Interview with Entrepreneur - Mark E. Sackett
Designer and entrepreneur Mark E. Sackett has had a long and storied career that has taken him from Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco and from owning a personal design and branding firm and a number of other ventures to founding The Box SF in a historic printing plant preserved from the 1920s. In a recent private interview, Mark talked over the details of his creative experiences, noting some of the high points and the challenges of becoming the successful business owner he is today.
At twelve years old, in Kansas City, nothing fascinated Mark more than antique labels for beer. It started with a set of salt and pepper shakers owned by his grandfather. He found them fascinating, enjoying examining the little labels they came with. Over time, this evolved into him and his brother dumpster diving for bottles with interesting labels that often left the shelves their father built in their bedroom smelling of a liquor store – a trait which eventually led to the disposal of said bottles, much to the boys’ protestations.
This love for labels didn’t fade as Mark grew older. He amassed an impressive collection of over 200 empty beer cans from makers across the country, stacking them neatly and examining every inch of design until he could remember the details of any of them from memory. He got a hold of a list of breweries and, using the money he made mowing lawns and taking odd jobs, sent off tons of letters to all of them, asking if they had any labels they could spare. And they very much did - Mark ended up with thousands! By the time he moved out, he’d become one of the best-known label collectors in the country, with a trove that was valued around $250,000 or more with upwards of 2.5 million individual labels.
Of course, labels weren’t the only thing Mark collected. Starting around his teen years, Mark collected illustrated children’s books, marveling at the unique drawings and the storytelling involved in their creation. He collected advertising annuals for commercial art due to his father’s work for a telephone company; when a tornado hit and destroyed the AMC Theaters building in 1971, his father went to perform repairs and came across the 1971 edition of one of those Communication Arts Annuals. Mark would later collect the 1973 edition and, becoming so enamored with them, ordered every back issue available at the time.
By high school, Mark had discovered a strong passion and talent for design, and he applied to art colleges for a formal degree. Though he was accepted to a school in Pasadena on a partial scholarship, he couldn’t afford it, so he enrolled in a local college that had an experimental commercial art and design program newly starting. He ended up becoming the top of his class for two years running during his time there.
It was during college that he started his first work in design, freelancing under the name Raintree Total Design – a name inspired by a simple logo idea he sketched out and couldn’t put down.
Design and Creative Career
After graduating and applying to multiple design firms and hearing nothing back, Mark decided to continue pursuing his freelancing career. He began to build a steady stream of design business and kept up with the Kansas City design scene. He even entered 13 pieces into a local awards show under the name Raintree Total Design. – at the awards ceremony and dinner, he was seated near the back of the venue with printers and vendors to the industry and away from the main area of the large established well-known Advertising Agencies – he ended up getting all 13 pieces into the competition, ultimately winning eight gold awards. It was during this show that designer John Muller of M80 Art took an interest in him, and on the spot at the end of that ceremony, impressed with his work and high level of awards, he offered Mark a position with his firm, with full benefits. Of course, Mark said yes, and he went on to help make Muller’s firm one of the most highly-awarded design firms in the American midwest, a title it still holds today.
In 1988, Mark made his amiable exit from Muller’s company and moved out to California to pursue his career further. After working briefly with a London design firm (where he was promoted twice in seven months) he was laid off with half the staff. He then applied to 13 different firms in the San Francisco area with no success, Mark, needing to pay his rent and survive, decided to take matters into his own hands. He created his own design firm at last, under the name Sackett Design Associates. With this new firm, Mark’s career exploded again, and he was able to work with big-name clients including the likes of Citicorp, Agard Associates, Hallmark, Sprint, Levi Strauss and Co., Charles Schwab, The Disney Stores, Capitol Records, and Warner Brothers.
It was during this boom in his career that Mark realized his business was outgrowing its Pacific Heights office space, so he began looking in the wider San Francisco market for a larger space to move into. He and his team needed around 5,000 square feet, which was, at the time, looking to cost him in the range of $1.5-2 million. Mark worked with his agent to go through the options and one day, while walking into a meeting with Warner Brothers in Los Angeles, Mark got a call from his Agent in San Francisco with news almost too good to be true – a 14,000-square-foot building for $1.6 million. He flew home immediately to San Francisco to see it and made an offer on the spot, the Client accepted the offer and they bought the building so quickly, no one else was able to see it!
A few months later they moved into their new headquarters, Mark and his team were doing a great deal of branding projects for film, television, and music concerns. This led Mark (ever curious), to produce or co-produce 2 feature films and a short film, create a record label, a publishing company, and build a division of his company called Brainfood Creative Programs. In addition to creative off-sites and seminars for his clients, the main product of Brainfood was a unique take on networking events called ‘The Art of Active Networking.’
Mark subsequently took his unique Networking Events to 5 countries and 17 cities worldwide. Those events have now been attended by over 30,000 people and led Mark to deliver his first TED Talk. He has since been invited now to give a second TED Talk on creativity!
Mark is also a frequent speaker at conferences, colleges and for corporations.
