Last year was already a rough year for an awards shop owner based in Hunterdon County.
Then, in early November, his home and business of 100 years went up in smoke.
“The bottom line is the entire shop was scorched, and the engraving machines were melted,” John Bradshaw, owner of Bradshaw Awards in Stockton, said. “And the smoke damage — because we had all these acrylic awards and things like that that went up in smoke — created this really dense smoke that just destroyed the rest of the building.”
The fire, which began with an electrical problem, broke out only two days before Bradshaw and his daughter’s scheduled appearance on “Good Morning America,” an event for which he had prepared $12,000 of product in hopes of promoting his business and recouping the significant financial losses he had endured as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It obviously didn’t happen,” he said.
Bradshaw pivoted to living and working from his RV to the best of his abilities, but was absent the equipment he needed to engrave his awards.
So, he reached out to one of his long-time business competitors.
“John came in, and we met for about a half an hour,” Jim Gano, owner of Crown Trophy of Flemington, said. “He told me his situation and then he asked if he could still maintain the accounts, get the product to me, would I engrave it for him? And then he could package it back up and deliver it to his customers seamlessly, as if nothing happened. And I was glad to do that.”
“Jim’s got a good heart and he was all for pairing up and helping out and all that good stuff,” Bradshaw added.
Like Bradshaw, Gano’s business had also been hit hard by the pandemic largely because corporate gatherings, sports games, and other awards-based events came to a screeching halt over the last year.
“On March 13 of last year, the phone started ringing, text messages started coming, I was getting messages on Twitter, Facebook, everything — cancel my order, cancel my order, cancel my order,” Gano said. “In one day I lost about $60,000 in business, both future and past business. And it never came back — my business was down 80% last year because the awards industry just dried up.”
While stating that he has still not fully recovered from his financial losses, Gano added that he survived by laying off employees, pivoting to making and selling plexiglass and masks, and doing “whatever we could to keep the lights on.”
Despite his own fiscal concerns, Gano didn’t hesitate to help Bradshaw when he gave him a call in early December. This was largely because he couldn’t bear to see a business that had become a staple in the community suddenly disappear — even though his financial motivations should have driven him towards the opposite conclusion.
“The thing that was always overriding to me was the fact that this was his 100th year,” Gano said. “I’ve been in business for 12 years, but how can you leave during your centennial? How can you shut it down because of this extenuating circumstance in the 100th year? That’s not the way it’s supposed to be celebrated.”
“It’s funny how the world works in that it happened at 100 years, and during one of the most unbelievable years in our history,” Bradshaw echoed. “This is a crazy world — or it was during 2020. That’s for sure.”
With a decade’s worth of prior experience in the insurance industry, Gano is also helping Bradshaw navigate the process of regaining what he’s financially owed by his carrier.
“When John would be talking and we’d meet about different jobs, I’d say, hold on, wait, that’s not the way that should go … just because I knew that they’re going to try and settle for the least amount possible, and you want to make sure you’re getting what you paid for in that policy,” Gano said.
Looking forward, Bradshaw intends to eventually rebuild his store in the same location, promising that Bradshaw Awards will re-emerge “better than ever.”
However, even when he’s back on his feet, he intends to continue a “behind-the-scenes partnership” with his competitor turned ally.
“In our conversations, it’s gotten clear that as I rebuild and buy new equipment, we can make this work,” Bradshaw said. “I now know that Jim does certain things that I used to do; he can do that for me now. And on the other side, there’s machines I can buy … and help him out as a vendor as he is doing for me right now. We can just cover the whole spectrum the two of us, and shift clientele from me to him and him to me.”
“If I’m busy, maybe John can pick up some of the slack. And if he’s too busy, maybe I can pick up some of the slack,” Gano said. “And if we keep that productivity level high and satisfy the customers, I think we’ll be okay.”
In expressing their excitement for what lies ahead, both business owners recognized the uncanny nature of their coalition while emphasizing that — in spite of the tragedy that inspired it — it could and should serve as a model for other competitors.
“A lot of times whether it’s sports competition or business competition, there’s that in-bred ‘I hate you’ relationship … but I’ve never felt that way,” Gano said. “I respect the competition always. Even though in the past we’re all fighting for the same dollars … I think this is a business lesson for everybody that businesses can work together, can co-promote, can co-partner and come out stronger as a result.”
“There’s too much business out there for us to be at each other’s throats,” Bradshaw said. “This can’t be anything except a win-win situation.”
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Caroline Fassett may be reached at [email protected].