PB-trophies - 0978

When Ray Sonshein took a job at his dad’s trophy business 26 years ago, the company sold mostly plaques and the little plastic trophies that line the shelves of young ballplayers.

Sonshein still stocks those youth league baseball and basketball trophies topped with players kicking soccer balls or swinging baseball bats, but he says they now make up only a tiny fraction of his business. These days, Metro Trophy Co. sells primarily the sorts of trophies that go to men and women, rather than boys and girls.

“We still do [sports] trophies,” Sonshein said, “but that’s not our focus. … We’ve moved away from Little Leagues and schools and moved to corporate awards – employee recognition and sales awards.”

Sonshein’s business has gone corporate. Metro Awards nowadays sells the kind of plaques, trophies and desktop knicknacks that corporate managers and business owners hand out to recognize good work by their employees.

In the showroom in the front of his Sandy Springs-based business, walls and shelves are crowded with awards made of crystal, wood or polished metal and engraved with corporate logos. Plastic sports trophies take up only a single, small shelf at the rear of the store.

“It’s a lot different than it was 20 to 30 years ago. The business community is using these types of things — and recognition — as a motivational tool, which is important. Over the last 20 years, the designs have become much nicer, much more distinctive. I think it’s a combination of the fact that recognition is a more widely used tool [in corporate settings], along with the ability to provide something that’s personalized and unique [as a keepsake].”

Corporations, he said, have discovered that employees respond to being noticed and honored for their work, he said. “The value of an award is it stays out there,” he said. “No salesman wants to be the top producer because we put that on a plaque, but because he wants that recognition. In business today, [recognition] is a tool. It really has value.”

At the same time, the awards themselves have changed. He still offers loving cups and wall plaques, but there are colorful crystal or polished metal awards that look more like desktop sculptures than prizes. “The industry has become a lot more sophisticated, with computers and lasers,” he said. “There’s a lot more creativity in making the products. … The products we sell now usually are much more impressive than they used to be.”

They cost more, too. Sonshein says prices can run from $25 up to hundreds of dollars, depending on the trophy. “From time to time, you can have a special award that can run $1,000 a unit, but that’s the exception,” he said.

As his customers change, Sonhsein’s business is changing in other ways, too. When he started working with his dad at the company’s shop, then on Cheshire Bridge Road, he recalls that it was just the two of them and they barely had enough room to move around. Sonshein said space was so tight he had to stand up at his desk every time his dad, Irv Sonshein, needed to walk past.

Now the company employs three full-timers and a part-timer, he said, and the back shop has room for computers, computer-operated lasers and a sandblaster with its own room.

And where the trophy business once was a drop-by-the-shop kind of enterprise, where customers knew their trophy providers personally, the business now is moving to the Internet.

In December, Sonshein plans to roll out a new Metro Awards website he says will act more like an online store than just a place to see his wares. “The website will function more like a selling tool,” he said. “We used the website more like a catalog, instead of a free-standing store.”

Still, the basics count. Even as technology and a changing customer base retools the kinds of awards his company sells and how it sells them, all values count, too.

“You what the most important thing about any award is?” he asked. “Spelling the person’s name right. It’s the first thing they look for.”

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.