DJ and Judi Brown, the husband-and-wife co-owners of Washington-based Tacoma Trophy.
Husband-and-wife team DJ and Judi Brown are the co-owners of the Washington-based, veteran-owned business Tacoma Trophy. — Tacoma Trophy

Starting a business can be difficult for any new owner, but it can be especially challenging for veteran entrepreneurs. That’s why veteran-owned businesses like Tacoma Trophy, the 2022 Veteran-Owned Business Award winner at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Dream Big Awards, make it a priority to support their own and help give back to the veteran community.

“A tiny percentage of those who served opt to continue their service by opening a business, providing goods and services to the community,” said Judi Brown, co-owner of Tacoma Trophy, a Tacoma, Washington-based store that specializes in creating custom military plaques, awards, trophies, personalized gifts, and other collectibles. “We’re proud to be counted among that exclusive group of people.”

Aligning your brand with a personal cause

Identifying as a veteran-owned business is an important part of Tacoma Trophy’s branding. Brown’s husband and co-owner, DJ Brown, served for 20 years in the Navy, earning numerous awards. That personal connection helped the couple determine the business’s mission and values.

“We knew from the beginning that a focus for us would be the military because that’s what we knew,” Brown said. “The military culture promotes recognition, team identity, and camaraderie. These concepts align with our own personal values and motivate us to continue to innovate and create new and interesting products.”

The military culture promotes recognition, team identity, and camaraderie. These concepts align with our own personal values and motivate us to continue to innovate and create new and interesting products.

Judi Brown, co-owner, Tacoma Trophy

Tacoma Trophy works closely with the military and supports many organizations through sponsorships, donations, volunteer service, and personalized merchandise. The Browns also hire veterans whenever possible. Currently, two veterans, one military spouse, and the parent of an active-duty serviceman work at the business.

“We owe much of our growth and success to our local military community,” Brown said. “We do a significant amount of business with the local active-duty and retired military population in our region.”

[Read more: 6 Veteran-Owned Business Directories You Can Join]

Ensuring brand recognition through networking and service

To be successful, a business has to market its products and services to a new, wider audience. No matter how good the idea is, it cannot be successful without interested customers.

By associating their business with the values of the military, the Browns created strong brand recognition for Tacoma Trophy. This led to connections with other entrepreneurs and invitations to networking events that ultimately led to the business’s growth. Word-of-mouth marketing proved to be a successful strategy for this veteran-owned business.

“The biggest benefit to us was our access to the military bases in our region,” Brown said. “Having base access made it easier for us to get connected to the network of concessionaires operating businesses at the base and VA shopping facilities. We learned a lot from those other business owners. And we learned a lot about what types of products military families wanted.”

Brown advises other entrepreneurs and veteran-owned businesses to network and share both personal and professional values and missions.

“[Talk] to other business owners in the community,” she said “Attend local chamber of commerce events or other organized networking activities. Most business owners who attend these events welcome questions about how they started and what or who helped them along the way.”

[Read more: Top Programs and Resources for Veteran Entrepreneurs]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Applications are open for the CO—100! Now is your chance to join an exclusive group of outstanding small businesses. Share your story with us — apply today.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Apply for the CO—100!

The CO—100 is an exclusive list of the 100 best and brightest small and mid-sized businesses in America. Enter today to share your story and get recognized.