Byam's Job: Employee Recognition

May 8, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Mike Byam followed in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather before him when he stepped up as managing partner of Terryberry Co. in 2002.

Terryberry, once the king of class rings, is best known today for its recognition programs featuring high-quality jewelry and personal accessories that companies and organizations use to recognize and reward employees’ achievements.

The company’s recognition programs range from watches, rings and bracelets, to lapel pins, pen and pencil sets, binoculars, photo frames, clocks, gemstone globes and engraveable wood, glass and acrylic awards that employers can use to recognize employees’ years of service, sales initiative, or any other type of milestone achievement. Typically, the client company’s logo is incorporated into the jewelry or accessory.

“We try to find things that people don’t normally go out and purchase for themselves. It’s something special,” Byam explained. “The objective is that when the employee is choosing the award and using the award, they reflect back on their achievement and think positively about the organization that presented it, so there’s some long-term residual value for the sponsoring company.”

While in high school and college, Byam polished rings, worked in Terryberry’s warehouse and mowed the lawn at company headquarters.

“I just grew to love the business and got to know everybody involved,” he recalled. “After college, my father asked if I wanted to work for the company. I thought it would be great. I was 22 years old and was just happy to have a job.”

His dad wanted to establish a sales office in Kansas City to cover the central part of the country, so Mike was recruited for the job. He spent five years building the office there.

Today, recognition programs account for 98 percent of Terryberry’s business. But from the time when Byam’s grandfather, Herbert Terryberry, founded the company in 1918 until about 1980, the company’s primary focus was class rings. Mike Byam’s father, George Byam, along with his father’s partner, Brent Slay, who led management in the 1980s, saw the employee recognition business as a real opportunity and switched gears. Before long, the employee recognition business was larger than class rings, Byam said. Terryberry sold the class ring business about 10 years ago. Byam and partner Dave Beemer took over Terryberry’s reins about four years ago.

Byam pointed out that the employee recognition business generally stems from the gold watch business.

“What started out as the retirement gold watch went to the 25-years-with-the-company gold watch. With people not staying to retirement and people not even staying 25 years with a company as frequently as they used to, employers are just recognizing their people earlier and more frequently during their employment.”

The most popular type of recognition program is one that offers employees a selection of awards from which to choose, depending on the level of achievement they’ve reached. Some programs use an award selection booklet, but today, more often than not, programs employ an online award selection process. Terryberry creates a Web site for a client company and employees just log in to make their selections.

Terryberry jewelry is available in varying metal qualities from pure karat gold or sterling silver to gold or silver plated and everything in between. Gemstones and diamonds are available, as well. In fact, Terryberry sells a tremendous amount of diamonds, Byam said, because a number of clients have recognition programs with bonus gemstone or diamond “add ons” that denote graduating levels of achievement.

“It’s an inexpensive program because smaller diamonds don’t cost that much,” he explained. “But after achieving for three, four or five years, you end up with a pretty spectacular ring.”

Terryberry has more than 25,000 customers in North America and serves companies of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Its customer base spans a variety of industries, including manufacturing companies, financial institutions, sales organizations, sports franchises, service providers and health care institutions.

The company has 45 sales people that cover both the United States and Canada.

“What we find is that wherever there is a population, there are people employed, and an organization that employs people probably has a need to recognize their employees’ achievements.”

Management is just starting to explore the possibility of a location in Europe, Byam noted.

“One of the neatest things about advertising online is that it helps you navigate your business. If you get enough inquiries from a certain part of the world, it might be worthwhile to look into new opportunities out there. There are a handful of companies that have expressed interest in our product. Over the next five years, our objective is to double the size of our business. We feel we’re just scratching the surface as it is right now.”

Byam and a few Terryberry sales reps were recently in London to attend a human-resource-based trade show. Terryberry participates in about 70 North American trade shows of that nature each year because they’re usually frequented by personnel directors, the same people who tend to make the decisions on employee recognition programs.

“Employee recognition programs have long been a North American phenomena,” Byam said. “As the world gets smaller and U.S. companies are in Europe and European companies are in the United States, it’s a program that’s starting to jump the pond.”

Terryberry has both in-house jewelry designers and independent contract designers who create custom jewelry. The company designs the custom piece, creates the tooling for it, and manufactures it at its facility on Oak Industrial Drive in Grand Rapids. Members of sports teams or clubs, for instance, may want a one-of-a-kind ring designed specifically to commemorate a title win or a championship season.

At Terryberry, the average employee tenure is about 12 years. Terryberry practices what it preaches. It runs a number of recognition programs for its own employees’ service, dedication and accomplishments.

“To my father and Brent’s credit, I think they created an environment where people enjoy what they do and feel it’s a good place to work,” Byam said.    

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