A man who started a business in his home 30 years ago was honored with the 2014 Trailblazer Award at the Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce Spring Dinner and Awards Banquet.
Presented annually by Lovell Inc. Economic Development/Grow Big Horn County, the Trailblazer Award is given annually to a business owner for work in the business community over the course of many years. It is part of the Lovell Inc. Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.
This year’s award went to Larry Slater, owner and operator of Big Horn Engraving in Lovell.
Presenter Betsy Sammons noted that she is not only a former student of the longtime ag teacher and FFA advisor, she became his “favorite neighbor” when she moved in next door 10 years ago.
Joking that Slater immediately installed an eight-foot privacy fence between the two properties, Sammons said the fence never came down, but “Larry became a dear friend to me and my family.”
Sammons read a statement by Marwyn Layne, who nominated Slater for the award.
Layne wrote that Slater moved to Lovell to take the ag teaching position at Lovell High School in 1976. She wrote that it was his work building the ag program showed a work ethic that would serve him well when he started Big Horn Engraving years later.
“He loved the kids and it showed, even spending many extra hours tutoring students in math, physics and science classes,” Layne wrote. “By the time he retired in 2000, there were between 115 and 120 students in Lovell’s FFA program — a level which has never been achieved before or since at Lovell High School.
“Each year he would take his students to the Big Horn County Fair where there were three tents set up — boys on one side, girls on the other, him in the middle. There wasn’t much room for sleep on his agenda as he kept track of his students 24/7 — and of course, the rogue pigs, lambs and other lost livestock taking the annual middle-of-the-night tour of the fairgrounds and/or the town of Basin, which he and his famous 4-wheeler rescued and returned to their pens.”
Layne said a simple engraving got Slater’s second career started.
“It was at the county fair in 1984 when someone needed a trophy engraved that his business was born,” she wrote. “He said he could do it and he did. Seeing a need, he began making trophies on a desk in his living room using a full pantograph to engrave. He upgraded to a computer type engraving machine and now uses a laser engraver.
“From the beginning, he has donated heavily and given discounts to schools and various organizations around our area, with sales at or near cost and below. Everyone kept asking him about other things. Every time someone told him he should add something, he did. He added Carhartt, but it required a sizeable inventory investment, which didn’t fit in his living room, so he opened a store downtown. It turned out not to be practical, so he built a shop behind his house. Since that time, he has expanded that shop five times and says it’s still too small.”
Slater soon added screen-printing and embroidery. Starting with one machine and four-color screen-printing, he now has 10 embroidery machines and eight-color screen-printing, Layne wrote. Next came signs and more.
“When people requested signs, they were added,” Layne said. “Each color was hand placed. Now it is all computerized and has expanded to include billboards, decals and stickers. Banners are larger — as long as needed. Color photos can be enlarged from wallet size to huge posters.”
Big Horn Engraving has become a multifaceted story, Layne wrote.
“It’s 30 years later and Big Horn Engraving and Sign supports four families,” Layne wrote. “Located just one block east of the Senior Citizens Center and across from the tennis courts on West Seventh Street in Lovell, it is full of variety. It also offers Montana Silver, work boots, and other apparel with sizes from infant to adult. The goal has been to be an affordable working man’s and school spirit type store while attempting to make T-shirts, hats and awards possible for the many clubs, organizations and especially the kids all over the Big Horn Basin. That goal has been reached.
“Though he seems a bit gruff, he has a huge heart and is affectionately known as ‘Slay’ by former students and friends. Thank you, Larry Slater, for responding to the needs of our community and for your continued dedication and tremendous contributions to our entire area.”
by David Peck