Morning Journal Article

Awesome job: Avon Lake company provides custom embroidery

By ADAM MAWSON

AVON LAKE — Bobby Colagross loves his job and he has his wife to thank for it.

Bobby Colagross Awesome WaresColagross, along with his wife, Elizabeth, are the owners and the CEO and president, respectively, of Awesome Wares. The company provides custom embroidered apparel and promotional items to Fortune 500 companies, local organizations and anything in between.

The company was originally started in 1982 by a close friend of Elizabeth Colagross’ parents named Trish Aussem. According to Bobby Colagross, Aussem made an embroidered baby blanket with the baby’s name and birthday as a gift for a friend. Elated, the friend told Aussem she should sell the blankets for a living

“Eventually, she started doing the blankets out of her home,” he said.

Colagross said his wife bought the company, which made embroidered baby gift packages including an embroidered blanket, teddy bear and CD in 2003. He said his wife originally had the intention of using the company as a way to make money from home while she was pregnant.

“My wife, in the first year having the business at home while on bed rest, she more than doubled it,” he said. “The second year, while on bed rest with our second child, we almost tripled it.”

The business continued to grow, operated from their home in Avon. In 2004, they started embroidering clothing for schools and organizations. Colagross meanwhile continued to work his regular 9 to 5 job at a software company and would help his wife with the children and doing the books during nights and weekends.

“As it continued to explode and grow, I got to where I was coming home and working an additional 30, 40 hours a week,” he said. “We kind of decided to take a leap of faith.”

In 2006, Colagross quit his own job and began working for Awesome Wares full time — a decision he has never regretted.

“As I went from career to career I wished I was someone who loved what they did,” he said. “I always liked what I did, but I didn’t love it. What I realized, is that running a business is what really lights me up. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Now the company has grown to a full scale promotional company, supplying shirts, apparel, mugs, hats, pens, key chains, signs and much more.

“If you can put a logo on it, we’ll do it,” Colagross said.

Of course, Awesome Wares still supplies their original custom baby baskets as well.

About a year and a half ago, the company moved to its 1,700-square-foot facility at 32961 Pin Oak Parkway, Avon Lake, and has five full-time employees. Colagross estimates that Awesome Wares offers 1.2 million different items and has sold between 300,000 and 350,000 different individual pieces in 2010.

Colagross said many embroidery companies subsist mainly with sub-contract relationships with brokers working out of a home office who buy the embroidery company’s products and send them to companies. One of the ways Awesome Wares stands out is by doing its own production and dealing with the buyers directly.

It seems to be working. Awesome Wares provides items to local schools, athletic teams and small businesses but also counts large companies on their clientele list including Home Depot, Key Bank, GlaxoSmithKline, Lake Erie Crushers, Black Box, Huntington Bank, PNC Bank and others.

In 2010, Awesome Wares was the second place winner for established companies in the annual Golden 30 business recognition awards sponsored by The Morning Journal and others. The Advertising Specialty Institute, which Colagross says governs businesses in his industry, also surprised him with additional proof of the company’s success.

“Of the 90,000 distributors worldwide, it was determined that Awesome Wares was the fifth fastest growing in the world,” he said. “That’s incredible growth that we’ve gone through. We feel very proud of that to represent this area.”

And Colagross sees even more growth for Awesome Wares on the horizon.

“We’re going to continue to grow,” he said, explaining the plan is for the facility and employees to double in size during the next two years And I’d like to get quite a bit larger than that over the next five years.

“There’s talk about franchising,” he added. “I’d like to open some offices in other parts of the country.”

Colagross also pointed out that does not mean the local home office will close. His planned franchises will be sales offices and the production will still be done in Northern Ohio.

For more information on Awesome Wares, visit their website at www.awesomewares.com.

(This article was published in The Morning Journal on 01/02/2011)