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Veteran's handcrafted flag business flies high

Photo of combat veteran and Flags of Valor founder, Brian Steorts, as he adds a finishing touch to one of his flag creations.

Where's your flag?

Four years ago, Brian Steorts lay flat on his back after surgery. After eight consecutive combat deployments to the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, Steorts found himself rehabbing from a service-related injury. He needed a new way to focus his mind, while rebuilding his body.

"I grew up an Air Force brat," he says. "I watched my mother's face when my big brother deployed. My sister served. I joined up after 9/11 to serve my country."

As an Air Force Special Operations pilot, Steorts proudly served like the others in his family. But during rehab, something felt weird. Through his military journey, Steorts was constantly surrounded with symbols - flags, coins, patches - all reminders of his motivation to serve. During rehabilitation, he didn't wear a uniform, didn't wear his flag. Steorts had a lingering question: "Where's your flag?"

"It was a dark time," Steorts confesses. "I wanted the symbols of service around me, so I went out to find an American flag." He came home unhappy. He couldn't find a U.S. flag actually made in the USA.

"I just couldn't bring myself to buy an American flag made in China," Steorts says. "So, I decided to make my own."

Steorts took to his woodworking shop in Ashburn, VA, near Washington, D.C., and began hand-crafting wooden American flags. He transformed eastern white pine and swatches of red, white and blue paint into works of wall art. Steorts started shipping the flags to bereaved families, wounded warriors and others who found value and comfort in them.

Flags of Valor, born in Steorts's woodshop, now employs 18 combat veterans as craftsmen and ships hundreds of hand-crafted wooden American flags every day to patriotic online customers.

Steorts operates his small business on three principles.

"First, we hire only combat veterans to make our flags," Steorts says. "It provides therapy for them, transforming raw materials into art, while working alongside fellow combat veterans.

"Second, we believe 'Made in America' still matters, so every tool and material we use comes from an American company.

"Third, we believe in giving back, especially to law enforcement and first-responder teams" Steorts continues. "We have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for many great organizations and also donated hundreds of flags."

National events unfurl growth

Today, flag orders stream in. Steorts has been able to manage a dizzying growth rate thanks to UPS, his trusted shipping advisor since day one. In fact, UPS Account Manager David Preston's guidance proved invaluable after two big-bang media exposures.

First, Steorts got an invitation to set up a booth at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which included air time on Fox News.

"We sold more flags in 48 hours after the RNC than we'd sold in our entire existence," says Mike Taylor, Flags of Valor's chief of staff.

Second, just before Memorial Day 2017, ABC World News Tonight profiled Flags of Valor. Again, sales skyrocketed. 

Spikes in growth are a problem small businesses welcome, but they still can pose a problem.

"As a company, we've never been through this before, with every single day posing challenges in scale, operations, logistics, risk and so on," says Taylor. "With UPS, I make one phone call, and I have a new solution. It's like having a consultant on speed-dial."

Growth: Managing the downside of up

UPS has helped Flags of Valor survive and thrive in several ways.

The WorldShip® system streamlines shipping processes and ensures on-time order processing. Using Quantum View Manage® technology, the staff can view and monitor outbound packages and be ready if customers ask for order status. UPS Capital®, the financial service division of UPS, provided Flags of Valor a way to protect cash flow and assets, expanding a simple Flexible Parcel Insurance plan to a full Cargo Insurance policy. UPS protects all shipments against damage or loss with higher coverage limits than most standard carrier programs.

"Our partnership with Flags of Valor is an excellent example of how UPS can help fast-growing small businesses avoid the pitfalls so many others face at times of rapid growth," says UPS's Preston.

UPS also helped the company redesign its shipping package, making opening a Flags of Valor box more impactful for customers. "Their redesign helps us connect with our customers in a more emotional way," says Steorts.

"UPS has helped us many ways, from cost savings to a blanket insurance policy. And we've been able to grow more rapidly because of the tools and advice UPS has given us," says Taylor. "Without UPS, we would just be another small business."

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