week.  On Wednesday toward the end of the day they received an order of a "rush" sort.  Thursday morning the area was struck by a wind and hail storm that took out their electricity, downed 40 trees on the property and did a lot of physical damage.  

The generators had to be set up in order to run computers and the laser engraving equipment.  With these production issues temporarily solved the team got to work making the proofs and submitting them to the client.  With the green light to go ahead, they worked steadily on the engraving of the cast aluminum apples until the order was complete. It was shipped out second day air on Friday morning.  It was another episode of teamwork and dedication to customer service which has become second nature to all at Apple Awards. 





All this to show that a storm is only going to make this team rise to the challenge. 

I found one other variation of the famous, oft used creed, and I like it a lot.  It's from Adventures in Odyssey, "rain or shine, snow or sleet, we deliver your mail (but sunny days are optional)."  I will have to ask the Apple team what they think of that one...





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Hey, Good Job!

Recognition and productivity – do you see the connection? Timely and appropriate recognition motivates people to be productive. Productivity adds value to both educational and business environments and motivates recognition. They are pretty common sense partners. But what can you do to stimulate productivity during those occasional “dry spells”? What form should recognition take to be effective in a particular setting? Here are a few ideas.


 When productivity is needed:


  • Productivity can be stimulated by “think time”. Sometimes it's as simple as taking a 15 minute break from your desk, or making use of that vacation time benefit (it's there for a reason, duh...) Some forward thinking companies even incorporate unstructured time into their employees schedules and find that it is well worth it. Read about that here
  • When you are in an unproductive phase, lower the bar slightly and produce something even if it's not your best or brightest. It might be something that can be refined or improved later and it might spark an idea that will give you new energy.
  • Identify one task that most intimidates or stalls your productivity and work on it for an hour. It's usually the task that you've been putting off, feeling guilty about not doing, feeling annoyed with, or unprepared to handle. One hour of attention can accomplish more than you might imagine and suddenly the task becomes manageable. You have freedom to move on. 

When recognition is due:


  • Recognition can be as simple as a sincere word of thanks, or making sure that the correct person is acknowledged verbally for their idea or action


  • Public recognition serves as a motivator for others to be productive as long as it can be seen as attainable, with clear benchmarks


  • Timely recognition earns more loyalty. It is so much better to surprise someone who is doing an exemplary job than to try to win back an worker who has been overlooked or ignored. Be proactive in looking for those who deserve recognition.


  • Give highly productive people the opportunity to share their ideas, lead projects, and motivate others as a part of recognition.



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Education Happens Everywhere!

Where does education start?  Not in the classroom, that's for sure.  Learning starts when the mind is formed and that might be even before birth!  The family unit is the first school we come in contact with and it is full of teachers - parents, siblings, relatives and friends.  By the time a child comes into his first classroom his teacher hopes he has learned some very important lessons on how to interact with the world. Good parenting isn't usually recognized on an institutional level, but it should be recognized!  Do you know someone who is sending their child off to kindergarten this fall?  Send them an Apple Award for all the time and effort spent preparing their first time student. ( Who knows, it might even lessen some of the angst that comes with this landmark event.)

And what about those years after formal schooling? I wouldn't be surprised if more learning takes place then than at any other time.  The workplace is where that education meets the real world, and mentors are needed for the transition.  A smart business pays attention to the path new employees take as they start work.  Awards and other means of recognition (like, say, a nice raise in pay?) are ways of motivating workers to be creative, productive and stay on the job. 

Who was instrumental in helping you as you started work? Did you have a mentor, someone who built your confidence and encouraged you?  And if you've been working long enough to be an expert, who are you mentoring and to whom are you passing along the valuable things you've learned?  Your stories and comments are welcomed as we look at all the places education happens.


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All That Glitters Is Not Gold



Some of it is brass. Polished to a high sheen, brass is beautiful, reflective, rich and mimics gold. It is actually an alloy of copper and zinc. Copper can be combined with many other minerals in various proportions that give it different properties – brass being one alloy that is used a lot for items that are cast with a mold, like the brass apple featured as an exclusive item at Apple Awards. Because of it's unique properties brass is also used for musical instruments, many kinds of horns, cymbals, and bells.


The brass items obtained wholesale at Apple Awards are bought in various stages of finish. However, the Apple crew is very particular about their brass apples and bells. Small scratches and dents that might pass muster elsewhere do not make the grade at AA.  Brassmaster Randy has devised his own finishing methods. In his shop area with special gadgets he applies a beautiful satin finish to the brass items which makes them less susceptible to scratching and easier to care for. Each piece that needs attention gets milled and hand polished before going on to the next steps.




