Linda Dwyer, Trophy Wife.
Best title on a business card – ever. The owner of BayArea awards is as creative as she is innovative. It’s one of the reasons her business has survived a couple of recessions and the advent of a million trophy stores within a couple of keystrokes.
Linda, her husband Dennis, and her family have owned and operated BayArea Awards for almost 30 years in the middle of Niceville. She met her husband Dennis while she was at college at Abilene Christian University and he was training at Dyess Air Force Base. “The dorm mother at Abilene Christian said, ‘watch out for those flyboys and [I] said, ‘where are they?’” Dwyer remembered with a chuckle. After several decades in the Air Force – Dennis and Linda decided to retire to Niceville.
The Dwyers and their three daughters have built out the business after years of late nights screwing together little league trophies and framing going away gifts for airmen at Eglin Air Force Base.
In addition to trophies and awards, BayArea Awards makes and sells custom gifts from decorative pen holders to mugs. They build frames and shadow boxes – about 80% of their products get built, engraved or created in-house or by local artisans. Despite their emphasis on local, the business prides itself on making awards which are good enough to travel the globe.
Their 10-person staff makes the business possible but also allows for them to sponsor local events and teams. “We’re a 16 year sponsor for the Niceville High School football team, along with Accent Signs.”
Speaking of sponsorships, the Niceville Eagles’ football team is on a tear this year. They’ve won eight games and have a regular season finale at Navarre High School. As of this writing, they are playoff bound.
The team is a bit of a rallying point for residents’ affection for the town. So when the Eagles won a 13-9 nailbiter, Dwyer and Company made up some custom nail care kits on their machines at the shop to give to the fellas who broadcast the game live on the radio. They came in handy during the Eagles’ matchup against Mosley, where they sealed up their district title. The Dolphins had a commanding 14-point lead as the fourth quarter started. But the Eagles managed to put up 21 unanswered points on the board to come back and claim the win. After the game, the announcers Dwyer sponsors sent her a picture of themselves with their customized “In case of nail biter” kits.
BayArea Awards has had to stay competitive against big box store behemoths as the internet has made buying things much easier – especially after the COVID-19 pandemic stirred a spike in online buying. According to the US Census Bureau, the pandemic caused a 43% increase in online purchasing from 2019 – a total of $244 Billion.
Despite all of that competition from around the world, this is how BayArea Awards stays in business:
Dwyer and the staff at BayArea Awards give back through time and finances to the community. It’s the right thing to do – and it makes business sense. Although it might seem counterintuitive to some small business owners, their generosity is one of their points of differentiation between them and their main competition – every single trophy seller on the internet. “The hardest thing with the pandemic is that a lot of people have gotten used to buying online,” Dwyer said. “I mean, I did it this morning shopping for The Niceville Chamber’s Sequins and Suits. But when you start to look around, [local businesses like BayArea] are the ones who are contributing back to the community. You are not going to call Amazon and say, ‘hey, we hope you’ll sponsor our team.’”
Businesses that aren’t actively trying to grow are dead – but don’t know it yet. At least, that’s Linda’s philosophy. To that end, when a major manufacturer in the trophy industry stopped producing trophies entirely and pivoted to the production of gift items like personalized coffee mugs – BayArea rolled with the punches and bought some products. “To us, [the change] said that we need to explore that more,” said Dwyers daughter and BayArea Employee Jenna Fudge, “It’s not bad to diversify anyways.”
It’s not the first radical change they have made to continue their growth. In 2008, just as the Great Recession started to kick off, the Dwyers purchased ProPhoto and Framing, which used to be located across John Sims from their building. “The economy was tanking,” Dwyer remembers, “but we already had a handshake deal with the owner, so we just made the decision that we were going to press forward. We’re going to make it work.” Dwyer continued, “We kept the framing side [of the business] and we love to do frames because that fits well with the rest of our business. I think that if you just focus on one thing, it sets you up for extinction. You’ve got to offer many different things, especially in a small town. If we were in a larger metropolitan area, I could see how we could strictly focus on one thing, not that we want to be everything to everybody. But we do need to have a variety.”
They have also added new technology, like laser engravers and UV printers, in order to create a wider variety of products to offer to customers – meaning they get exactly what they want.
It’s not a secret that Eglin Air Force Base is the biggest economic show in town. According to A Haas Report finding, almost ⅔ of Okaloosa County’s gross domestic product (GDP) is directly linked to the mission at Eglin Air Force Base. This means knowing what kind of products those airmen like – and how they purchase gives the shop a definite edge over the online or out-of-town competition. “GPC, government purchasing card, holders have a little harder time purchasing online,” a reality that the business knows how to leverage. They make it easier and less stressful for Eglin representatives to purchase at their shop – which means more sales at the end of the day.
The same goes for other military bases near and far. The team at BayArea also takes orders from Duke Field, NAVSCOLEOD, Hurlburt Field, Tyndall Air Force Base, Barksdale AFB in Louisiana and Hanscomb AFB in Massachusetts.
It’s no secret that competition is stiff out there, but local businesses continue to thrive in the Twin Cities area, thanks to some elbow grease, ingenuity and good, supportive neighbors. Getting those ingredients together is the job of the Niceville-Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored this story.
Get all of the local news you want, without slogging through Facebook.
Learn about what’s going on at town hall, hear inspiring stories about your neighbors and find out what new businesses are coming to town!
Sign up for our weekly newsletter now and get all the news you need to know, once per week!