Everyone loves getting a trophy. That’s just one service available from Airo Sports, a local sports apparel shop that specializes in screen printing, embroidery, laser engraving, and trophy making. Airo Sports is based in an unassuming basement shop in Brookline Village and operated by two brothers, Tony and Bobby Kariotis. Each brother serves a different role in the company, though. Tony is the owner and head of operations for Airo Sports while Bobby manages Brookline Trophy, a subsidiary of Airo Sports. Tony jokes in a way only a sibling could.

“We have two separate corporations, so we don’t step over each other,” Tony said.

Airo Sports has been in operation since 1989 but has undergone many changes since. Tony and Bobby’s father, Theodore Kariotis, originally founded the shop as a sporting goods store. But he began transitioning into screen-printing t-shirts in the late 1990s just as bigger chains began to take over the sporting goods market. Tony, the oldest child in the family, entered into his father’s business in 2005 and Bobby in 2012. After their father passed away in 2008, Tony launched the Teddy K Classic Basketball Tournament, a Greek-American basketball tournament held annually. The tournament generates proceeds to fund a scholarship in their father’s name. When asked how their small business has kept afloat for 30 years in the changing economy, Tony was quick to give his father much of the credit for the company’s longevity. “Our dad built this business up good,” he said. “We didn’t have to build it from the ground-up.”

The brothers acknowledge that taking over a small business was no easy feat. “When I took it over in 2005, I screwed it up,” said Tony bluntly. “I had no idea what I was doing and wasn’t bringing in new clients but was able to rebuild the mess I made.” Today, the company has a solid and loyal customer base that’s large enough where they no longer require aggressive advertising and promotion. Still, operating a small business is challenging, even a well-established one.

“It’s nice to own your own business, call the shots, and experiment without approval,” Bobby said. “But we are often unable to turn customers away, even with large, last-minute requests.”

“Every mistake is on you,” Tony said. “You’re accountable for everything that’s wrong. There is no one else to blame.”

That isn’t to say that Tony and Bobby don’t immensely enjoy what they do. While most of the trophy requests are for children’s sports, they often get some outlandish trophy requests for adults. In recent years, they have produced trophies for adult fantasy football leagues. Many of these types of trophies have included a large cup to drink beer, a man sitting on a couch with a remote control and even a toilet-shaped trophy to reward the “biggest loser.”

“To be honest, the most fun I’ve had making trophies is making them for adults,” Bobby said.

The brothers perform all of their labor in-house from artwork, engraving, cutting to assembling. The brothers have no plans to either cut back or expand on their family business. They hope to continue what their father had created and provide their clients with the best service. As for any advice they’d give to aspiring small-business owners?

“Just stick it out,” said Bobby. “It takes time.” 

By Alicia Landsberg