Jane M. Vosseller had run a small business but had no experience selling flags when she and her husband, Geoffrey, bought Ace Flag Co. in 1985.
She had heard about Ace Flag from her business partner, the son of the owner, and took a chance on a company that had two employees and gross sales of about $75,000 per year from its tiny offices in Buffalo.
“So I moved it out into the suburbs – we moved to Orchard Park – and I hired another employee, and then I hired another employee, and I just started to figure out ways to grow the business,” said Vosseller, its president.
Under Vosseller’s stewardship, the company, now located in Depew, has grown to 10 employees, with annual sales in the seven figures, and this year celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Well-known as a distributor of American flags made by American companies, Ace Flag also sells flags and banners for cities, towns and villages, for the changing seasons and for the area’s sports teams.
The company has made a big push in recent years into custom-made banners – designed and printed in-house for trade shows, colleges and other clients, and later installed by Ace Flag employees — as well as buttons, mugs, bumper stickers and other marketing tools.
In the next year or two, Vosseller and her husband plan to pass on the company to the next generation, her son and son-in-law, who are working to position Ace Flag for the start of its next 75 years in business.
“We’re blessed to have a great business in an area that is really supportive of that type of business,” said Peter Roe, Ace Flag’s general manager, who is married to the Vossellers’ daughter, Jamie. “And so as much as we’re going to be growing and doing all these other things, we always want to be the place where you go to get your flag to fly for however long you fly it.”
Founded in 1937, Ace Flag had a number of locations in Buffalo over the years. The company was a small wholesaler that also installed flag poles and employed one worker whose job was to climb and repair them.
Jane and Geoffrey Vosseller bought the business from Dorothy Schottin, the granddaughter of the founder, and said the company’s entire facility on Leroy Avenue at the time of the sale was not much larger than her current office.
Jane Vosseller, who had run the Glass Factory Outlet in Hamburg, moved Ace Flag, first to Orchard Park and, later, to Williamsville, opened the retail store and bid on larger contracts that the previous owners had never sought.
Ace Flag moved to its current home at Transit Road and Terrace Boulevard in the 1990s.
The American flag business is centered around the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, but sales of flags spike during periods of patriotism, such as after the 9/11 terror attacks.
It’s important to Vosseller that Ace Flag sells American flags made in this country, primarily from Annin Flagmakers.
Vosseller said the company’s fortunes improved in late 1990 and early 1991, when the United States launched Operation Desert Storm and the Buffalo Bills went on their run to their first Super Bowl.
“Those two events were really the turning point of Ace Flag, if you ask me,” she said.
Orders fell during the recession, but they’ve rebounded and sales are up 20 percent this year compared to the same period in 2011, Vosseller said.
In addition to American, international, state and sports flags, the company sells flags for major holidays, the changing seasons and other whimsical purposes.
Ace Flag also sells, installs and repairs flag poles locally and sells them over the Internet to buyers across the Northeast, primarily, and to distant sites.
The company custom designs and prints banners for businesses, colleges, nonprofit organizations and special events, and the expansion of its custom business has been spearheaded by Chad Vosseller, the design production manager.
Chad Vosseller’s design work for Ace Flag clients includes the banners that companies drape over tables at trade shows or that communities put up on street poles in their downtowns.
Ace Flag works with its clients on a marketing plan and produces banners and bumper stickers in-house, while contracting with other companies to produce items such as flags, T-shirts and mugs.
Roe came up with “visual marketing specialists” to describe his brother-in-law’s work. “We’ll always be a flag company. It just so happens that’s been an area for growth that we’ve really jumped into,” Roe said.
After 27 years, Jane Vosseller is ready to retire and is making arrangements to sell the company to Roe and her son.
“I’m hoping to be out next year,” she said.
“Yeah, we’re transitioning right now, to Peter and I, and then she’s always going to have a hand in it,” Chad Vosseller said. “I mean, I don’t think, mentally, she would be able not to.”
“I don’t know,” his mother responded. “They have ideas. It’s time for the next generation to take it beyond what I can do.”
Roe and Chad Vosseller plan to improve the company’s Web presence and to continue Ace Flag’s push into custom-design work, with Roe considering changing the name to Ace Flag & Printing. “Just a little ampersand there,” Roe said, because prospective clients aren’t aware of everything Ace Flag can do.
Ace Flag already puts “AFCO Custom” on the flip side of its business cards.
The next generation at Ace Flag must guide the company into the digital age. Will millennials who have grown up displaying their views and loyalties on social media sites and smartphones still want to put a flag on their front lawn?
“I’m pretty confident in our ability to adapt, and see trends, and see where it’s going. We’ve done it so far.” Chad Vosseller said.
The Vosseller clan isn’t too worried about the future of flags, given their long history as totems of national pride.
“What did we do when we went to the moon? We planted a flag,” said Jane Vosseller, who lectures on the history of flags. “There’s something about flags representing one’s beliefs, hopes and dreams that is ageless.”