 One of the most popular brass items at AA, bells, come in all sizes. After being inspected and polished, they are ready for engraving and are taken to the laser engraver. Online, customers can choose the size of bell they want, then layout their desired engraving and personalization on the Apple Award website. The new website allows them to see what their finished award will look like.  A software program allows Kate to transfer the information to the engraving machine and one at a time the bells are engraved.  It's a process...





To finish the bells, handles of hardwood and brass clappers are put in place. A final cloth polish takes care of any smudges or fingerprints. The bells are boxed for delivery.




Other places you might find brass at AA - sheet brass is used as the background for engraving placed on plaques and award bases.  Some decorative touches, such as the stems on crystal and marble apples are brass and some trophy figures may be brass as well.  (And of course, you can almost always find the "top brass" sitting in his office or somewhere on the premises...) Hats off to the usefulness of beautiful, bright brass!

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What We Know

I'll bet you are wondering where I'm going with this title, eh? (Eh with a question mark is Canadian for "do you agree?") I'm thinking about that elusive commodity called customer service, specifically, good customer service.  It's my experience that, definitions aside, WE KNOW when we've gotten it.  And when we haven't. 

I'm often a little anxious whenever I have an issue with a company and am looking for that "contact us" number or web address.  It becomes apparent so quickly what customer service does or doesn't mean to that company.  I know I'm not alone in this because I'm a dedicated reader of online reviews of products I'm thinking of buying.  Dissatisfied people have a voice these days and a bad review... well, it can be a death sentence or an opportunity for a business.

One of my favorite stories of customer service which is kind of legendary, is from the Nordstrom files, again.  They take seriously their motto about the customer always being right, apparently even when the person wasn't even their customer. A person returned a tire - not an item Nordstrom had ever sold - and was given credit for it. I should add that Nordstrom also has effective fraud control or they would no longer be in business.  

And don't we all have some horror stories of products that were not what we expected or service that wasn't up to par? Stories about being ignored, being harassed or argued with, having to present all kinds of details, fill out multiple forms, make dozens of phone calls, and still not being satisfied?  We know how important we feel to this company, eh?

If you haven't already had the experience of doing business with Apple Awards, now is the time for me to share their philosophy of customer service.  It is included with each shipment and it is their invitation for you, the customer, to dialogue with them, be heard and taken seriously.

Some Old Fashioned Ideas

Never Go Out Of Date! 

You are the most important person in our business.

You are not dependent on us,

We are dependent on you.

You are not an interruption of our work,

You are the purpose for it. 

You do us a favor when you use us,

We are not doing you a favor by serving you.

You come to us with your needs,

It is our job to fulfill them.

You pay our salaries ... without you we

Would have to close our doors.

You deserve the most courteous

Attention we can give.

Let us take this moment to say,

"Thank you. We appreciate

having you as a friend."

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Ring Them In

Bells have been used to summon people to gather together in many historical settings.  As early as the 8th century BC there are depictions of bells in ancient Chinese tablets.  And the oldest bells around today date back to the 5th century BC.  In the early years of our country (and others) bells were common on churches and schools and were used to rally townspeople for meetings of all kinds and even for emergencies.  Think of our famous Liberty Bell.  Their sound carried far and could be heard by those working outside as well as in buildings.  How else might you alert an entire community before the advent of telephone, or electric amplification? The bells had it.  For a very interesting history from a bell manufacturer click here

Bells are considered percussion instruments and can be made of many different materials, from clay to wood, glass or metal.  Their size and structure can be changed to give them a variety of pitches and sounds.  If you have ever heard a performance by a good hand bell choir, you will know that they are beautiful sounding instruments.  

As mentioned, bells are associated with schools and education both past and present.  They signal not only the start of the school day but also recess and dismissal so they are considered symbols of freedom from the classroom.  The school bell, if large, was hung in a belfry on top of the building or mounted on the side of the building or in the schoolyard.  Teachers often had a smaller hand bell on their desk, such as the ones pictured below.  They have become symbols of freedom also for retiring educators, memorializing their years of service.  

These brass bells from Apple Awards can be personalized and make a quality gift that will be treasured. Unlike the largest known bell which resides in Moscow and weighs 440,000 lbs. these bells are easily packaged and shipped to you at a reasonable cost.  


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Remembering Excellent Teachers

Junior High was the designation given to seventh and eighth grades back in the dark ages when I went to school in my small midwestern town. Compared to the present, that time was pretty safe. It never occurred to us that someone might bring a gun to school, and gangs were the kids you played ball with after school (well, I guess that's still true – except that's about all we did in our gangs).



