by Kathryn Millhorn • Photos by Shanna Paxton Photography
Life’s crazy journey is full of ups, downs, and unpredictable moments. Any business that survives for 50 years deserves to be celebrated, praised, and studied by entrepreneurs everywhere. Olympia’s TAGS Awards & Specialties is one such icon making a positive mark in the community since 1972. Owner Denise Sawatzky and husband Rob have produced promotional items, rubber stamps, name badges, personalized gifts, and engraved pieces since becoming the store’s fourth owners in 2018. But its long history keeps it an important destination for clubs, groups, teams, and organizations throughout our region.
“TAGS has always been very strong in providing trophies, awards, medals, gifts, and more,” says Sawatzky. “We continue to be strong in this for private companies, government agencies, and school districts, but we have seen a huge upside to the apparel and promotional item business. This will definitely become a driving force as we develop new technologies in-house and outsource to help us increase revenue and continue to build the business in the future.”
“Rob and I believe that with most businesses, success is ultimately the result of a great staff, customer service and hard work by everybody,” says Denise. “The staff at TAGS truly has become like a family unit. They love to help each other and see the success of the business increase over time. We have also introduced a profit-sharing program with the staff in order to help motivate them to take the customer service and the quality of production to a whole new level. It has been fun to watch them learn and grow in their craft.”
As with most businesses these days, gone are standard Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 shifts and old ways of employee recruitment. Staff involvement and employer flexibility open things up with very positive benefits. “Working outside regular business hours at times during the year has become necessary,” says Sawatzky. “And hiring somebody new is certainly about a good fit. We are careful to screen and look for those who want to be part of a team, have some skill sets and are also willing to cross-train to learn new skill sets.”
“We have tried to let revenues drive hiring but also want to offer our employees overtime if they wish to work extra hours, and the workload justifies the extra hours,” she continues. “We are also excited to be exploring internship programs for high school students and others which may allow us to have greater participation in connecting the world of work outside of school to career and technical education in the schools. This will be a great opportunity to train up future employees and help them build new skills at the same time, not to mention extra sets of hands to help during our busiest times…Win, Win, Win.”
Though they don’t currently have an intern/trainee on staff, Sawatzky says they are working with Marquita Himes with the Thurston County Chamber on launching the summer internship program with their help, training and guidance. “That said,” she continues, “we have had two of our own kids, while going to college be ‘interns’ part-time for the past few summers.”
TAGS is a women-owned business as Sawatzky is currently applying to be designated a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and certified with the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises (OMWBE). “As we move into our next 50 years of business, we anticipate large growth,” she explains. “We believe that we have only scratched the surface of expanding our reach throughout the United States. We also want to continue to be involved in the community and increase our connection as we continue to develop positive, impactful partnerships.”
If you’re looking for personalized items, give TAGS a call at 360.491.2525 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out their new website for an Amazon-like shopping experience. They can help find just the right materials and even provide insight into running a successful, mindful business in an ever changing world. Since 1972, few things have remained the same. But a dedication to hard work, customer satisfaction, and industry innovation never go out of style.