The Entrepreneur of the Year announced at the Annual Dubois Strong meeting wasn’t there—he was at the hospital with his mom as she fights her fourth round with cancer—but everyone there appreciated his product as they ordered mixed drinks and sodas from the bar. In fact many a party would probably be ruined without Mark Seibert’s product and appropriately enough his company name says it all: Celebration Ice.
Celebration Ice is a product of Dubois County; a homegrown business from a hometown boy. With those qualifications, the Dubois Strong board quickly approved Mark as Entrepreneur of the Year. “Mark was nominated by John Kahle of Kimball International,” Dubois Strong President Jim Dinkle said. “He is a homegrown business, a homegrown individual.”
Mark’s family has a history of entrepreneurship in the county. He attributes the success of Celebration Ice from the beginning to his dad, Mike Seibert, who owned Hoosier Insurance. “They knew me because of my dad’s business and the great relationships he had with people. When I went around to find out if the area would support the business, the support was there.” Mark said.
Marks mom, Betty, worked for Judge William Wiekert until she retired this past January. She’s very proud of her son and his success.
Besides his dad’s business, Mark’s family has an even longer history as entrepreneurs in Jasper; his great grandparents started the Eckert Mill located on the Patoka River off of Third Ave. The mill is gone now but the Jasper City Mill is built on the old foundation.
Dubois Strong (then the Dubois County Area Development Corporation) was there in the beginning to help Celebration Ice go from an idea to a working model of local sweatitude. ” Mark was one of our first Enterprise Loan Fund recipients,” Dinkle explained. “That program was created to foster entrepreneurship like Mark exhibits.”
Jokes about Mark being the coolest guy in Dubois County aside, the five year old business keeps Mark so busy he says he sweats a lot. Slinging seven and twenty pound bags of ice is strenuous enough, but filling pallets four feet high can really get the blood pumping. On top of that he does most of the deliveries to his over 60 clients that encompass seven counties now. “I’m sore everyday,” He laughs. “I never wake up feeling great, I’m always sore.”
Mark graduated from Indiana State with a marketing degree but before he could start his career he came home to help with his dad’s illness. He had worked for a competing ice supply company while he was in college and he continued to work for it off and on until it closed its doors and moved operations to Evansville. When his dad passed away, Mark was caught facing the fact he hadn’t been in the workforce for a long time. “It’s hard to get a job when you haven’t worked for awhile,” he said. “I knew about the ice business though and my old manager gave me a lot of advice.”
Mark completed a business plan and took advantage of the Entrepreneur Loan Fund offered by Dubois Strong and purchased his first ice maker, a behemoth from the 1950’s that churns out tons of ice with that signature hole in the middle. “Everyone loves that ice,” he said. “Whiskey drinkers say it makes the whiskey taste better and people say it makes mixed drinks and fountain drinks taste better.”
This explains his popularity at the gas stations throughout the area, but his service keeps customers happy. “I’ll deliver ice at midnight if a customer needs it. You just don’t get that kind of service from other companies,” he explained. “I can beat my competition on service and, you know, a lot of times we’ll do a delivery and spend thirty minutes talking and meeting with our customers. It’s the best part of the job, the customers.”
That philosophy is working for Mark. Since starting his business he has continued to expand the operation located on the north end of the Dubois County Museum Building. He now has two newer and smaller ice makers to work with the original ice maker and he is doubling his storage capacity with the construction of another freezer. With the expansion he will be able to store 36 tons of ice.
“The two smaller ice makers are supposed to be backups, but we are so busy during the summer I have to run them continuously.” He said.
The process is fairly simple, the water is filtered (he will be adding a water softener this year) and drawn into the ice maker. The distinct hole in the ice is created by freezing the water around a tube. It’s splashed with warm water to release it from the mold, chopped and fed into an auger that traverses at a 45 degree angle up into a huge storage bin attached to the bagging process. That’s where the fairly automated process becomes backbreaking. Mark and Mike Fromme, a good friend and mechanic, meet at 4:30 in the afternoon to begin to create the seven and twenty pound bags of ice by hand; filling, tying and stacking the many bags found in local business’s onto pallets and wheeling them into the freezer.
“That’s something about the ice business no one realizes,” Mark says as he points to dozens of ice chests stored along the wall of the factory. “We supply all of the ice chests. So when someone runs into it with their car, I’m the one that has to replace it.”
But Mark is undaunted by that fact as he continues to expand. His presence in seven counties is enough for now as he plans to further establish his business in those areas. He has hired part time help during the summer, but plans on hiring his first full time employee this year. In four years he plans on outgrowing his current location and with that goal he is looking at building a more suitable factory to make ice.
“The Museum has been great to me,” he explains. “but we did temperature studies in the building and during the summer the temperature above the freezer has been measured at 140 degrees. No wonder my product is melting.”
Mark doesn’t mind missing the Fourth of July as his business continues to grow and prosper. He knows he’s making people happy and although this isn’t where he planned on being, he’s happy where he’s at and grateful for the local support he receives as well as being the recipient of the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Dubois Strong.
Next time you reach into a cooler, fill you cup at the gas station, or drop a few cubes in your glass, make sure the ice has the signature hole in the middle. It makes it better.