LaBell Personalizes Incentives

June 14, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — Sure, a little extra cash in the paycheck is nice for a job well done.

But does it mean a whole lot after you’ve spent it?

Travis LaBell thinks not. He wants to help local businesses offer something other than an occasional small cash incentive to their employees, while at the same time providing a boost in clientele for area stores.

How about 20 percent off your next purchase at a local retail store? A dinner for two at a nice restaurant? Or perhaps a family outing at an area attraction?

LaBell is betting that those kind of perks for meeting or exceeding performance goals at work will mean a lot more to people than a few extra dollars in their paycheck.

“What I’m trying to do is have an employee say, ‘yeah, my company does care,” said LaBell, the 31-year-old owner of Incentive Marketing Concepts and Strategies (IMCS) in Grand Haven.

His goal is to provide employers an alternative way to say “thank you” to employees through discount certificates redeemable at local retailers, restaurants and other businesses. He is working to set up employee-incentive programs at local employers using discount offers.

LaBell believes such a program would mean more to employees and do more to personalize an incentive than cash bonuses that he see as a nice but impersonal gesture.

“What I am pushing for and striving for is to create a moment for the individual,” LaBell said. “The cash awards don’t create a moment.”

LaBell has thought about the venture for about a year and began working on it full time after leaving his employment four months ago with Bristol Myers Squibb in Zeeland, where he worked for 10 years in a variety of positions. The father of two school-aged children who has run a small business consulting practice on the side for years, LaBell concluded that he didn’t want to just go out and pursue new employment.

“I’m not even interested in going that route,” said LaBell, who sees the IMCS venture as a test of his abilities.

“I’m doing it for myself,” he said. “This is going to tell me if I’m performing. If I’m not performing, I’m not making any money.”

LaBell is preparing to launch the venture in October and expects to generate revenue through fees charged to set up an employee incentive program for employers and continually develop and customize new discount offers with participating businesses, as well as commissions on sales from participating retailers.

A native of Riverview, south of Detroit, LaBell came to West Michigan in 1991 to attend Grand Valley State University and decided to stay after he “fell in love” with the area. He earned a degree in criminal justice and psychology from GVSU in 1996 and at one time he envisioned opening his own counseling practice, but instead opted for a career path at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

LaBell earned a business degree at Davenport University in 1999, and in doing so planted the seed for what became his business. A research paper he wrote at Davenport just prior to graduating focused on employee incentives, which for most people always invariably meant cash and what he considers further evidence of a growing lack of “personal touch” in how some employers deal with and reward their employees.

“I realized that personal touch toward employees is disappearing. There’s nothing there anymore. It’s gone,” LaBell said.

He then began to wonder about the prospects of centering a consulting business around helping employers set up an incentive program that rewarded employees through discounts at local restaurants and stores, providing the company a stronger connection to the community and, in the process, something that employees may take to heart a little more.

“How can I bring the community together is basically what I’m doing,” he said.

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