But even back then some of the sharpest, most discerning teachers were put in charge of our learning. They were demanding, but they rewarded every effort and helped us build confidence. It was during those years that I came to know and appreciate Kathryn Coogan and Mary Harnden.


Mrs. Coogan was small but powerful. I'm not going to say she was an eccentric dresser but I remember her most vividly as walking down Main Street in her matching coat and beret, heels, and full makeup, especially rouged cheeks. She was precise and careful and she made me want to please her any time she gave an assignment. She was watchful and there was no fooling around in her class. I don't remember ever being uncomfortable with her style of teaching but she was not “our buddy” as some teachers are tempted to be. The lines were clear and she was in charge. English was her forte. Many sentences were diagrammed. I don't know if that is even done anymore but it kind of made parts of speech fun and memorable for me. She made me care how my handwriting looked.


Mary Harnden was formidable in a different way. She looked more like a grandmother, but the silent type. I never was quite sure what she was thinking about my work and as a result I learned to critique myself more thoroughly. She taught us to read widely and carefully, among other things.



The bus I rode to school traveled the road past Mrs. Harnden's house and every day I saw her gardens and wondered when she had time to work in them. I knew some of her own children and admired how they excelled in school. I think she had a hard life in some ways but I'm ashamed that being an average, self-absorbed teen-age girl, I never really knew her. A couple years ago on a visit home, I heard that she was living in the local nursing home and I felt I had to go see her. I wanted to let her know how much I appreciated her as an educator. I don't know if she remembered me or not. I sat across from her at her table and we put a few pieces of her jig saw puzzle together.


I don't know what happened when these ladies retired from teaching because I moved away and lost touch with the school. Hopefully, they were celebrated and honored. There's no doubt that they influenced countless young people positively during their careers. I know I will never forget them.


Is there a teacher that had an impact on your life? Maybe one you never had a chance to thank?   

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Etching, the Process

I was hanging out at Apple Awards one day when some crystal apples were being prepared for a client. The etching process was being done and I found it very interesting. By definition, etching is a type of engraving done with a corrosive material, sometimes acid, but in this case, very fine sand. Think of it as a small version of sandblasting where the sand actually marks the smooth surface of the glass. Couple the process with computerized graphics and you have a beautiful way of personalizing the crystal apple.

This process takes place in a dedicated workroom at Apple headquarters. Much like a photographic darkroom, it has special lighting and no windows (mysterious aura descends...) The client's logo and award wording has been laid out via computer and is now being developed onto a special film which will become a stencil. The developer is rinsed off in a water bath and the result is a sheet with multiple patches of the personalization which can be peeled off and placed like a template on the surface to be etched.










The surface in this case is the clear crystal apple. The patches are carefully placed by hand, and the surface of the apple around the patch is protected with masking tape. The apples go back into the etching room and, one by one, they go into the etching chamber. This small chamber is accessed through hand holes so the operator can be protected while handling the etching wand. Thick protective gloves are worn. The etching sand is directed at high speed over the surface of the apple and marks the areas not protected by the stencil. Voila! An etching is created. The stencil is washed off and the apple is cleaned and packaged.







As you can see, there is some careful hand work given to each award created in this way. Large orders take skill, time and patience and even small orders get focused attention– commodities that the Apple team members are happy to provide.   


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The Minimalist

Who is the minimalist? He/she is the person who puts all their sports trophies (if they had any) and high school awards in a garage sale in favor of a clean, empty shelf. Do you know one of those? Of course they have a lot of other characteristics but this tendency toward bare and uncluttered is pretty prominent.  So how do you recognize them and their achievements without giving them something that is going to annoy them as it sits around the house or office? 

To me, the answer is simple. You award them something too beautiful to throw away, a piece of art, if you will.  And if it is in some way useful, all the better.  I was walking through Apple Awards one day and noticed some sample apples that were not for sale. I actually begged one off the owner because it was just a very cool piece of marble and I wanted it just to look at.  


Now, if in addition to being beautiful and useful (because it will keep papers from flying off your desk) this objet d'art stood for something, it would have earned its place even on a minimalist's desk.  One of my favorite, recently recognized professionals put it this way,

"There it was, sitting in a felt case. My name and the year engraved into it. Heavy, crystal, its edges softly beveled. Not my decorative taste at all. But I understood the immense value my coworkers and leadership placed on me, to cooperatively choose me from amidst over two thousand employees. The crystal now sits on my desk. I’m not sure if its a paperweight or if it is a standalone piece of art on my monitor stand. I’m a little surprised that I want it to be so visible- it doesn't suit me to advertise. But it reminds me of the things I did to earn it, not intending to be recognized in this way. And how good it felt for my efforts to be acknowledged."  

