A BEAUtiful Tribute: Man dedicates business to memory of son
By Stephanie Stanley For the News Watchman The Pike County News Watchman
Over a year ago, Allan Szoke lived every parent’s nightmare.
On October 18, 2012, Szoke’s children, Skye and Beau, were on the way to school. About five minutes from home, Skye lost control of her car, striking a tree on the passenger side. As a result, Beau was tragically killed.
“You have to understand that Beau and I loved sports, and for this reason we were together all of the time and were very close,” said Szoke, of Waverly. “I coached him in everything all of his life, and I participated in everything he was involved in. After the accident, I was out of work for three months, grieving.”
While off work, Szoke became restless and began spending many hours each night researching small businesses and pondering ways that he could pay tribute to his late son.
“I wanted to think of something that I could do to not only honor Beau, but also to keep me busy so that I wouldn’t sit around crying,” said Szoke. “My girlfriend read that it is good to do something positive during difficult times, so she came up with the idea of the “RUN4BEAU” 5K that took place around his birthday. We worked together on this, and even though his birthday was a difficult day, we were so busy working on something positive that it did help us, and it helped Pike County graduates with scholarship monies.”
In the first year, the 5K race raised enough funds to allow Szoke to give six $1,000 scholarships to Pike County seniors.
“It felt so good to give back to the people who helped us in so many ways,” said Szoke.
These days, Szoke is creating unique products that capture the spirit of athletes and coaches, items that become one-of-a-kind gift items for locals.
“When I came up with the idea, I studied the business plan. My girlfriend, Martha, and I decided to purchase the ball press, printer and all of the tools necessary to launch our business,” said Szoke. “After getting my equipment in April 2013, she and I drove to Kansas for a three day training course on how to use the press and operate the design software. Our business specializes in player and coach awards for every sport from basketball to water polo. If there’s a ball involved, we can put the kid’s or coaches picture on it, along with player or coaching stats.”
According to Szoke, the business, Beautifully Done Graphics, also offers hockey pucks, golf balls, bowling balls, and seasonal Christmas ornaments.
“The ornaments were a big hit this year,” said Szoke. “A lot of customers have had loved ones pass away, and they can put their picture on the bulb so they can be on their tree during the holidays.”
Szoke says the “beauty of the business” is that it is always changing.
“Every season brings a different sport, and each year kids move on to the next level or are introduced into sports,” said Szoke. “During baseball season, we sell hundreds of baseballs and softballs. And of course, after every season it is time for awards. We make a lot of senior awards that look awesome in a trophy case and are personalized.”
All items are “priced to sell”, says Szoke.
“The smaller balls, such as baseballs and softballs are $20, while mini soccer, volleyball, footballs and basketballs are $25,” said Szoke. “We also offer full-size regulation balls with double white panels, so you can put a picture and stats on the ball. These full size balls are normally ordered for seniors. We offer team pricing for large orders. Most orders can be done the next day, or within two days, for large team orders. We also do fundraising for cheerleading and all sports teams.”
Four years ago, Szoke began coaching high school basketball. After a short while, Beau began accompanying him to most practices, becoming a “gym rat”.
“He couldn’t get enough of the gym, and I loved watching him grow and improve. I remember he used to ask me, ‘Dad, do you think I will be good enough to play college ball when I go to college?’. I always encouraged him and believed in all of his dreams. When I saw this opportunity to start this business, Martha though it was an awesome way to remember Beau, because he and I loved sports so much,” said Szoke. “For this reason, I wanted Beau to be a part of the business in every aspect. We thought of many names for the business, but finally Beautifully Done Graphics came to mind. I wanted the BEAU in all caps in blue, because blue was Beau’s favorite color.”
While Beautifully Done Graphics is mostly a home based business, Szoke says he and Martha do occasionally travel to baseball, basketball, volleyball and football tournaments, donating a portion of each sale to the league or sports organization.
“I love giving to fundraisers and helping the community. It’s the only way that Martha and I feel that we can pay-it-forward,” said Szoke. “The outpouring of support when Beau died was so amazing, we will be til death paying it forward, for a thank you just isn’t enough.”
