House of Trophies has been serving the Boyle Heights community and beyond for 25 years. /Photo by Robinson Ramos.
And this past spring, House of Trophies, which operates in a small storefront, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Yet even as the store celebrates this milestone, the owners admit the business has faced its share of challenges, including changes in ownership, new competition and financial ups and downs.
Last year, House Of Trophies suffered the loss of its biggest client. For the last five years, the small shop would provide nearly 80 percent of awards given out by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. This included trophies and plaques for all sports recreations teams around the city.
Losing its biggest client
When Anderson Trophy in the San Fernando Valley got the contract instead, the shop lost nearly half of its income and was forced to make budget cuts. “We’ve cut down to a five-man crew. I’m going to cut one more. And taxes went up so much I can’t afford it. We’re going to have to work more,” says Saúl González, who owns the store with a partner. He had 10 staff members just six months ago.
A slow economy has also changed the way many teams buy trophies. Gonzales says medals and plaques have replaced some larger trophies and statues. Last year, he says, “I think I sold over 20 or 30 thousand medals.”
Gonzales says different organizations tend to buy different things, “Traditional companies tend to go with plaques,” he said. “Law enforcement goes for stars. Teachers usually go for little things like medals.”
A classic small business story
González, 37, grew up in Aliso Village in Boyle Heights and has been working at the shop since he was in middle school. “I started working here part time after school, sweeping,” he says. “I was already selling plaques in the 7th grade.”
House of Trophies opened in 1988 under the name Casa Prieto Trophies. It was a partnership between Pedro Prieto and Joe Campos. Campos had worked for the Dodge Trophy and Awards Company, which used to produce the Oscar. In 1992, Campos bought out Prieto, and the store became House of Trophies. Gonzáles then became a partner with Campos.
Two years later, Prieto, who already had a uniform shop a few doors down, transformed his store into a sporting goods store that also sells trophies.
González says House of Trophies has continued to concentrate on what the business does best. “We’re going to do one thing, that’s our motto,” said González, adding that this means providing “the best customer service, best quality, best price.”
Customer service is key
The Internet has changed the way the small store does business, but González said he still relies largely on word of mouth from satisfied customers.
Customers seem to agree. San Cristobal, a 40-year-old Boyle Heights resident, has been going to House of Trophies for six years to buy trophies for his soccer league. He says that he returns because of the service.
Raúl Rodríguez has been a customer for the last three years. While there are trophy shops in the San Fernando Valley, where he lives, he likes the service and quality of the trophies at House of Trophies.
Personal attention from the owners has resulted in return customers and some high-level referrals. When Mexican singer Jenny Rivera died suddenly last December, the shop received an order for a plaque. González said he was honored to be personally involved and told his family, “See that? I made that!”
Other celebrities, such as George López, Magic Johnson and Oscar de La Hoya, have visited, and the shop has sold trophies and plaques to dignitaries and politicians, including former President George W. Bush and former Mexican President Vicente Fox, as well as Major League Baseball athletes and professional soccer players.
While the small store has international clients, most of its business is from returning local customers. “A lot of the church groups, they’re the ones that keep me going,” says González.
Campos died a few years ago, but González said his legacy can be felt in the store’s business practices.
According to González, Campos used to say when you lost a customer, “Don’t worry about it when they leave. You smile, say thank you, say we’ll see you again one day, and they’ll come back.”
*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the shop received an order from Jenny Rivera’s family for a plaque for her urn. The story has been updated to read the House of Trophies received an order for a plaque.