The History of Hit Trophy
“Be honest and work hard.”
That attitude, according to Bud Hitt the founder of Hit Trophy, made him a prosperous entrepreneur. Now over fifty years later, the family-owned business has grown into one of northwest Ohio’s most successful businesses. Our company sells over 1,750 items from awards and trophies to personalized gifts such as clocks, picture frames, and statues. Our customers include individuals, but also large organizations such as businesses, colleges, military units, and fire and police departments. The past five decades have seen us continue to grow, but it all started with two people and their desire to succeed.
On April 15, 1948, when Bud and Gertrude Hitt entered a tiny restaurant in Stryker, Ohio, they simply wanted to buy a meal; what they bought was a business and an entire career.
The young couple was approached by the restaurant’s owner who desperately wanted to sell his business. Bud and Gertrude, ages 23 and 20 respectively, knew nothing about the food industry, yet they both had the courage and determination to give it a try. The couple renamed the restaurant Gert and Bud’s, and for two years they worked long hours and learned the trade.
In 1950, Gertrude gave birth to Dawn, who was the first of their three daughters, and Bud wanted to move the restaurant back to the couple’s home town of Archbold, Ohio. The problem they faced was no space was available in the village’s downtown area, so friends suggested they build outside of town. As Bud remembers it, in 1950, suddenly everyone owned a car, and he thought a drive-in restaurant might work. The couple bought a pasture one mile north of Archbold on the corner of Routes 2 and 66, and they began to build.
Gert and Bud’s Drive-in opened its doors on October 15, 1950. The new business offered service in the parking lot, but it also seated about sixty people inside the building. Crowds flocked to the new diner for lunch and dinner especially on the weekends. Gertrude recalls that Bud took their daughter home at bedtime, and she and a few waitresses cleaned and prepared the business after midnight. After Gertrude would arrive home, Bud would return to the restaurant to make homemade ice cream. Sometimes, he would sleep a few hours on a cot at the business. During the daytime, Bud was also building a new home for his growing family. In 1953, a second daughter, Penny, joined the family.
After a few years, life became more routine. Although still terribly busy with the restaurant, Bud was enticed into taking some time off one day by a bunch of friends. “They told me they were going bow hunting for deer, but I had never been bow hunting before. They gave me a few lessons out behind the restaurant and off we went.” Later, Bud began thinking he could build his own bow. He had gained some experience from his father who was a carpenter and had a woodworking background. Soon he had built a bow for himself and one for Gertrude. Local people admired the bows, and they began to buy Bud’s bows. Even a sporting goods store in nearby Montpelier, Ohio began to order equipment from Bud. With the purchase of an advertisement in a national magazine, Hit Archery was born in 1957.
Gertrude helped the fledgling business along in many ways. She and Bud took Hit bows on the road, and in 1958, they rented a booth at the National Sporting Goods Show in Chicago. Bud, his younger sister, and Gertrude made the trip to Illinois. After helping set up the booth, Bud returned home to tend to business. Along with Bud’s younger sister, Gertrude was now the spokesperson for Hit Archery while in Chicago. While working at the show, Gertrude remembered something Bud had said. He had suggested Gertrude take a look at the other booths in Chicago and see if there might be another product they could produce along with the bows.
Gertrude found the future of the company in Chicago: trophies. Bud agreed with her, and by 1959,a half acre of land had been purchased behind the restaurant, and two buildings were erected for Hit Archery & Trophy Company. While Bud continued to make innovative bows, Gertrude helped promote the business. Gertrude explains how her family enjoyed gun hunting, and she had inherited her father’s steady hand and accurate aim. “I won the State Target championship, (like they shoot in the Olympics) at Vandalia, Ohio in 1960,” Gertrude states. “In 1961, I won the Ohio State Field Championship and went on from there.” Of course, she used a Hit bow to win both championships providing more publicity for the company. Gertrude went on to become the State of Ohio’s Archery Champion eleven times. To read more about Gertrude’s accomplishments and stories in archery be sure to read this article that was written by the Archbold Buckeye.
For awhile, Bud and Gertrude ran two businesses, the diner as well as the archery and trophy company, but in 1962, the Hitts were blessed with a third daughter, Candy. The couple now had three daughters and their businesses. Time was at a premium.
Something had to change.