Because each item is unique and features a one-of-a-kind design, Szoke says customers have been quick to offer positive feedback.
“As of right now, all of our advertising has been done by word-of-mouth,” he said. “The community has been so helpful in spreading the word about our business.”
Since launching the business on October 1, 2013, Szoke says he and his partner/girlfriend Martha have become a “very good team”.
“We have practiced and have become very good at operating our press. It has been challenging getting great photography shots with minimal knowledge of the photography business, however we are learning fast,” said Szoke. “We hope to have a website launched soon, so customers will be able to upload their sports picture, pay for it, and have it delivered right to their home. It is so rewarding to see the person’s face when they see the ball. They are always simply amazed that a picture could be on a real sports ball.”
Customers purchasing items from Beautifully Done Graphics are receiving a gift with their loved one’s image sealed onto the surface. Sealed inside business owner Allan Szoke’s mind are countless memories of a child gone too soon.
“Even more than seeing the faces of happy customers, I love explaining how the business started and talking about Beau,” said Szoke. “He was a tender, loving child who helped others and had no enemies. I will always treasure the priceless memories we shared. He was a beautiful blessing to me.”
Richard Kurtzman from Varsity Imprints sent in this article which speaks for itself:
Varsity Imprints teams up with their local newspaper, The Hour, to sponsor the Male and Female Athelete of the Week Award. Below is the article announcing the program, and a photo of me presenting the first award to the male recipient and an enlarged photo football. The program started this month and will continue throughout the school year, offering full sized balls with the athlete's photo printed on the ball of their sport.
Only been in business since April 1, but have really been enjoying the business.
Richard S. Kurtzman
See the full page newspaper article here - TheHourAward.pdf
Michael Howard had been working in corporate America for more than a decade when he decided to start his own business selling miniature replica football helmets. However, it wasn’t until he hooked up with BallStars in early 2005 that Howard was able to turn his business, Volunteer Collectibles, into a full-time job. “I needed more products and more sports to go full time,” he says. “BallStar’s 2200 manual system allowed me to do that by covering more sports, like basketball, golf, soccer, and volleyball.”
Howard’s home-based business provides balls and helmets to Georgia’s youth sports market, up to high- school age—mostly basketball, soccer, and football so far, although he’s pushing to increase sales in softball and volleyball. His clients include the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), for whom Volunteer Collectibles is the official licensee for commemorative logo balls.
“I do balls for the champions of each of their sports, and the organization gets a royalty for each ball sold with their logo on it,” Howard explains. “They help get the word out about my business via their Web site and monthly newsletters.”
Instead of giving trophies or plaques, many of Howard’s clients prefer commemorative championship balls that are decorated to the school’s specifications. Howard also does balls to be given as a Player of the Week award by team coaches. These tend to be generic without a photo or a name allowing Howard to deliver a full season of balls at one time. End-of-season commemorative balls tend to have a player’s name, individual photo, and position.
“I’ve done thousands of balls this year,” he says. “I went through 20 cases of mini soccer balls in two weeks. And I’ll sell more cases soon, as well. Things are going so well that I’m having growing pains. In the near future, I’ll be hiring a few sales reps.”
The BallStars’ system is easy to use, Howard says, and no training was required. “It’s simple,” he says. “I’ve only had a few questions, and when I call BallStars they were very helpful, no matter what I needed.”
A great niche Michael Howard developed is player of the week balls. He visited football coaches during the summer who would order enough balls for the season, which Howard then produced and delivered before school started.
Not all the balls Michael Howard sells have photographs. This speeds production while boosting profits.
Several nights a week, Michael Howard attends between one and three soccer games where he brings samples and talks to coaches about what he can offer.
Ballstars’ Ball Raises $2,500 For Foundation
Teams, schools, and other organizations are always looking for ways to raise funds to support their causes. What many Ballstars’ licensees have learned is a photo transfer ball makes a great fund-raiser because it is so unique and the ability to personalize each ball makes it much more appealing to people who are sick of buying popcorn, gift wrap, and candy to support their kid’s activities.
This is just one example of the many ways that Ballstars products can be used to promote worthy causes and raise revenue. Be aware of opportunities in your area where you can help organizations meet their fund-raising goals.
