This year marks a milestone that Mike Fey, MAS, says would make his grandfather beam with pride. It’s the 50th anniversary of Edgerton, Minnesota-based supplier Fey Industries (UPIC: FEY).
“My grandfather would be proud of what the company has become and our effort to continue to provide meaningful employment and uplifting family values,” says Fey, president/CEO and a third-generation leader of the business. In half a century, the company has grown from a one-man operation to the largest employer in rural Edgerton, with approximately 200 employees.
The company is also a true domestic manufacturer, creating most of its signature vinyl products—think ring binders, calendars, policy wallets and more—in the U.S. In the past decade, the company has tripled its product lines by making strategic acquisitions that beefed up its factory’s capabilities.
“Our future is a bright one that includes us experiencing continued growth as we live out our purpose of creating a lasting, positive impression on everyone we impact,” Fey says of the company’s anniversary. “Individually and collectively, we get to make a difference, and the impact is both at work and the world around us.”
Though the company has changed and grown a lot since 1965, some things remain the same.
Fifty years ago, a life-changing business opportunity presented itself to Fey’s grandfather, John Fey. He was operating a print shop in the basement of his home when the owner of a firm he purchased vinyl products from approached him about buying the business. He moved his RF heat-sealing equipment into a vacant poultry processing building in his hometown of Edgerton and started Fey Industries. “A motivating factor was my grandfather’s desire to provide meaningful employment for local people and enable them to be home at night for dinner with their families,” Fey says, noting that Edgerton is a farming community of little more than 1,000 people.
Fey’s father, Norm, joined the company almost from the start, and soon stumbled upon Newton, Iowa-based distributor The Vernon Company. “Bill Vernon helped guide our company to the promotional products industry,” Fey says, “And we joined the Association in 1968.”
After decades of organic growth, the company acquired Reflectix, which focuses on reflective personal safety products, in 2009 and Mi Line/Molenaar, a manufacturer of advertising products for the home, in 2013. “Reflectix was a natural fit for us, as most of the products feature the same core manufacturing capability of RF heat sealing,” Fey explains. “With Mi Line we increased our core manufacturing capabilities, adding injection molding, sonic welding and pad printing.
“We also consider each product line its own distinct brand rather than lump them together in one catalog or website,” Fey says.
Though it’s always adjusting to market needs, Fey Industries hasn’t lost sight of its past. Each of the company’s three brands, Fey, Mi Line and Reflectix, primarily feature products manufactured in Minnesota, with some complementary imported items. “So many suppliers are now importers and decorators, whereas the industry roots are with manufacturing and decorating,” Fey says.
Although the family business has connected Mike Fey to promotional products all his life, he formally joined the industry in college by working as a commission-only rep for Spartan Promotional Group. “I was looking for a means to build my resume,” he recalls. “We go way back with the Hohenwald family, as Al and Phyliss Hohenwald started Spartan a year later than my grandfather started Fey Industries.” Al and Fey’s father even served together on the board of regional association SAAUM, predessor of Upper Midwest Association of Promotional Professionals (UMAPP).
When Fey first contacted Spartan, he was seeking an internship. But Spartan didn’t offer internships. “They provided me a stack of catalogs and a box of samples, and that was the start of my career selling promotional advertising products,” he says. “It was a valued experience … in a territory which Spartan did not have prior representation. It was complete cold calling and working to build a client base.”
Though young, Fey was no stranger to enterprise. He’d run a small hay baling business from seventh grade until his freshman year in college. After college graduation, Fey stayed with Spartan, working for Sears on nights and weekends to supplement his income.
Today, Fey has a wife and three children, ages 12, 14 and 16, whose sports activities keep him busy. “I strive for getting the chance to wake up my kids in the morning, be at work by 7:30 am and then be home at 6 pm to enjoy dinner together as a family. This is where living in a rural area is helpful, as my commute is less than five minutes,” he says.
Fey also serves on the local school board, and he just crossed off a major bucket list item: skydiving. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he says. “I look forward to doing that again.”
>>Career Advice From Mike Fey, MAS, President/CEO Of Fey Industries
“Whatever the occupation may be, focus on something you find fulfillment in doing; something that enables you to soar with your strengths while others can come alongside you and complement your skills. Remember that your work accomplishments are important; yet, your legacy will be how you went about reaching those accomplishments.”