And the Award Goes to…

St. Regis Crystal

St. Regis Crystal, a company out of Markham, Ontario, makes awards and so much more; offering a wide variety of crystal gifts and recognition products from trophies and art glass to clocks, coffee mugs and optical crystal. We spoke with Jeff Firkser, the company’s Vice President, about this unique and specialized business.

Jeff’s brother Richard Firkser is the CEO and President of St. Regis Crystal and has been distributing corporate giftware, beverage ware and dinnerware for over thirty years. In another marketing environment, some pieces were in high demand but were not available so the company adapted to create these pieces itself. For example, champagne flutes with etched initials were quite popular at the time, so St. Regis Crystal started bringing the decorative process into a facility owned by Richard. The idea was to give the customer everything they could possibly need as far as related services were concerned.

Customer inquiries lead to further expansions in operations. If information could be put on a platter or champagne flute then why not a coffee mug, paperweight, etc.? “We realized that there was a market for this kind of specialty advertising. We are all accustomed to pens, calendars, and baseball caps, but no one was doing vases, bowls and corporate giftware.” At the time, Jeff was in retail hardware and had a couple stores in the city. In the basement of one of these stores he brought equipment in for the process of decorating and St. Regis’ foray into specialty advertising took shape.

“We moved into a facility in Markham – a two and a half thousand square foot facility,” he explains. “Thirteen years later, we have four decorating facilities; two in Canada and two in the United States. We employ over three hundred people creating a category in specialty advertising of corporate gift ware. It’s grown from there.” St. Regis still does a full line of beverage ware, offering everything from a coffee mug to a high end twenty-four percent lead crystal decanter sets – in addition to the awards and recognition pieces.

The company’s diverse offering also includes its Deep Etch process for personalization. “The rude way of calling it is ‘sand blasting’ but people always associate that with engineering or the cleaning of car parts,” says Jeff. “This is a much more controlled environment. We are using an abrasive that cuts right into glass, crystal, marble, granite, etc. and we decorate with sand carving.”

It wasn’t until recently that St. Regis acquired the rights to make the Oscar statuette. The CEO of Chicago based R.S. Owens – maker of the awards since 1983 – came around on a sales call. St. Regis already carried five of R.S. Owens’ items, but not in any large volume, so Jeff and Richard were curious. “He came in and we chatted. He didn’t have representation in Canada and we have the two decorative facilities here, so why don’t we distribute R.S. Owens products here? It is a very well known and highly respected company in the United States. We also have a facility in Indianapolis so we can serve the U.S. market as well. It just seemed like a good fit.” St. Regis Crystal subsequently acquired R.S. Owens effective December 2012 after many visits to Chicago to look at the facilities and to do its due diligence.

“We bought the assets of R.S. Owens and we are going to carry on manufacturing. The facility is a smelting, casting and plating company and is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary this year. Scott is the third generation. His grandfather started it, but his father grew the company and Scott has been at the helm for the last fourteen years.” The manufacturing will carry on in Chicago of all custom awards, with all of the catalogue sales going to Indianapolis. By having a manufacturing facility in the United States, St. Regis can access specialty markets not pursued before. The move has the potential to be a huge asset to the business.

“It will give us the capabilities at manufacturing more than what we have been able to do in the past. It is a major expansion,” Jeff explains. “R.S. Owens has dominated the Trophy market in the past, so we plan to expand this category. These are trophies for kids participating in sports, or band and choir trophies, Rotary clubs, Kiwanis, etc. This is another forte of R.S. Owens and we will carry on with it and continue to grow.”

Nothing has changed as far as the quality of product goes, however some production changes along with catalogue changes were necessary. “It’s only been a couple of months now but we are getting the manufacturing facility back up and running. There were also some financial challenges, so we have injected capital into that – brought in raw materials, hired more staff, re-structured and reorganized the company to make it a lot more profitable. But the quality of product is retained.”

Recently the company worked on the Russian Grammy awards. The Russian music industry requested R.S. Owens due to its reputation of being a premier manufacturer of awards. With such well known awards as the Emmys, the Oscars, the MTV Music Awards, and trophies for American Idol and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as for countless other award ceremonies, the company’s reputation is well established.

Awards are given out to industry for decorating, websites, functionality, and booth ingenuity, and the company has in fact received a host of awards in various categories for which it has manufactured the actual award. Typically the company is unaware of which awards it will receive but is conscious that it is possible to be manufacturing its own awards. Not many businesses can lay claim to that fact!

Custom manufacturing means that St. Regis can, effectively, do anything. From its simple “Crescent Award” (a piece of glass that is slumped into shape and etched) to a custom trophy like the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl or Heisman Trophy, “there are some really exclusive awards that we have created.” Recently, the company created a trophy which YouTube awards to people who post videos receiving one million views.

St. Regis is bringing manufacturing jobs back to Canada as the economy grows. Its custom manufacturing plant in Elliot Lake is called “Prestige Glass,” and the expanding product line means more jobs for the people of Elliot Lake. “Elliot Lake is a great community. We can, with pride, say that we are one of the largest employers there – outside of the hospitality and retail industries. We purchased the company three years ago. The previous owners wanted to move on to other interests but we maintained all the staff and it’s become our main manufacturing facility in Canada.”

There is also a decorating and assembly plant in Markham which has helped create the twenty percent jump in business per year the business is presently realizing. The relatively robust economy has been a big part of that success as well as the acquisitions over the past few years. This has enabled St. Regis to establish its infrastructure during the recession and position itself to maintain that growth.

In terms of competition, there are about six to eight other companies that perform similar work. Those work primarily with acrylic and glass, however, while St. Regis specializes in crystal and glass. In the Canadian market St. Regis is number one, while in the American market it is in the top three and expect to be top of the heap soon enough as the business gets its bearings after the recent acquisitions.

In the last six years St. Regis has also acquired three other companies that complement its current business. Martin Glass of Texas was moved into the Indianapolis facility, called “Etching Industries”. Having this facility enables St. Regis to ship out to the west coast and service the south. Eighteen months ago, it bought out two Canadian companies, MiPen and Waterleaf Studios. MiPen is a company that sells personalized writing instruments, journals, flashlights, etc. to the same markets as St. Regis. Waterleaf Studios is a specialized custom framing facility which makes cast paper awards incorporating certificates, corporate artwork and stained glass. It would seem that St. Regis has covered all of its bases and can cater to any need.

Indeed, no job is too small or too big as St. Regis Crystal can deal with any need from the likes of the Oscars to a simply engraved coffee mug. It may have grown into the United States but remain very proud of its Canadian heritage. The future is not only bright for St. Regis; its vision is Crystal Clear.

July 17, 2018, 7:13 AM EDT

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