Yes, it was my daughter writing about her Nordstrom star - similar in quality to the crystal apple I ordered for my teacher friend.  These are beautiful examples of recognition pieces that probably won't be found in a garage sale any time soon.  


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Team Apple on the Job

I ordered my Crystal Apple from several states away, but having been on the premises at the North Pole in Hayward, Wisconsin last spring I have a pretty good idea of what went on after my online order came through.  All references to Santa's North Pole workshop aside - the Apple workshop has them beat hands down on efficiency and customer service. (But the weather is a bit like the North Pole, just a bit.)


b2ap3_thumbnail_20140527_135553.jpgMy order confirmation came while I was still sitting at the computer. In no time at all, Ms. Stacey, fast like a ninja, had the order up on the project board where the rest of the team could view it and get to work.






b2ap3_thumbnail_20140527_134040.jpgBack to the well stocked shelves they went, amid apples of all colors and materials, to look for the diamond cut crystal, the beautifully finished walnut base and the metal label for the inscription. 









I can imagine Ms. Kate at her computer setting up the laser engraving machine and putting in the fonts and lettering I had specified. It's all quite "state of the art" at Apple Awards.  I doubt the North Pole can boast that kind of equipment.





In other parts of the workshop, the Apple team is polishing, assembling and etching other apple and bell orders at top speed.  Actually, they look more relaxed and absorbed in details of the work so probably speed is not as important as making things look REALLY good.

b2ap3_thumbnail_20140527_144127.jpg        b2ap3_thumbnail_20140527_135703.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_20140527_141529.jpg



b2ap3_thumbnail_20140527_143535.jpg My apple is polished, inspected and lovingly placed in a beautiful presentation box with satin and velvet. ♥♥♥♥.  This is not the apple that I ordered, but isn't the box lovely?  






b2ap3_thumbnail_20140702_1943131.jpgAnd then with detailed care instructions, and a sincere thank you note, my apple is placed in a shipping box and cushioned with recyclable peanuts. Just for comparison, I'm guessing that Santa is not going to give you the number for the Peanut Hotline so you can find the nearest plastic loose-fill collection center.  Are you impressed yet?

Five days later, FedEx had the box at my door, having tracked it all the way.  And with Apple Awards and the Apple team this happens many times over, on almost every business day of the week (not just one night in December).  

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I Order An Apple (easy, anybody can do it)

b2ap3_thumbnail_diamond-cut-crystal-apple-14d.jpgThinking a lot today about the value of recognition. I've known quite a few remarkable individuals over the years and have tried to express appreciation to them in various ways, but today I'm wondering what it would be like to let my appreciation be told through Apple Awards. I think I'll order an apple...


Ready,. set, go

Hello website: pretty simple to find and know I'm in the right place. Hmm... side bar has a lot of options but I think I'll go for the signature “crystal apple”.


Next step:

I need to match the product to it's recipient. My favorite teacher is a high school guidance counselor who is under the stress of carrying out what they refer to as ObamaCore (Common Core) guidelines. There is some change to be grappled with every day just with policies and procedures, let alone the problems the students present. And for years she has volunteered many hours a week to teach a Bible class with over 100 women attending. I want her to have something truly beautiful that will lift her spirits (and everyone else's) every time it's seen. I'm choosing the diamond cut apple. It will catch the light - the product description gives me a good idea of what it will look like on her desk. A note appears telling me that this is a unique item made exclusively by Apple Awards. I love it.



I do a “one click” and my available lines of engraving appear with choices of font and letter size. I'm happy to be able to play around with the arrangement and see a preview of the label every time I change it. We are good to go here.



The website prompts help me navigate through payment, billing and shipping information. As I do the final “submit” a note pops up, asking me to click only once and then be patient while the server responds. Good to know.



Within minutes I have a confirmation email with greetings from Stacy Hessel, the customer service specialist. My order number and an estimated shipping date are included. A short sentence encourages me to present questions or concerns and because her sign off signature includes “with smiles”,  I think she means it.


 My friend Joy is a special person in my life right now, and although I can't afford to buy something of this quality for everyone who fits that description, I know this will make a statement to Joy that will be worth every penny.

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I Value You

b2ap3_thumbnail_awesome.jpgSo, don't we all want to hear that?  How valuable we are to some person, place or organization? Didn't it start when you were a kid wanting to hear from a parent that you were great and that they loved you? Or maybe even before then - like in the crib?  It's possible because we are born looking for approval and some people clash with and agonize over that drive their whole lives. 