This football was used in a fund-raising auction held in Esterville, Iowa to benefit a foundation created in memory of a boy who drowned. It raised $1,200 at the auction and the Ballstars’ licensee later sold two more of the same ball.
The owners charged their normal price for the football, but included this beautiful oak display case at no extra charge. The oak display cases are also available from BallStars.
Entrepreneur Scores Big In Youth Sports Photography Market
For the past 22 years, Ray Bishop, president, Team Imaging, has been supplying youth sports photographers with a wide range of merchandise that displays individual and team photos. His business has grown to the point that in addition to his own sports photography company, Bishop Photo, he also supplies about 15 other large companies, who typically have more than 100 photographers working for each of them.
One of the reasons for Bishop’s success has been staying one step ahead of the competition with unique offerings. So when he learned about Ballstars’ personalized photo sports balls, he knew he had found another winner. “A lot of photography companies offer the same thing,” he says. “One of the greatest advantages that BallStars has provided is giving us a product that the competition didn’t have.”
Team Imaging offers photo merchandise for the most popular sports, but the majority of sales are in baseball, soccer, and football simply because, “we do more pictures for (these sports),” Bishop notes. All products are produced in the company’s 25,000-square-foot facility located in Bethlehem, Pa.
In addition to Ballstars’ photo sports balls, the company also offers photo baseball bats, mouse pads, mugs, T-shirts, caps, calendars, photo sculptures, matted photos, and trophy plaques. With nine offices spanning the East Coast from Boston to Orlando, Bishop estimates that the company sells thousands of photo balls each sports season. Since adding the sports balls three years ago, “Sales have been grown every year,” says Bishop.
The process Bishop has established for collection of orders is quick and hassle free. A league will call to set up a time to do photos. Up to 30 teams might be photographed in one day. Teams are scheduled 15 minutes apart. As parents arrive, they are handed an envelope with a list of photo packages and merchandise they can order. They fill out the order form, write a check, and orders are collected. Orders are delivered to Team Imaging, produced, and products are delivered within three weeks.
According to Bishop, getting set up with the Ballstars’ photo transfer ball system was easy. “We never attended any training. We did it over the phone,” he says. “It’s a pretty straight-forward operation.”
In addition to being happy with the success of Ballstars’ products, Bishop also notes that the company’s technical and customer service has been top notch. “The people I have worked with at Ballstars are extremely professional and courteous. They have been great. I would say out of the 100 suppliers we use, Ballstars has been the best to deal with,” says Bishop.
The Kearney High School Football Team won the Kansas Class 4A championship in 2002. One of our Licensees showed the Booster Club our full sized football with a picture of a football team on it. Everyone at the school loved it and decided to get one for every coach and have it autographed by each player.
The footballs were such a hit that the booster club decided to sell them as a fundraiser. By the time the booster club was finished, they had sold 110 footballs and had raised hundreds of dollars for the athletic program.
This has now been repeated in dozens of high schools around the country. Until now, no one believed that a high school could get their team photo on an autograph football. There are 15,000 high schools in the United States alone and only a few have yet to see our product. Think of the potential.
The Oregon Trail Junior High School Band is like most school bands in the country. They work hard all year with the hope that they can get selected for a parade in a major event such as a College Bowl Game.
Raising the funds for these trips is the responsibility of the parents and the booster club. No school district funds can be used. Candy, pizzas and car washes have all been used at one time or another with most schools trying to sell the same things.
It's now December 5th and their fundraising efforts were coming to and end and it looked like they were going to come up short of the total cost. One of the parents had seen the BallStars photo ornaments and suggested the band members show them to their neighbors and see if there was any interest. BallStars quickly put together a fundraising package for the band members along with a sample ornament for each member to carry and after just one week, the band had raised the rest of the money. The fundraising effort included an incentive for each band member: for every 10 ornaments they sold, the band member would get one free. Therefore there was a double incentive for each band member to get out and sell this new project.
There is no risk to the school or the band and the buyers actually get something they can keep and use for years to come.
BallStars has now developed a complete fundraising program for its Licensees that can replicate the success of the Oregon Trails Junior High School Band.
Contact BallStars: 800.237.0653
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