Meet Judi Brown of the Transportation Club of Tacoma. She’s a great representation of a family run business in our community. I met Judi at the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation some years ago. I don’t even recall why I was there, but I remembered her smiling face. Judi is always friendly and always smiling.
Since 1926, the Transportation Club of Tacoma centers on building bridges within the transportation industry while at the same time serving Tacoma and Pierce County communities through our charitable work. The TCT is made up of hundreds of professionals in the transportation industry, those who regularly use transportation services for their livelihood, as well as people who have an interest in local and global transportation and logistics. Membership includes diverse companies large and small including: railroads; steamship lines; trucking companies; warehousing and distribution; cold storage; terminal managers; coffee roasters; paper manufacturers; confectioners; freight forwarders; commercial real estate; banking; consulting; education; and Trophies.
In 2005, with retirement from active duty less than a year away for Judi’s husband, DJ Brown started seriously considering his options for the future. At that time, DJ served as a Zone Supervisor for Navy Recruiting District San Francisco in Oakland, California. He and Judi, lived in San Mateo, California, and celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary that June.
DJ spent 14 of his 20 years in the Navy as a recruiter. He originally trained and worked aboard aircraft carriers as an aviation electrician on the Navy’s A-6 Intruders, stationed out of NAS Whidbey Island. As a recruiter, DJ lived and worked in Kalispell, Montana; Kent, Washington; New Orleans, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; and the San Francisco Bay area. Throughout DJ’s career, Judi, who graduated from the University of Montana with a BA in Journalism, worked a variety of jobs, but spent many years in the nonprofit sector, working for grant-making foundations. DJ decided early in his thought process that he wanted to work for himself, but doing what? And where? Both DJ and Judi grew up in Montana (DJ in Missoula and Judi in Butte) but neither wanted to retire in Montana. The couple liked the years they lived in Washington and decided to return to the Pacific Northwest.
For several months, the couple researched various franchise businesses and even completed paperwork to purchase a franchise but ultimately abandoned that idea. With that retirement date edging nearer, DJ and Judi attended a franchise show they saw advertised in local media. At that event, they met the owner of a company that offered, not a franchise business, but instead a piece of equipment that could serve as the foundation for a home-based personalization business. The equipment, a hot-foil press, enabled users to create imprinted napkins, matchbooks, playing cards, greeting cards and invitations, as well as to imprint bibles, binders, product boxes and more. In January 2006, DJ officially retired from the US Navy, and the couple moved to Mill Creek, Washington, renting a house they saw only online, with the intention of building a business around this press, once they learned how to use it. The couple chose Getting Personal Imprinting LLC as the name for the business.
From the beginning, DJ and Judi realized the value of networking to promote and grow their business. They joined the Everett Chamber of Commerce, they joined BNI and they participated in every community fair and festival they could to advertise their business. They talked to a lot of other business owners they met along the way and learned about trade shows to attend, among a lot of other valuable information related to running a business. During that first year in business, DJ and Judi purchased new equipment, allowing them to add photos to various gift items, they established relationships with suppliers, and they also met the man who managed temporary vendor scheduling inside the PX and BX at JBLM. For many months, the couple lived in Mill Creek and drove to and from JBLM every day where they set up as temporary vendors on kiosks in the shopping areas. In 2007, seeing more opportunities for growing the business in Pierce County, the couple moved to Lakewood. For a short time, they operated out of a small in-line store at the McChord BX.
In 2008, naively oblivious to all else that was going on in the world economically, the couple left the confines of the PX and rented retail space on Motor Avenue in Lakewood. During that year, DJ convinced Judi he really needed a laser engraver as customers repeatedly asked for engraved items. DJ taught himself the software required to operate the laser engraver and slowly built his skill and knowledge by engraving a wide variety of items.
As their one-year lease on the Motor Avenue space came to an end, the couple decided to look for a better location for the business. They found space in Parkland, on Garfield Street, just down the street from Pacific Lutheran University. The business flourished, with engraving and, ultimately, trophies and awards the most requested products. In 2011, the couple officially registered Tacoma Trophy as the trade name for the business.
Later in 2011, property developers purchased the building where they operated the business and the Browns needed to find a new retail space. The couple moved the business back to Lakewood in 2012, this time to Steilacoom Boulevard. The business continued to grow, and the Browns hired their first employees. After three years at the Steilacoom Boulevard location, the Browns faced another move following unsuccessful lease negotiations with the building owner.
In June 2015, DJ and Judi moved Tacoma Trophy one more time, to 4021 100th St SW in Lakewood. Nearly six years later, the company continues to grow and evolve, but intends to remain in this location for many more years.
Today, DJ and Judi Brown own the largest trophy and engraving store in the South Puget Sound. They employ 10 people, they support a variety of local nonprofit organizations, including the American Legion, Navy League and Rebuilding Together South Sound. While DJ coordinates most of the production that occurs in the store and sales of commemorative/challenge coins, Judi manages the administrative and marketing functions of the business, as well as promotional product sales. The couple continues to rely on networking as the centerpiece of their marketing activity. Judi belongs to the Transportation Club of Tacoma, Business and Professional Women, AAUW, and Ignite U. Tacoma Trophy maintains active memberships in four area chambers of commerce and the Master Builders Association of Pierce County.
The Lakewood Chamber of Commerce awarded Tacoma Trophy as its 2018-2019 Business of the Year, and most recently, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce presented Tacoma Trophy with its Spotlight on Business Award as the 2021 Business Supporter of the Military. DJ and Judi still own that original foil press they purchased in 2005. They don’t use it, but it serves as a fantastic symbol of where they started and how far they’ve come.
Judi says, “I joined the Transportation Club in 2016. Then and now, I see it as a great opportunity to learn more about the shipping and transportation industries and to meet people in business who I don’t have the opportunity to see anywhere else.
For more than half of the 16+ years we’ve been in business, I’ve also worked full time for other organizations, including Pierce Transit, College Success Foundation, and Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. Since November 2019, I’ve devoted all my time and attention to Tacoma Trophy. Our store is open six days a week. DJ and I are at the store six days a week. On Sundays, when the store is closed, we stay home, but often find ourselves working then too. DJ makes many of the wooden display stands and some custom awards in his wood shop and Sundays are the only day available for those projects. While we like to travel, and we’ve enjoyed cruise vacations to the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Mexico, these days we tend to get away only to attend industry trade shows and events.”
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.