What do you do when you are a retired Californian firefighter Captain and former U.S. Air Force member?! Well, if your name is Kevin Tuohy, you invest in your longtime passions of charity and challenge coins.
Kevin is the founder of adrenalinechallengecoins.com, which is a tradition which is rapidly spreading well beyond its original military roots and into fire, police, schools, little leagues and more. Challenge Coins are small coins / medallions bearing an organization’s insignia or emblem and carried by the organization’s members. Traditionally, they are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale. Many major sports figures carry their own challenge coins, to be presented when they feel the time, circumstance or person merits that presentation. And every U.S. President since Bill Clinton has had his own challenge coin and the business of challenge coins is now a 1.2 billion dollar a year industry.
We here at The Levity Ball just had to sit down with Kevin to find out more and challenge him to some tough questions…
When did you first “know” that you wanted to bring the challenge coins to the American public?
I fell in love with the history and tradition of the challenge coin from the first time I heard it. After seeing how many military, police and fire people collect, present, and trade challenge coins I knew I wanted to be a part of it all. By no means did I introduce the challenge coin to America, but I am trying to spread this proud tradition to new areas. I have had one member of the military tell me he thought challenge coins should stay military only, but I’ve had dozens tell me how proud they are to see a “brother” doing so much more with them.
Who were some of your role models growing up and ones today?
I always found local role models; coaches, bosses, people I followed and learned from because I respected them. I think it’s easier to find people in your own everyday life that you want to emulate than it is to try to mold yourself after people you’ve never met personally. You don’t know somebody’s everyday values unless you get to see the way they react to everyday situations.
What is your current favorite coin or lucky coin?
My current favorite is a coin celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and the friendships between Orange County (CA) and New York City fire departments. After 9-11-01 we made some amazing friendships with New York firefighters, and each year we get together either in California, New York, or both to strengthen those friendships and enjoy some incredible times together. Just today 130 of us from California were taken out on the FDNY fireboat 343, where FDNY fireboat 9, fireboat Marine 1-Alpha and an NYPD helicopter all took part in making for an amazing display and tour up and down the Hudson River. Every challenge coin we have made to celebrate these friendships has and will always have the number 343 on it somewhere. That is our tribute and remembrance of the 343 New York Firefighters killed on 9-11-01. That’s just an example of how a challenge coin can represent so much more than most people realize.
But I have a lot of coins that I think are awesome…the designs and ideas that some customers bring to us are really cool, and I enjoy turning those ideas into reality.
What makes your challenge coins different than others out there?
Our coins are the highest quality and probably the lowest price in the industry…but what sets us apart probably more than anything else is the fact that the company is owned and run by someone who is both former military and fire department. People like having their challenge coins made by somebody who respects the tradition of the challenge coin, who understands that a challenge coin is not a cheap trinket, but an important representation of membership, achievement, respect, etc. We won’t make a cheap coin just to save a few cents…if you carry any challenge coin it should be one that you are proud to display.
You were a firefighter for 34 years… Do you ever miss it?
A part of me will always miss it…as you get older you realize that the parts you will miss the most are not just the adrenaline rush you get going code 3 to a fire or major incident, but also the first and last hour of every 24 hour shift, where you’re sitting at the kitchen table with the oncoming and offgoing shifts, sharing stories, jokes, and just being a part of each others’ lives. There is a very special bond formed between people when you truly realize that your lives could be in each others’ hands at any time…you don’t find that kind of bond often, and certainly not is most careers.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Treat people the way you would want to be treated…the good old Golden Rule. If you can live by that, almost everything else will work itself out.
What is your advice to others looking at starting their own company or bring their “idea” to life?
Be patient about the money making part of the business. Offer the best product or service you can, back your product or service, and provide the best customer service possible. Always be honest with your customers, even if it means getting less of their money because a lesser product is actually the best choice for them. If you look out for your customer more than your bank account, word will spread, customers will come, and soon enough you’ll be making more than enough money.
What new coins will you be bringing to the market in the future? Can people also create their own?
We are currently licensed by the National Hockey League (NHL) and are hopeful that other major sports licenses are in our future.
Anybody can create their own challenge coin. Most companies have a 100 coin minimum, and in addition to military, police and fire, they are usually made for teams, occasions, etc. We’ve also made challenge coins for schools, Little Leagues, wedding parties, charities, golf tournaments and more.
Where do you see yourself and Adrenaline Challenge Coins in five years from now?
I started this company mostly as a way to stay in touch with my military and fire department roots. It was more about staying close the community I had been a part of for so long. But by staying true to my own advice in your earlier question Adrenaline Challenge Coins continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. One quote I was told recently that I really enjoyed was part of a conversation with a New York City Police Officer. We were helping him to create a coin, and he told us “we’ve seen the quality in your work, that’s why so many NYPD sections are coming to you…your coins are flying around here like, well for lack of a better word, like bullets”. We’ll continue to treat our customers as the most important part of our business, because they are. With that philosophy there is no reason for our growth to slow. Challenge coins are currently a half billion dollar a year industry, and their popularity is only growing.
If you had a coin challenge with Bill Clinton, who also has coins, who would win do you think?
Every U.S. President since Bill Clinton has created their own challenge coin. If I were challenged by Bill Clinton, it would depend on which particular rules we were playing. In one version if you are challenged and answer by presenting your coin, you win. If we did that, I would win…since I own this company a lot of friends want to be “the guy” who catches me without a coin…it’s never happened yet, and I wouldn’t let Bill be the first. In another version of the rules, which usually only applies to all military groups, if everybody has their coin then the one presented by the highest rank wins. Since Bill was the Commander in Chief, there is no higher coin. If we were playing those rules I’d be buying Bill a beer!