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Local veteran shares his small business story

Tacoma Trophy’s vet owner credits his military experience for success

Navy veteran DJ Brown is one of over 443,000 veterans who owns a small business with employees. He credits his success in large part to what he learned in the military. Photo credit: Courtesy photo

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DJ Brown enlisted in the Navy in 1986 to take advantage of the opportunity to gain life skills as both an aviation electrician and recruiter. When he retired as a Chief Petty Officer in 2006, he and his wife were in the process of purchasing a UPS store when Mail Boxes ETC merged with UPS.

"We were lost in the shuffle, so we decided to go out on our own and start a small business ourselves and build it from the ground up," began Brown. "The biggest reason we started the business is that I did not want to start as a junior person at a new job."

Currently there are 2.53 million businesses in this country that are majority owned by veterans, 443,000 veteran-owned business with employees, and 2.1 million self-employed veteran businesses.

Veteran-owned businesses' total annual revenues are near $1.25 trillion; they employ 5.6 million individuals; and their annual payroll totals $197 billion.

The Browns began with a small machine that let them print foil on napkins, which in turn led them to print photographs on everything from blankets to jewelry. In time they added a laser engraver which eventually led them into the trophy and awards industry.

"While in the Navy, I really enjoyed giving the people who worked for me awards that I made either in my wood shop or by visiting a local trophy shop and buying trophy parts to make my own awards. It came back around to doing something I really enjoyed doing years before."

Today they own Tacoma Trophy, located at 4021 100th St. SW in Lakewood. Brown related that as his business grew, he added machines that allow him and his employees to make exactly what their customers want.

He described owning a small business as being a roller coaster ride. "Owning a business is both exhilarating and terrifying," he continued, "because there are moments of calm followed by moments of tremendous stress, anxiety and also, jubilation."

The ride has led Brown to enter Tacoma Trophy in the Dream Big Contest sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

"We entered the contest because we liked the fact that some questions focused on our community involvement ... and how my military background helped me build a business and give back to the veteran community," said Brown.

Of the over 3,000 small businesses to enter, Tacoma Trophy is now in the final round of competition with 27 other small business to be recognized as the "Dream Big" National Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year.

"We are fortunate to work in a military-friendly community and near Joint Base Lewis-McChord," concluded Brown. "For those individuals thinking of starting a successful small business, do your research. Talk to other people in the same industry, and use online information to ensure what you want to do is for you.

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