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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 1, 2016 4 years ago

Award worthy

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Building its own property, after years of holding off, and embracing efficiency have keyed recent growth at Tucker and Amy Alford's company. Another key: Never be afraid to ask for someone's business.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Sometimes a missed opportunity can lead to a better outcome.

That's the case for Tucker and Amy Alford, who had been looking to buy property for their engraving business, Venice-based Venwood Awards, since 2006. They came close to purchasing sites a few times, only to have the properties swooped up by someone else.

“But we're very happy that they were, because we made a better decision in losing out on those opportunities,” says Tucker Alford.

Those unsuccessful attempts meant the couple was able to buy an open parcel on U.S. 41 in Venice in 2011, when prices were at lower post-recession levels. And, with an investment of more than $500,000, and four more years of patience, they built a modern, efficient space that's helped grow their business.

Venwood Awards has been around for four decades and has been located in both Venice and Englewood over the years. When the Alfords bought the business in 2001, it was based out of the previous owner's home. They moved it to Lemon Bay Plaza in Englewood, where they stayed until June 2015.

Then they made the move to their new space, where sales have blossomed. While the business already drew most of its customers from Venice, Englewood and North Port, Alford says it has acquired a lot of new Venice customers since the move. Sales rose 20% in May 2016 over May 2015, for example.

The Alfords bought Venwood Awards after they graduated from college, when they were living and working in Connecticut. They came to Florida in search of a warmer climate and the opportunity to build their own business. “We weren't too concerned with taking a chance because we were 21 years old,” says Alford. “There was a lot less risk for us at 21 than there would have been later on in life.”

On the new property, the couple started out building a 1,500-square-foot space for them along with 1,300- and 1,200-square-foot units to rent out. But they wound up partnering with another business, Advocate Health, splitting ownership of the building 50-50. Advocate Health uses the two other spaces as one open office, but the units have separate plumbing and wiring and could be divided back into two spaces.

Now the Alfords are focused on continuing to grow the business, made easier by faster, more efficient equipment. “Speed is probably the biggest advantage that we have now,” says Alford. “From 2001 to 2016, we can do jobs much quicker and do multiple jobs at the same time. While we've kept our costs the same or even lower, we've increased our profits
because we do things so much faster.”

They can produce several thousand name badges a month for customers such as car dealerships, nursing homes and fraternal organizations like the Elks, along with trophies for everything from Little League to Venice youth soccer programs. Most clients place regular seasonal or annual orders with the business.

“We're always on the lookout for long-term customers who are going to do repeat business with us,” says Alford. “Any time we go out to eat, any time we buy a car, basically any time we have the opportunity, we ask to speak with a manager and see if we can offer them a sample. And surprisingly, it works the vast majority of the time.”

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