Creating The Box SF
As for the upstairs of the building, where his team moved in, Mark found whiteboards from prior tenants covered in the markings of some long outlasted dot-com business. He and his team moved them out of the way to continue their design business while Mark looked for suitable tenants for the lower floors. After several years of tech businesses rotating through the lower floors of the building as tenant space, in 2015, Mark decided to take control of the entire building. Mark’s Design and Branding Firm flourished.
This beautiful historic building in the South of Market District of San Francisco was everything Mark and his team needed. Located on the corner of Moss and Howard, this gorgeous three-story structure was built in 1926 and used as a printing plant for decades. It housed some of the most influential magazines of the age, including the San Francisco Examiner and Sunset Magazine - some early press sheets for which are still plastered along dividing walls in the basement. There was even a historic blast vault in the basement, designed to keep the building from exploding should a fire occur near the very combustible inks and solvents.
Even better, there was a time capsule installed in the basement floor. As a note, even today, Mark and his team have yet to dig it up. They were too “done with dust,” he noted, and continued by saying, “Either William Randolph Hearst [a newspaper mogul of the late 1800s and early 1900s who ran the San Francisco Examiner] left me a dead cat or a bunch of gold bricks – we don’t know which.”
After 10 years in the building, Mark created The Box SF as a premiere Meeting and Events venue and sent his Design Teams home, Years before work from home was common, they became a virtual Agency, which still operates to this day. Mark felt having his staff drive as much as an hour each way, to and from work, was a waste of their time and human capital. This now popular idea allowed Sackett Design doing business now as Reflectur to continue to thrive.
The events business flourished and Mark being between tenants on the ground floor decided to expand his events business to that level. This turned out to be a slight pain to do, as the city of San Francisco wouldn’t let him run Event Spaces on the ground floor due to a zoning issue. According to clerk records, the building needed to be a Printing Plant and was zoned as such. Mark would have to turn it back into a Printing Plant or pay over 1.6 million dollars to change the zoning. While trying to figure out how to do this, he decided to open a Letterpress Printing Shop and retail store selling “All Things Printed”. Today that store is called ‘The Pressroom and Mercantile of The Box SF. Now with 11 historic Letterpresses dating back to 1837, it is the largest Antique Printed Advertising and Ephemera Store in the United States with over 15 million items for sale. Best of all, with over 135 Antique Cabinets and Fixtures from around the world, the Pressroom and Mercantile looks and feels like a Museum and 1850’s Country store!
Mark, Sackett Design (Reflectur), and The Box SF Now
Mark has won more than 1,500 awards for his work in design, retail, film, music, and events. In his estimation, there are three key meaningful moments he likes to recall as highlights of his long career. The first, in design, was a poster he designed for Hyatt Hotels being selected for the Library of Congress permanent design collection.
The second, in retail, was the establishment of the print shop and mercantile at The Box SF, personally and almost single-handedly designed and produced by Mark, who notes that it feels like a crowning achievement to have created something so detailed, comprehensive, and historically special.
The third, of course, is The Box SF itself. The Box SF now has 13 operational printing presses dating back to 1837. The Pressroom and Mercantile of The Box SF is a historical letterpress shop with gorgeous cabinetry dating back to the 1800’s. To be honest, it is a magical space that surrounds its visitors, and all of the material is original and in impeccable condition.
And then of course The Box SF Meeting and Events Center on the upper floors of the building. They have 3 private meeting suites in addition to the main event space on the top floor. One major attraction of the space is the main meeting table in The Gate Room, designed and built by Mark and his team. It is a 32 foot long, 337-year-old dining and meeting table made from village gate doors from the Shandong province of China. Mark found the historic gates in Portland, Oregon, and was so impressed by them that he designed the table on the spot, then personally drove them in a moving truck back to San Francisco to become a centerpiece of The Box SF.
This cozy, warm, and inviting venue is only two blocks from Moscone Center, nearby major travel centers without being directly in the traffic. They have already hosted a range of celebrity guests including Jack Dorsey, Snoop Dog, Ludacris, the Governor of California, and several United States senators and congressmen. Over 12 Grammy Award Winners have performed there and the Box SF was the first venue in San Francisco to do LGBTQ Weddings, years before Gay Marriage was legal. Mark says, “We always believed that Love is Love and all should be treated equally and with dignity”. With a full catering services, bar options, state of the art tech team, and historic, loft-like vibe, The Box SF is a perfect locale for business meetings, offsites, dinners, pop-ups, conferences, photo and film shoots and other events. The Pressroom and Mercantile are open Monday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm for anyone wishing to visit! The venue is available 24/7.
In the end, Mark feels that his design journey has been about constant refinement and innovation. He and his team are never afraid to try new things, take on new challenges, and build something no one has ever seen before. To Mark, creativity is all about the process of making something, in the same way that for him, collecting is about the thrill of the hunt. Mark is excited to see where his adventure with The Box SF takes him, and he’s grateful to look back on the amazing life and career that brought him to this point. He continues to live a Creative Life daily!
Book with The Box SF
If you’re looking to take advantage of The Box SF’s beautiful event spaces, you can contact them at Info@TheBoxSF.com. You can also join their mailing list to keep up to date on upcoming sales, classes, and events. You can find more information on their website.
Mark can be reached at MSackett@Reflectur.com for any design, branding, film or creative needs.