Impressive awards

Many southeastern Wisconsin companies, nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups give out awards every year to employees, donors, vendors and volunteers. These awards range from simple name-on-plaque boards and trophies to custom-made crystal medallions, pedestals or other display items.

And many of those awards, especially high-end custom pieces, are manufactured at RCB Awards‘ facility at 8000 W. Capital Drive on Milwaukee’s north side.

RCB’s capabilities, especially its ability to print in color on materials such as metal, fabric, glass and acrylic, allow it to create plaques that are more elaborate and seem more special to recipients, while not adding a significant amount of cost, said Curt Denevan, the company’s sales manager. His wife, Cindi Denevan, owns RCB.

“The color is something that we promote and push,” he said. “We mastered it a long time ago. The color on metal is a color imprinting process that gives us tremendous flexibility to apply your logo.”

By combining its color printing and laser cutting capabilities, RCB is able to create three-dimensional, multi-layered awards that look unlike most recognition awards, Denevan said.

“Where we jump out at this is when we take a full-color wood logo and cut out a shape and make a medallion,” he said. “That gives dimension and color to a plaque. A plaque on a board is boring. But when you use color, dimension and multiple materials you get something exciting for everyone to look at. You get the ‘ooh and aahs’ and more value for the award – greater impact.”

RCB is probably the only company in metro Milwaukee that does its own crystal sand carving, Curt and Cindi Denevan said. Most other award companies that offer crystal awards either send their pieces to suppliers for cutting or use a laser engraver, Cindi Denevan said.

RCB’s sand carving technique operates similarly to a sandblaster, blasting the crystal with tiny pieces of silica sand. Sand carving is more difficult to master, but gives the company a more artistic end result, Cindi Denevan said. RCB frequently creates awards or display pieces for its clients that require multiple levels of sand etching, which can create a three-dimensional effect.

“It is more time consuming, but it is beautiful,” Cindi Denevan said. “But you have to be willing to take the risk to let it all go wrong and have to go into the dumpster. That’s why many people don’t do it.”

RCB also serves as a company store for several of its large corporate clients, Curt Denevan said. Using its printing machinery, the company creates T-shirts, awards and many other items with a corporate logo on it. The company also stores specific items for its corporate clients and ships them directly to individual branch locations or satellite facilities.

“A branch office can order online, and we’ll ship directly to them,” Curt Denevan said. “We have corporations like manufacturing companies in Wisconsin with sales and distribution offices all over the country.”

The company store category makes up about 20 percent of RCB’s business, with plaques and crystal making up 70 percent. The rest of the company’s business is made up of engraving and other miscellaneous work.

If the company’s plans for 2009 come to fruition, RCB may need to add employees.

Several years ago, the Denevans created a separate company named Exquisite Images LLC, which is dedicated to making glass and porcelain tiles. Exquisite Images uses RCB’s printing technology to transform a digital photo into a mosaic, which can be installed in showers, entryways, kitchen backsplashes and other areas that use contractor-grade glass or ceramic tiles.

The tiles are priced between $45 and $95 per square foot, similar to many high-end tiles.

The Denevans are now preparing to launch a more aggressive marketing campaign for Exquisite Images later this year.

“Our first mission is to put together a web site and promotional materials,” he said. “We’re going to market to tile stores, architects and interior designers.”

RCB Awards

8000 W. Capitol Drive, Milwaukee
Industry: Custom awards, plaques, trophies and other products.
Employees: 9
Revenue growth: 12 percent in 2008.


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