They tried leasing the restaurant to another husband and wife team, yet business dwindled, so in 1962, the restaurant was closed. The dining area of Gert and Bud’s Drive-in became the office and showroom for Hit Archery & Trophy. Suddenly, the couple had time for family and friends, and the next ten years flew by quicker than an arrow from Gertrude’s bow. However, more change was on the horizon. Trophy sales began to outpace bow sales early in the decade of the 1970’s. According to Bud, the creation of the compound bow made his bows less desirable. By 1975, the couple made the decision to drop the production of bows completely. Now, Hit Vintage bows are collector’s items, but in 1975, the company became Hit Trophy.
The family continued to grow in the ‘70’s. A son-in-law was added during this decade. In 1971, Tom Wyse officially joined the family when he married Dawn Hitt. Tom had begun working for Bud and Gertrude in August of 1970. As a youth, he worked on a dairy farm, but for the company, he constructed bows designed by Bud. Over the next decade, he worked his way up to manager by 1982. Tom became CEO and president on January 1, 1994. After forty years as entrepreneurs, Bud and Gertrude sold the business to Dawn and Tom.
While Tom has owned the company, he has seen a variety of changes to the business too. One change has been a growing customer base. Domino’s Pizza, the Mid-American Conference, and Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference have been some of Tom’s most well known customers. Hit Trophy was known in the Midwest, but according to Tom, “Now, we sell coast to coast across America.” Technology has simplified the business too. At one time during Tom’s tenure, up to 12 people worked for the company. Now, due to things like computerized laser engravers, the company needs a staff half that size. However, the biggest change Tom has witnessed is the use of the net.
THE INTERNET’S INFLUENCE
Tom claims the internet has helped the company in a number of ways. He believes the internet is responsible for the growing customer base Hit Trophy enjoys. He said, “We average roughly 10 to 15 walk-in customers per day, but we have up to 250 internet customers browsing our website daily, with a percentage converting into orders.” Besides helping to expand the customer base, the internet has streamlined payment to the company. Tom states before the internet, an order was placed, and the staff did the work before the company was paid. “Now with the internet, the customer pays as soon as the order is placed,” Tom said.
To use the internet effectively, a website had to be created and managed. Tom knew the perfect person: his son, Abe. Abe had worked part-time at Hit Trophy during the summers of his childhood. He recalls doing a number of odds and end jobs. “I got all sorts of jobs such as engraving small plates, cleaning the workshop area, sweeping the floors, cleaning the paint out of the silk screens with bleach, and of course, cleaning the restrooms!” While in high school, Abe developed an interest in computers. Later, while pursuing a business administration degree in college, his interest in computers and the internet continued. Then in 2000, Bud and Gertrude Hitt’s grandson, Abe Wyse, took control of the website and joined the sales staff of Hit Trophy.
“I am pretty much self taught, and I have had a lot of on-the job-training,” Abe said about his knowledge of the internet. He credits WebArt out of Toledo, Ohio with designing the company’s website that he now manages daily. “My job is sort of like hitting a moving bull’s eye.”
He is constantly updating the website with new products, photos and information. In addition, he must stay ahead of internet trends, especially the trends that Google and other search engines believe are important.
THE TRADITION CONTINUES
For three generations, our family owned business has thrived. Something unique exists when members of a family unite to create a product and serve the public. As Tom Wyse said, “There is no better feeling in the world” when he is working with his son and the other crew members of Hit Trophy. Tom knows why they are successful too. He summarizes it in two words: “Hard work.” His words reflect those of his father-in law, Bud Hitt, “Be honest and work hard.” For almost sixty years that attitude has served us well, and we hope that attitude shines through in the service to our customers. Whether you are stopping in to our showroom in Archbold, Ohio or ordering via the website, www.hittrophy.com, we strive to provide personal service no matter where the customer is located. Thank you for allowing us to serve you!
*Interviews & written article was produced by Tim Friend
*Photos were provided by Bud & Gertrude Hitt and Hit Trophy, Inc.
*Bottom photo shows the members of the Tom Wyse Family from left to right: Angela Wyse (Abe’s wife), Abe Wyse, Dawn Wyse (Tom’s wife & Bud’s daughter), Tom Wyse & Tom’s Daughter Tiffany Heller. (Not pictured is Tiffany’s husband Ryan Heller and Abe & Angela’s new baby daughter Mila Rose Wyse.)