Mike Byam said Terryberry still makes rings, but its product offerings are spread across multiple platforms now. Courtesy Terryberry
One hundred years is a long time to be in business. Mike Byam shared his company’s secret to success.
Byam is the fourth-generation managing partner of Terryberry — a company now focused primarily on employee recognition — which is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year.
Byam joked the company’s success happened through “dumb luck,” but something always got them through a few rough times, which included every economic downturn in the past 100 years, and in 1961, a burglary of class rings worth $250,000 at the time, one of the largest robberies in Grand Rapids history. The company nearly failed but was able to bounce back.
Byam said what it takes to stay afloat is listening to the customers and the market and knowing how to change with the times. And as the company grows, it’s important to build it with a “tremendous group of people” that can continue pushing forward.
The company was established as a custom jewelry manufacturer in 1918 by Byam’s great-grandfather, H.R. Terryberry. The company’s main focus shifted to class rings by 1947.
After the 1970s, Byam said class ring popularity began to decline. The company scaled back its production and ultimately sold the class ring portion of the business in 1990 to focus on employee recognition.
The first collection of customizable rewards items, such as watches, jewelry and pens, was released in 1995.
A significant piece of the company still includes manufacturing award rings, pins and other items, often used by sports teams or businesses as service awards for employees.
Different aspects of the company’s recognition system have been developed over time, culminating in its 360 Recognition Platform established in 2011. The web-based platform contains multiple pieces that allow companies to customize their employee recognition systems. The platform is based on a point system that allows participants to accrue points and redeem them for a wide variety of prizes, from mixing bowls to kayaks.
One piece of the platform is a social media website and smartphone app that gives employees and supervisors the ability to publicly recognize others’ work, fostering interactions between departments that otherwise may not have happened.
Another piece is based on wellness. Employees can earn points by reaching fitness goals.
The company also offers live webcasts featuring recognition training approved by the Society for Human Resource Management and the HR Certification Institute.
There are more than 25,000 clients — including Amway, Gordon Food Service, Haworth, Steelcase, General Motors and La-Z-Boy — that access some piece of Terryberry’s services.
Terryberry has nearly 300 associates in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom who are able to take part in the platform and earn points.
Byam said it’s been especially appealing to the incoming workforce, comprised mostly of people who stay with companies for shorter periods of time. Those people typically do not stay long enough to receive a gold watch at 25 years of employment, for example, so the point system gives them a way to receive recognition from the start.
While the younger employees are more vocal in survey feedback about wanting recognition, Byam said the older employees also very much enjoy it, based on his experience.
A 2013 Glassdoor survey of 2,044 adults ages 18 and older found 81 percent of employees are motivated to work harder when managers show appreciation.
Byam said increasing compensation is important, but it gives workers a short-term motivation to work harder, while regular recognition keeps them motivated year-round.
“Recognition can’t replace compensation, but compensation is different from recognition,” he said. “You can’t rely just on one.”
Having been hired in 1981, Josephine Guppy is looking forward to another charm encrusted with three diamonds for her 40th anniversary. It’ll make 12 charms on the bracelet she wears to special work events. As for the newer employees, she said they’re hooked right away by all the incentives Terryberry offers.
Guppy was the 13th person hired in the factory, which now has more than 100 people. She started her tenure in casting, working through nearly every position in the shop before becoming its assistant superintendent. She’s now the manager of order processing and servicing.
She said what has kept her around is the leadership, culture and camaraderie the company has fostered. She and her colleagues are “really open” to change, Guppy said.
Going forward, Byam expects Terryberry to continue growing in the industry and in the community.
Last year, the company founded the West Michigan Walking Challenge, a business-to-business wellness competition with more than 9,000 employees from 52 companies, logging 1 billion steps in a six-week period. The challenge returns this year April 16-May 28.
And, of course, the company will continue being open to what the future has in store.
“We recognize that in order for it to carry on, we’re going to look a lot different 10 years from now than we do today,” Byam said. “And it’s a willingness to do that.”