TRAVERSE CITY — Michael DeBruyn isn't just the president of Great Lakes Stainless. He's also a guitar player who once performed a song at his father's funeral.
Company Design Engineer Todd Sears may or may not have a feud with the Roebucks family. But Sears is a mentor for the Traverse City Central robotics team.
These are some of the facts — and fiction — that can be found on Mirror Finish: The Official Podcast of Great Lakes Stainless. The Traverse City company has released three episodes of its half-hour podcast that informs people about not only what the company does, but also about the people who do it.
"The podcast is focused on the business, but there's a lot of personal stuff in there," said Paul Campana, who works in production at Great Lakes Stainless and has the title of Critical Account Manager and Materials Control. "I think people like hearing that."
"The first episode we had, Mike shared a story about playing the guitar at his father's funeral. People hear that and it gives them another dimension to the business. Yeah, Mike is the president of a local business, but he's also a guy. He had a dad and his dad died. As a tribute he played the guitar and I think that really resonates with people.
"It makes that connection that is going to keep Great Lakes Stainless in their minds in the future."
Campana had the idea for a company podcast and approached Travis Dollaway, in charge of business development and estimating within the sales department. Dollaway was quickly on board, as was DeBruyn, who had a microphone from equipment sound testing.
"We brought in a mike, we had a laptop lying around that wasn't being used and we put it together and kind of jumped in," Campana recalled.
DeBruyn said the idea of a podcast actually started with an Instagram campaign in February.
"Getting that out there, we found one of the biggest benefits was the employees really liked it," DeBruyn said. "Mandy, my wife, said, 'It's really cool seeing the stuff that you do.' Normally I'm not taking pictures home full of stainless steel fabrications.
"We have three of us who post pretty regularly, almost daily to that. We're having some fun with it, putting that out there and getting our name out there."
DeBruyn, Campana and Dollaway host the program, which is taped every other week.
"The biggest thing is juggling schedules," Dollaway said. "We might schedule somebody, 'Hey, you want to do the podcast on Friday?' Well, Friday rolls around and they're swamped. We're not going to take someone away from the job they need to be doing to do the podcast. That comes first."
Having fun with the podcasts is a close second.
There was plenty of joking about Sears and "his family's feud with the Roebucks" in the latest episode. There's a discussion of "mullets and banjos" in the debut of Mirror Finish.
DeBruyn joked that it "brings a touch of humanity" to corporate America.
The real purpose of the podcast is to build a familiarity with the company, which started in 1995 with, according to its website, "one employee and a Milwaukee Sawzall" and now features between 65 and 70 workers in a 60,000-square-foot facility on a cul-de-sac off Stepke Court.
"When you listen to a podcast for any length of time, you almost feel like you know the hosts and you have like an emotional investment, almost a small sense of ownership," Campana said. "If we can communicate that to some customers and some other people, it takes advantage of the psychological effect of social media. That was the original idea: to increase our presence on social media."
"We can build a relationship, which makes the whole world go round, but the business world, too," DeBruyn added. "It really puts us in a position to build long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships with our customers and employees."
That's especially important because Great Lakes Stainless is a wholesale supplier. There is very little direct contact with the buying public.
"The long-term sustainable growth for the good of the company, the customer and the community really is built on strong relationships — and that's what we're trying to lay the groundwork for in the visual and audio manner with the podcasts, both internal with our employees and externally with our customers," DeBruyn said. "It really allows us to communicate who we are and what we're about in a pretty thorough way."
DeBruyn said the podcasts have been educational for him as well.
"We plan on working through the employees, talking a little but about what they do, but also learning about the employees," he said. "Everyone I've learned quite a bit about, people that I already thought I knew pretty well."
The company president said the exposure can be a boost for the other end of the hiring spectrum, especially given the company's location.
"Being off the beaten path, recruiting talent is no small thing," DeBruyn said. "If you're trying to grow or are in growth mode, you've got to have talented, passionate employees. And every tool in our arsenal that we have to convince people that it's a good place to work and to move to northern Michigan, we'd love to use."
Campana had his wife, Sue, listen to all three podcasts on a recent trip downstate and she reported improvement each episode. Campana said he was surprised how little editing was needed, other than removing some dead air.
"I think we've meshed well, everybody that's been on," he said. "So far the conversations have been smooth and flowing."
When Mirror Finish really gets its groove, Campana said there are plans to start featuring other community groups and organizations that Great Lakes Stainless works with, like Freedom Builders.
The podcast opens with a bass guitar instrumental by Dollaway, who added some drums to the track.
Campana said Mirror Finish, available "everywhere you get a podcast," currently is approaching 100 downloads. The trio joked the additional exposure should easily push the podcast into triple digits.
Dollaway said Mirror Finish should be "all the way to 102" in no time.