- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

SUMTER, S.C. (AP) - When Allen and Victoria Bailey bought C.A. Harler Trophies & Engraving LLC three years ago, they thought their business would be about, well, trophies.

They soon found out there was much more to it than plated statues of sports figures.

“We have a significant amount of things like memorial plaques for funeral homes, and it’s things like that we never had any idea we would be doing,” Allen said. “That’s what keeps our doors open.”

“It’s as much gifts and plaques as it is trophies,” Victoria said.

Allen said they were looking to take on a business that was already established locally when they learned Harler Trophies was available.

“The business has been in Sumter for about 32 years,” Allen said. “It has been at this location about 12 years.”

They decided to jump in.

“We had no knowledge of the trophy business,” Allen said.

They had to learn quickly, as they bought the business right in the middle of the March-through-July busy season, he said.

“We were thrown to the wolves,” Victoria said.

Eventually, they learned to love it.

“Being part of giving something to someone that says ‘You are doing a super job’ makes us happy,” Victoria said.

“We married, and then we closed on the shop two weeks later,” she said. “It must have just been right where we were meant to be.”

Part of what makes it work is they work well together, she said.

“At some things he shines and I am terrible at and vice versa, so it kind of has a natural mix to it,” she said.

Allen said they both like people, and he loves being able to work with so many of the area’s people and organizations.

“We talk to so many different people in the community - from schools to funeral homes to every agency; it is just a wonderful thing,” he said. “We feel like we know everybody in Sumter or, if we don’t, we know somebody who knows ‘em.

“That is both of our passions, people and service, and it fits well.”

While the business has grown since they acquired it, they said, the business can be dependent on the economy.

“We are a luxury item. When money is tight, trophies are the first thing to go,” Victoria said.

“Unfortunately, trophies and things like that are one of the first things off of military budgets or school budgets,” Allen said.

As the economy has improved, however, the business has kicked into gear, he said.

“We’ve had some accounts re-open that had been closed,” he said. “Now they are coming back and saying ‘Hey we got our money again.’”

Allen said their products range from about $5 for an engraved key chain to more than $400. The customers are just as varied, he said.

“Some people come in and they want the cheapest trophy they can get because they can’t stand giving everybody a trophy, and you have other people come in who want the most extravagant thing you can come up with,” he said.

“Some customers come in and say ‘Give me exactly what you did last year,’ and some come in and want absolutely something different every time,” Allen said. “It makes it fun and challenging, but we have to stay on our toes.”

He said they both like to be involved in the community, and one way they do that is donating a trophy each year to Sumter public high schools so they can award the Mary McCloud Bethune award.

“It’s awarded to a student who is community minded and community oriented,” he said. “The high schools pick the winners and they get an award and a scholarship.”

The store is located at 703 Bultman Drive at the corner Wise Drive, which Allen called the “perfect location.”

“We are a true mom-and-pop operation,” Victoria said. “Sometimes we may have a doctor’s appointment, and we will have to lock the doors and leave a sign for an hour or two.”

They said one of their commitments is to never tell a customer “no.”

“If we tell them ‘no,’ where are they going to go?” Allen asked. “Wherever they go, that is where they are going to continue to go.”

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Information from: The Sumter Item, https://www.theitem.com

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