Every now and then people need an “Atta boy!” for their hard work, a well-won competition or even a personal accomplishment. Atta-Boy Awards specializes in giving everybody that little bit of recognition.
“There are no bad days in this business typically because you’re always dealing with people’s achievements,” said Bryan White, store owner. “Every single day, every award we make is going to be presented to somebody recognizing their achievements and so it’s a positive day every day at this business.”
Atta-Boy Awards has been a family business for over 43 years. It began in 1976, with engraving names and Alaska animals on knives, according to White.
“That’s all we did initially. That was just a hobby to get through the winter, something fun to do,” he said. “My dad started it. He taught all three of us kids to do it. My mom even helped out with that and then people would start bringing other things to us for engraving.”
The original craft started on Eielson Air Force Base, in the White family basement. The first storefront was in Moose Creek. According to White his father, Larry, retired from the Air Force in 1981, at which point the engraving business became a full time job. The shop moved to North Pole in 1986, where it still sits today on St. Nicholas Drive.
White and his wife, Maew, bought the business from his parents in 1998. It was the same year he and Maew married and the same year he left active duty in the military.
“In those early years when we bought the business because I was in the National Guard I was away for deployments and school. My dad would come and help Maew out from time to time, but it’s largely been Maew when I’ve been away who’s run the business along with a lot of help that we’ve hired over the years,” White said.
White retired after 31 years in the military this fall. His last flight was on Halloween, so the ground crew welcoming him back was in “Star Wars” costumes. Come November, he was back in Atta-Boy alongside Maew and longtime employee Jay Samuel.
The military isn’t far behind them, though. Among some of the awards waiting to be assembled and packaged one afternoon were plaques to award to graduates of an airman leadership school. Then there were plaques for high school athletes, some medallions in an Atta-Boy Awards bag and other pieces to be lasered and assembled.
Back when the shop started, White explained, you’d snap brass letters into a tray and use the engraving tool to trace them. Now computers can send the layout to lasers. The Whites have two laser engraving tools in their office, among trophy pieces and a huge inventory of wood for plaques.
They don’t get too many hand engraving requests anymore. People are generally more specific about what they want to have than how the engraving process goes, according to Samuel.
“So they’ll have something that they want to get engraved and they don’t really care how it’s done, they just want it to be on there,” Samuel said.
The specifics of what people want can get pretty detailed, too. With the software at their disposal, the staff are able to design and customize awards with different logos, fonts images and more.
Maew once used their technology to pixel by pixel recreate a photo that had been folded to the point of wearing out in order to turn it into a metal print for a customer. The photo was the last one taken of the customer’s son and grandson together. That endeavor didn’t involve any engraving.
“It’s a process called sublimation. The machine will print it out in color and then we burn it on a piece of aluminum,” she said.
Using special ink and paper, and a lot of heat, Maew explained, you can transfer an image to one of their products.
The industry has become much more personalized in the last decade, according to White, following the progress of the technology.
They’ve used the sublimation process to put photos of deceased pets on urns, but they’ve also engraved toilet seats. They’ve made plaques for the local fire chiefs and sent trophies to villages for softball tournaments. Even people who have moved out of state still contact them for a little Alaska flair.
“An Alaska gold pan is a big deal everywhere, you know,” White said. “So we can engrave those and send them out to folks.”
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.