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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?

Think Pink

Pink has been showing up everywhere the last few years.  I first was inundated with pink before, during and after the 2008 Breast Cancer 3 Day Walk.  I got a pink jacket, a pink umbrella, pink pins, hair bands and well, just about anything there was came in pink. I got some very pink blisters on my feet before I finished the 60 miles.  Advances have been made in treating breast cancer since then but there is still a lot of research to be funded.


In the world of apples, the Pink Lady has become widely available in the fall.  And available all year around, is the Apple Awards Pink Crystal Apple.  With all the beauty and charm of the original crystal apple, plus a subtle pink hue that sets it apart, this apple is joining the fundraising effort for breast cancer research.  Apple Awards will donate 10% of annual sales of the pink apple to the fight to end breast cancer.  

There aren't many of us who haven't felt the impact of breast cancer in one way or another. We all know a friend, a family member, someone at work or school who has gone through the rigors of cancer and it's therapy.  Ownership and staff at Apple Awards is no exception to this and it is with eagerness that this project has been developed and offered.  It is our hope that many of our customers will consider whether the pink crystal apple would be an appropriate choice for their awards needs. Let's just think pink.  





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What They Were Really Doing, Part 2


It's been a month since the boss went away on vacation and i dropped in to see what went on in his absence (see post All in Fun) He's been back for a while now and today he was busy plowing a foot of clean, white snow from the Apple Awards parking lot. Winter cold has descended. But inside the workplace it is warm and busy. One of the warmest commodities is the customer service offered by all working there. Let me give an example.


Apple Awards has gone through several transformations to become what it is at present. In a former stage, in a different location and under the business name Precious Moments, it offered services and products to clients which it has phased out and no longer offers or advertises. Long term employee Stacey had helped a particular client with a complicated, recurring order and had gotten to be a valuable resource for the client.


What to do when the business decision was made not to solicit time intensive orders of this kind any more? Well, you continue to work with a client who has come to depend on your expertise. Every year since, Stacey has worked to fill this order, not only to supply product, but also conferring with the client and helping to organize the order and making sure it is accurate. I happened on Stacey a few weeks ago as she was wrapping up the order – it was her project and she cheerfully explained why she was doing it. It is just the way Apple Awards treats their customers. And that is one of the reasons it is nice and warm inside Apple Awards, in every way.  


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What They Were Really Doing: Part 1

As promised, here's another peek behind the scenes as to what really happens at Apple Awards when the boss is gone (which, to his relief, is pretty much the same as what happens when he's there.) 


Several clipboards were up on the order board the day I dropped in.  Stacey, Kate and Bill were all occupied at their stations. I thought Kate's project was interesting and different from the "apple" theme I'd seen so often.  

She had a number of metal plates with scrolled edges lined up on her desk and was watching another one go through the laser engraver.  The plates were one element of retirement plaques being made for a major organization in the eastern U.S.  Each one was taking about 10 minutes to engrave and she had over 40 of them to do.  That's a lot of minutes.  



These plaques also had an emblem with a logo, that was to be applied to the circle on the metal plate.  And to finish, the metal plate was to be mounted on a dark walnut wooden base. The many details of this product took a lot of attention and focus (Kate's specialties).

All the information about this plaque, including its custom logo was digitally stored and will be available for future orders as well.  That is one of the conveniences that Apple Awards offers its customers, aiming to please, as usual. 


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All in Fun

October.  This is wedding anniversary month of Apple Award owners, Dennis and Mary Pat Smith.  One of their most appreciated business philosophies is that workers should have time off for creative refreshment and in setting an example they are celebrating their anniversary in a lovely location away from home.  I thought I'd check in to see what is going on at AA while the boss is gone...

I was surprised to find out that the Apple crew knows how to have fun at work especially  even when the boss is gone. "I am really busy right now," Stacey told me. "Got a special project."



Kate was busy too, evidently another special project that needed Stacey's assistance. 


Bill also was doing some... work? 


I was worried that maybe they needed some help, being that they were very "busy" and the phone was still ringing, the computer whirring and apples needing to be glued and polished.



b2ap3_thumbnail_20141016_115407_resized.jpgI did my best. (But you might want to check that one order because I'm not sure if they said 50 apples or 500, and they hung up on me rather quickly.)


All in fun.  Check my next post to find out what they were really doing. 

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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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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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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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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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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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