By MIKE MYERS The Belton Journal Giving away a free T-shirt or hat with a company logo is like a walking billboard for businesses. Businesses target small and large audiences to market their product and services. Apparel embroidery is a large and profitable way of marketing for businesses. Justin Ruiz, owner of 1st Place Awards and Gifts in Belton, took over the family business from his mother in 2016. The business has been family owned and operated since 1984. Ruiz specializes in awards, engraving & embroidery services. Embroidering is 60-70 percent of the business. “When I started with the business, I had a single-head embroidering machine. I was working long hours at night. In 2018, I bought a four-head machine. The business kept growing and in January 2022, I bought a six head machine,” Ruiz said. The multi-head embroidery machine is computer driven, by uploading a digitized file for the heads to read. The machine requires a lot of space and is capable of running non-stop, delivering consistent high quality embroidery stitches using up to 15 thread colors. The machine itself isn’t difficult to use, but the operator must be highly experienced in setting the right speeds, colors and actions of the machine. Special embroidery needles are used for embroidering clothes, flat fabrics, hats, jackets and other materials. Ruiz embroiders school merchandise for the Belton, Temple, and Salado ISDs. Homebuilders, local businesses and surrounding communities are regular customers. Ruiz provides awards, trophies and other specialties for corporate events, league sports teams, team and spirit awards, retailers and wholesalers. Volume discounts are given for larger orders. Walk-ins are encouraged to bring in a single item or multiple items for embroidering, engraving, or to purchase trophies, ribbons, plaques, name tags, drinkware, head-ware, backpacks, computer bags and other items that can be embroidered or engraved. They offer a complete line of name brand ball caps, polo shirts, and T-shirts and high-quality merchandise. Ruiz says they can create almost any design or logo for businesses or personal use. They have a big demand for baseball hats. The Richardson 112 Trucker adjustable hat is their most popular hat. Hats have become an acceptable work apparel in most industries for promoting businesses. Most of the marketing Ruiz does is through social media and word-of-mouth. “We want to build consumer confidence, so when they’re happy, they can tell other people and we get business from that. Our biggest thing is gauging customers’ expectations, making sure they know what they’re getting and when they’re getting it. We make sure our customers know they can leave something to be embroidered and they’re going to get it back,” Ruiz said. Ruiz shares half of his building with his father, Ricky Ruiz. Ricky is the owner of Custom Signs, also family owned and operated. Ruiz makes banners that vary in sizes from 8 by 12 inches to 4 feet by 30 feet. They can weatherproof signs that vary in materials such as wood, plastic, and metal. Custom Signs stocks a large inventory so most jobs can be done in a day. They have been in business for over six years and have a qualified staff to serve most of customer needs in a desired time frame. Custom Signs offers a variety of products under one roof including: vinyl banners, embroidery, vehicle decals and more. 1st Place Awards and Gifts and Custom Signs are two separate businesses, owned by the same family, that are in one building, under the same roof. They are located at 2304 N. Main St, Belton. 1st Place Awards has an online store to shop from at or you can walk-in to their place of business to see, touch and hold their inventory.