This is a series of posts spotlighting Arizona businesses that share their products with Sibley's West, as part of the "Small Business Boost" award efforts of 3TV/CBS 5, BNC National Bank, the Arizona Small Business Association and Cox Business.
It all started with a thimble. An Arizona thimble, made of pewter.
It was 1988 and Steve Ballor was looking to create a business.
A Detroit native, he came to Arizona with a background in fine-jewelry design and fabrication. In his garage, he carved a small thimble with a saguaro and other Arizona images, then a Christmas thimble.
With those he created molds, and from there pewter souvenirs.
He and his business partner, brother Scott, then moved on to Christmas ornaments, and Heritage Metalworks was born. It moved out of the garage in 1990 to a space on Country Club Road and hired their first employee. Manny is still with Heritage 31 years later.
With the advantage of hindsight, Steve can point to a few decisions that led the company to not only survive but excel. The two brothers were soon joined by brother Jim.
"In 1991 we did the Oasis gift and souvenir show, and we ended up doing a custom design for the Grand Canyon Railroad," he said. "That led to doing custom souvenirs, for national parks and large institutions."
In 1992 Heritage produced a pewter miniature of the B2 bomber, which was very popular with the U.S. Air Force. That opened doors with other branches of the military and government.
About that time Steve acquired a domain on the Internet, which was just gaining popularity: pewter.com.
Then the state was awarded the 1996 Super Bowl. The organizing committee sought out local businesses to produce souvenirs. Heritage applied and won a license.
They made mugs, steins, and keychains -- and the company took another jump forward.
Heritage was able to secure licensing for dozens of colleges and universities, expanding souvenir offerings around the country.
They moved to north Chandler in 2002.
Here's a video of how a product gets created:
Steve noted that they were fortunate, getting those little "shots in the arm" at different times to keep the company growing.
They employ 30 and produce items that go around the world.
One challenge has been knockoffs stolen by Chinese manufacturers. Jim Ballor recalled a circumstance attending a swap meet in the high desert of California. One booth was selling "pewter" picture frames -- and barely had scratched off the Heritage logo on the mold.
They also were using zinc, not pewter, which affects the quality.
"We tried to go after them with lawyers but it is very difficult to identify who is making them in China and where," he added.
Heritage has benefited from the "Made in America" efforts in the last decade. Their water bottles with the U.S.Marine Corps have proved popular, and they've also made ceremonial coins for the FBI and CIA.
And they are still making Arizona thimbles, which can be found at Sibley's West!