Longtime employee and friend take over Brushmarks Signs in Detroit Lakes

Founder Mark Olsen sold the Detroit Lakes-based visual marketing company to longtime Brushmarks Signs employee Dave Keena and his friend, Tim Conklin, effective January 1.

Brushmarks Signs founder Mark Olsen, center, recently sold the business to his longtime employee, Dave Keena, left, and Keena's friend, Tim Conklin. They're pictured here together inside Brushmarks, on Highway 10 east of Detroit Lakes. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

After 33 years in business, Brushmarks Signs is under new ownership.

Founder Mark Olsen sold the Detroit Lakes-based visual marketing company to longtime Brushmarks employee Dave Keena and his friend, Tim Conklin, effective January 1.

Olsen said he felt it was the right time to sell the business, and he liked the idea of passing it on to two local guys he knows and trusts.

“I think Dave and Tim are good candidates to carry on the Brushmarks name,” he said.


Brushmarks Signs founder, Mark Olsen, center, with new owners Dave Keena, left, and Tim Conklin. Olsen will continue to run his other business, Olson Advertising, a local billboard company. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

The business will continue to offer all the same products and services it’s known for, which include the design, creation and installation of all types of commercial signs, banners, billboards, vehicle wraps, decals, logos, apparel and other visual brand-building tools.

Examples of Brushmarks’ work can be seen all over the Detroit Lakes area. The company made and installed the signs at the new Boys & Girls Club , and worked on the building signs, awnings and semi-truck graphics at BTD Manufacturing . Their apparel is worn by employees at Brygge and Hub 41 . The list could go on and on.

Keena said he and Conklin plan to “keep the business going as it is,” while also keeping their eyes open to opportunities for future growth. The apparel side of the company is one area that’s already been expanding over the past year or so, he said, and down the road, if things continue to go well, they may consider opening a second location in another city.

Three months into the change in ownership, Conklin said, “It’s been going good.”

Celicia "C.C." Kirsch, a vinyl installer at Brushmarks Signs, installs an automotive decal at the shop in late March, 2021. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

The transition was relatively seamless. Keena has been working at Brushmarks for the past 18 years, so he knows all the ins and outs of the business and has the needed skills and creativity for the job. He and Conklin both own other businesses, too, so they know how it’s done: Keena owns D&T Snowplowing and Keena Kornhole (making custom cornhole sets), while Conklin runs rental properties and flips houses in Detroit Lakes, Frazee and Hawley.


The old Detroit Lakes High School friends wanted to get into the Brushmarks business together, Keena said, “Because it’s a change. I saw it as a growing opportunity for us both, to build up this business. We’re both young and motivated.”

Keena got his start at Brushworks as a senior in high school, joining the school-to-work program and then becoming a full-time employee after graduation. He said Olsen taught him just about everything he knows.

“I was really into cars back in the day, and I brought a car in to Mark (at Brushmarks) to put graphics on,” Keena recalls. “I hung out and watched him do it, and I was intrigued by it, so I reached out…(to someone at the high school) about doing the school-to-work program here.”

He got a taste of the business, and knew right away that it was what he wanted to do. He worked for Olsen part-time while getting his vocational degree in graphic design, then returned to work for him full-time after that.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 17, and I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t doing it,” he said.

Justin Schmoll shears polymetal for a sign panel at the Brushmarks Signs shop near Detroit Lakes in late March 2021. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

It’s a similar story to how Olsen got started. He was in high school, too, when he was introduced to graphic lettering and design, and he was also instantly drawn to it. He credits his mother as opening that door for him, reaching out to his school counselor for career ideas and encouraging him to continue on with more schooling after high school.


Like Keena, Olsen was really into cars when he was younger. His earliest gigs in graphic lettering entailed hand-painting words and graphics onto the sides of local derby cars. From there, he started getting requests for work on snowmobiles, farm machinery and other automobiles, and over time, the business progressed into sign-making and beyond.

He’s seen the industry evolve from those hand-painted signs to the digital signs of today. He still remembers the days when he’d show up to job sites with his paint bucket and brushes in hand, ready to get to work right there. When he did have jobs that could be done off-site, he worked from the patio at his parents’ house.

These days, Brushmarks operates out of a large office space and shop area on Highway 10 east of Detroit Lakes, where it's been located since 2012. Three people work there, in addition to Keena and Conklin.

Brushmarks has grown considerably from what it once was, but Olsen, Keena and Conklin all say the company's grounding philosophy has never changed, and will remain far into the future: “If you take care of your customers, your customers will take care of you.”

Brushmarks Signs founder Mark Olsen gets ready to hand paint some graphics onto the side of a derby car in this photo from 1989. (Submitted Photo)

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