BAXTER -- It all started back in 1984 with a few simple wooden pins shaped like hockey jerseys that were passed out to parents at a hockey tournament in Brainerd.
Now thousands of sports buttons later, Beva and Lewie Olson of Baxter have developed a thriving business based out of their Baxter home.
The couple owns Sportpins, a business they started soon after they began creating wooden sports pins for their youngest son's hockey team. Back then, they were making the wooden buttons by hand, cutting out the designs with a scroll saw and painting them. They also added the name of each hockey player, his or her jersey number and the hometown, incorporating the team's colors.
The handmade pins were a hit with hockey moms. Hockey dads, too.
The couple then bought an inverted router, which made the homemade pins more uniform. But the biggest change came in 1999 when the Olsons drove to Arizona to pick up their $27,000 universal laser engraver.
"When we were doing 500 a week, we thought we were doing good," said Beva Olson with a laugh.
Beva and Lewie Olson have created a variety of buttons and magnets through Sportpins, their home-based business. Their laser engraver can engrave anything, including glass, leather, plastic and wood.
The large machine hums throughout the day, often 15-18 hours a day, in the Olsons' family room, which has been converted into their office and production studio.
The machine precisely engraves and cuts out buttons and other merchandise. On busy days it's not unusual for the Olsons to make 600-800 buttons during hockey tournaments or other sports tournaments.
Their buttons have been sold to youth sports teams in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and even internationally, in Japan and Canada.
The laser engraver has dramatically changed their home business. They not only are able to make more buttons, but the machine can engrave just about anything, including leather, plastic, wood, stone and glass.
Beva Olson spends her days working as assistant city administrator for the city of Baxter. After a busy day at the office, Beva comes home and designs buttons on her home computer, sometimes for 5-8 hours at night until the work is finished. Olson has worked for the city for 20 years.
At 5 a.m. the next morning, Lewie takes over the production schedule, making sure the multitude of buttons and other projects are finished by the time his wife comes home from her job at city hall. He also handles all the shipping. Then the process begins again.
Beva Olson explained how she and her husband, Lewie, use their laser engraving machine to create all types of buttons and pins. The Olsons started their own home business, Sportpins, back in 1984. The company has grown tremendously. They now produce about 600-800 buttons a week, particularly during busy sporting events and hockey tournaments. Beva Olson is the assistant city administrator in Baxter.
The Olsons have a patent pending on a special interchangeable wooden molding piece they've created. Their "cornercopias" are the corner mold pieces on door frames. Lewie designed the molding pieces to be interchangeable. So a homeowner could have the Olsons create a family crest on the door moldings, or any type of animal design like deer or fish. Then they could change the door pieces with the changing seasons, such as leaves in the fall and snowflakes in the winter months.
They also make calendars, signs, magnets and other products. Their engraving machine allows them to engrave photographs on buttons as well. They donate buttons each year to all Brainerd High School varsity teams for Parent's Night as a way to give back to the community.
The Olsons' daughter, Shelley Eigen, also helps with her parent's business by working on projects on her own home computer.
"It just must have been something that was meant to be," said Beva Olson, of Sportpins. "I just like creating. And when it's ready to print them then I'm on to the next challenge."
Lewie Olson said he and his wife plan to continue their home business until it is no longer fun.
The Olsons have been married for more than 35 years. They have three children and four grandchildren.
For more information about Sportpins, check out their Web site at www.sportpinsmn.com.
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