 Recognition is a big deal these days. Thinking about this topic, I found articles all over the internet about recognition and it's value to organizations and businesses.  For instance, take Nordstrom department store. I have a family member who has been employed by them for over ten years.  I mark her journey with this company by the many phone calls and texts -

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG954720.jpg "mom, I got manager of the month",

"my department was highest in sales!",

"mom, there was a ceremony and the whole department was there".

"this happened today" 

It's been pretty obvious that this company has developed a whole culture around recognition. They do it because it is necessary for employee satisfaction and retention. 

 Satisfaction and retention, think about that...  Maybe we should have more of that "culture of recognition" in our work lives, in our educational institutions and maybe even in our families.  Who can you recognize and commend today?

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How Do You Like Them Apples?

b2ap3_thumbnail_20140527_134203_20140619-123645_1.jpg(Excuse my grammar.) Your next question after "how do you like them?" might be "why would someone  want to have one?" Forget about mother Eve - she shouldn't have wanted the apple she got - and don't ask Snow White either, poor thing. So how has the apple come to be a symbol of excellence and accomplishment in education? Good question.


Since Apple Awards as a business focuses on awards for educators of all varieties let's look at some of the traditions behind the "apple for the teacher" angle.  


Some sources say that as early as the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries people who taught and were poorly paid sometimes received their wages in the form of food items – primarily potatoes and apples. I guess if an apple a day really does keep the doctor away that would have been a pretty good deal. By the late 1800's it was a popular custom in the U.S. to give an apple to the teacher on the first day of school, but now it was more a token of appreciation for their services. It's continued into the 20th and 21st centuries – a custom we share with other countries (Denmark and Sweden). The apple must be a beauty and freshly polished.


Of course there are always those who would use the token for their own advancement – hence the term “apple polisher” came into use in the 1920's. When you learned your alphabet, what did “A” stand for? Not arugula, not acrobat, not airplane... yup, apple. So if you wanted an A grade in your schoolwork you might try bribing the teacher with an apple, if you were that kind of student.


And to prove the apple's popularity to coerce, in 1939 out came the song “An Apple for the Teacher” sung by Bing Crosby for the film “The Star Maker”. 



Somewhere along that timeline the apple also became a symbol of growth and change, which is one of the primary goals of education. What better gift for a talented, inspiring teacher than an enduring, beautiful apple for their desk (won't rot or wither, no worms...)





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The Story Behind It All


b2ap3_thumbnail_20140527_135215_resized.jpgAn Entrepreneurial Tale

Entrepreneur, a very big word for someone who sees a need and proceeds with an idea to fill it. That's exactly how Apple Awards began.

Seeing the Need

Coach Dennis Smith got tired of traveling 60 miles to get awards and trophies for his athletes and teams that needed recognition – there was a need for something closer in northern Wisconsin where everything is pretty far from everything else. The idea was to start a small trophy and engraving business. The process began with purchasing a used engraving machine and finding a place to do business. Since he didn't have a garage to make famous (this is not Apple Computer), he started out in the pro shop of Roynona Creek Golf Course in Hayward, Wisconsin. The small, multi-tasking staff was either selling hot dogs and drinks to golfers or setting up an engraving plate.

The Early Years

Business was purely local in the early 1990's, before an easily accessed internet. But work increased enough that it was necessary to get a laser printer for metal plates and to computerize the engraving machine. Dennis continued to learn the business via membership in the professional association, now called the ARA, Awards and Recognition Association. A marriage to wife Mary Pat in 1994 moved his venture into the area of “family business” and a relocation to a store front in town in 1995 gave it the name “Special Moments”.

The Apple Takes Over

One day in 1998, sitting in a local cafe, Dennis learned about a business for sale called Apple Awards. They marketed trophies and awards for educators through their catalog which had national coverage. He bought the business and set about increasing the coverage. Friends and family helped with mass mailings to schools and businesses. By 2001, more space was needed so the business, now with three employees moved back to a new building on the family golf course. Marketing efforts through the first website gradually increased orders and by 2008 the catalogs were phased out entirely. The focus of the business had narrowed to a couple specialties, the crystal apple and the brass bell.

Challenges Continue with Growth

The challenge of the next few years was finding reliable vendors who could produce quality items. Whenever possible products were U.S. made, but as demand increased some items were sourced overseas. Dennis and family traveled to India to visit workplaces and meet vendors, always looking for workplace safety and quality control.

Today on the Internet

Since early 2014 a new updated website lists a wide variety of awards with specialty engraving and etching, making it a top rated source for businesses, educational institutions and personal recognition items. In house, the goal is that three pairs of eyes inspect each item before shipping and personal customer service is a top priority for Dennis and his six person staff at Apple Awards. 


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