Small-Town Roots, Big-Time Growth
It all started with newly-acquired equipment, a poultry processing plant and the wish to provide the people of small-town Edgerton, Minnesota, with jobs that allowed them to return home in the evenings for dinner. The year was 1965, and it was a time of milestones: astronaut Ed White did the first American spacewalk, President Lyndon B. Johnson was elected president and Medicare and Medicaid were established nationwide. At the time, John Fey was operating a print shop in the basement of his Edgerton home, known then as Fey Printing and Plastics, when he was approached by the owner of a vinyl goods company, who was interested in selling his equipment. Fey agreed, and with his new radio frequency (RF) heat-sealing apparatus in tow—a machine that uses radio waves to heat plastic sheets and form a sealant—he moved his business into a vacant processing building, also in Edgerton, and so began the precursor of Fey Promo.
No crystal ball could have predicted the organic growth that was to come. Within the first year, Norm Fey moved back to Minnesota from California to join the business. The pair met Bill Vernon, Sr., CAS, the then-chairman and CEO of distributor The Vernon Company in Newton, Iowa, who guided them into the promotional products space. In that same year, Fey Promo joined PPAI—then Specialty Advertising Association International—and has remained a member of the Association ever since. The company is now in its third generation of ownership, with Norm’s son, Mike Fey, MAS, as the president and CEO. (Norm retired in 2004 after leading Fey Promo for 39 years.)
Over the past 15 years, Fey has led the supplier through several acquisitions, starting with Relectix in 2009, a company that makes reflective, personal safety advertising products; Mi Line/Molenaar in 2013, which focuses on home goods; and Magna-Tel in 2016, a business specializing in flexible magnets. In 2017, the company started marketing all of its lines under Fey Promo. The acquisitions were part of a larger effort to continue manufacturing domestically and expand the product offering, Fey says. The acquisitions also allowed Fey Promo to grow its RF heat-sealing capabilities to include thermoforming, injection molding and sonic welding; its decoration methods to include screen printing, hot stamping, pad printing, laser engraving and digital printing; and made it possible to operate an onsite tool and die shop.
(Above, left) Mike Fey, center, with sister Michelle Fey Mitchell (first from left), wife Cheryl Fey, mother Ethelyn Fey, and father Norm, celebrate Fey Promo's induction into the Upper Midwest Association of Promotional Professionals' Hall of Fame in 2006. (Above, right) From left, Norm Fey and Mike Fey on the day of Fey Promo's 50th anniversary in 2015. The pair held tours at the Fey Promo headquarters that were open to the public, in addition to other celebratory activities.
“Our history includes being willing to take risks, to reinvent and to be guided by values that my grandfather and father would be proud of,” he says. Throughout the changes that have taken place internally, the company has stuck to its Minnesota roots, remaining in Edgerton. The central location, Fey says, has always been an asset. “With this central location, we have quick transit time for customer shipments, and most importantly, we have a tremendous team that brings Minnesota nice perspective and work ethic.”
The company’s 250,000-square-foot facility includes an onsite gym, dubbed the “Workout Factory,” complete with a half-size basketball court, racquetball court, sauna, locker room, free weights, circuit-training system and treadmills.
Due to its expanded services, Fey Promo has become sought-after for customized kitchen and home products. “Kitchen and household items provide premium exposure, with the majority of family decisions being made around the kitchen and dining room of the home,” says Fey. “Our practical products lead to repeated use with items that are retained.” One of their bestsellers is The World’s Best Pizza Cutter™, which boasts a sleek, patented design, and can be used to cut everything from pizza to brownies and bread dough. Other kitchen product categories include barbecue and beverage tools, kitchen gadgets and utensils, measuring cups and cutting boards.
(Above, from left) Michelle Fey Mitchell, Norm Fey and Mike Fey at Fey Promo's Employee Appreciation Banquet in 1998. The event was held to recognize years of dedicated service for the Fey Promo team.
While Fey is dedicated to carrying on his family’s business, joining the company wasn’t his initial career plan. In the seventh grade, he started his own business round-baling hay for local farmers, which became the focus of his junior and high school summers. During college, he spent two summers working at Fey, but this experience connected him with the Hohenwald Family and their distributor Spartan Promotional Group. Before and after graduation, he worked for Spartan Promotional Group in a sales capacity during the day, and at Sears at night and on weekends. “While I never had plans to join Fey or move back to the small town, there was an opening in the sales department, and Tony Haga, MAS—the head of the company’s sales and marketing operations at the time—called me to see if I would be interested,” he says. “The rest, as they say, is ‘history.’”
Today, Fey is the only family member who is active in the business, but his children have also shown interest. “My oldest son has spent some summer breaks at the company, along with doing a sales/marketing internship recently between college semesters. He joined us at The PPAI Expo®, and with his outgoing personality, he jumped right in and engaged customers.” His daughter, who is in high school, helps with human resources and various office-related tasks. But all in all, he believes the work of the Fey Promo team, and the Fey family, is enough to make his predecessors proud. “I don’t believe either my grandfather or father had considered a business flourishing for over 50 years and into the future generations,” he says.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.