In January of 1991, Mark Thomas Company was born.
If you are very interested in the newspaper business, especially the Herald-Dispatch, you remember a few years ago when Mark Beito was owner and publisher of our local paper.
What? That wasn’t a few years ago?
Maybe you also need to be of a mature age, like me, to remember those days. It turns out that it was actually 29 years ago that Beito sold his interest in the newspaper and put his entrepreneurial mind to work on a plan to start a new business in Sleepy Eye.
“I left the paper in July 1990,” said Beito. “I had this idea that I could print and sell memorial folders and other printed items for the funeral industry.”
Beito said he spent a couple months taking pictures for the artwork (some of which remain in use today) and putting his plan together. In January of 1991, Mark Thomas Company was born.
At first the company was just Mark. “Sandy [his wife] was teaching and bringing home the paycheck,” he said. “I remember the kids helping me put together sample sets — walking around the dining room table to pick up each piece.”
The company’s first location was the building where First Security Agency is now. Beito had two duplicators, black ink only, and had the color folders printed by other printing companies.
In 1993, Mark Thomas Company purchased and moved into a building that had been owned by Pietrus Foods and used as a goose hatchery. Beito said it took a lot of hauling out “stuff” and deep cleaning to make the space usable, and a certain odor continued to waft about on some days.
In 1997, Beito added a 2-color press to the operation — a decision that also created more jobs.
“In 2001, we got our first 4-color press,” Beito said.
From 1991 to 2000, Beito concentrated on growing the business. During that time they sold only printed goods.
“Sometime in the late 90s, we enrolled in the Small Business Management Program, taught by Scott Taylor through South Central College,” Beito said. “We stayed in the program for 20 years, having monthly consulting meetings with Scott — he’s the one who urged us to have a catalog. We took his advice and that’s when business really took off.”
In 2004, Mark Thomas Company moved into their current building, across the street from the old facility.
“The increase in business, due to our catalogs, made it possible to do that,” Beito said.
Today Mark Thomas Company sends their annual Master Catalog (a 140 page publication for 2020) to 15,000 funeral homes. They follow up with smaller catalogs, sent four times a year to all funeral homes, eight times a year to current customers.
“We do some business with churches and hospices,” said Beito, “but 99-plus% of our business is with funeral homes.”
The Mark Thomas Company product list has grown to include memorial folders, prayer cards, acknowledge-ments, register books, and service bulletins, as well as a wide variety of cremation urns (some made on-site and some ordered from vendors) and related products. The Mark Thomas woodworking shop creates many urns as well.
Beito said two recent equipment purchases have been very beneficial. At the end of 2017, the company got a plate maker and in January 2019, they purchased a new (to them) and faster 4-color press.
“I have to thank our city utility for helping us make the new press work,” said Beito. “When it arrived we learned it needed a different voltage. We called the city and they came right out and installed a new transformer.”
Beito said it’s taken about a year to get all the wrinkles out of operating the new press, but, “It’s all smooth now.”
Another big factor in the development of Mark Thomas Company was when Mark and Sandy’s daughter, Julia, and her husband Casey Coulson, came back to Sleepy Eye to join the company in 2005. The four are owners of the company.
Over the years, from 1991 when Mark was the only employee, to now in 2020, the company has grown to provide local jobs to 41 people working at full-time or part-time positions with Mark Thomas Company.
What’s happening next? The growth of the products offered by the company has often come about when Beito had the opportunity to acquire another company. His entrepreneurial mind is still turning, so the addition of more products in the future seems to be a pretty sure thing.