Starting a new print magazine in the internet age? Most people wouldn’t dream of taking that risk. But Kevin Thomas saw an opening in the market, and he jumped right in. Maine Home and Design, Thomas’ first publication, has now spun off Maine Magazine and the creation of an entire media collective.
Thomas didn’t make the leap into publishing from a journalism background, nor does he have experience as a professional photographer or architect. Instead, Thomas’ background is in food service distribution and construction.
Initially, Thomas intended to earn a college diploma, but after a year at USM he had found a job and ultimately decided he’d rather stay in the workforce than return to college. He was working as a forklift operator for a food service distribution company – a job he took primarily because it was available. But Thomas did the job, and he did it well, earning promotions within the industry that culminated in his being named President and CEO. His career trajectory required that the Presque Isle native move to Massachusetts, and Thomas was living there when the company was sold to a Virginia-based company. He decided the time was right to move back to Maine.
Help Maine Icons Grow!
This was in 2002; Thomas had been with the company since 1988. Upon departing from the company, Thomas signed a non-compete agreement so he couldn’t work for another food service company. When he moved back to Maine, he was starting down a brand new career path after two decades.
Over the years, Thomas had accumulated business knowledge, as well as knowledge about Maine, its communities, and its economy. He had travelled all over the state, spending a good bit of time in the Bangor/Brewer area, as well as around MDI and Bethel. He also had made note of the real estate growth going on in southern Maine – especially the Kennebunk area. So he decided construction was the path he wanted to take. Teaming up with Kevin Lord, Thomas launched a successful business selling custom homes to second-home owners in the Kennebunk area.
It was the construction venture that led Thomas into publishing.
While looking for a place to market his business, Thomas stumbled upon “The Little Book of Home and Design,” a 4×6 book of advertising. In 2006, Thomas bought the business to create a full publication to showcase the construction industry in Maine.
“People thought we were insane,” Thomas recalls.
But within eighteen months Maine Home and Design was profitable. In the middle of the digital boom, how did they make a print magazine thrive?
Thomas in part credits the fact it was a niche publication. He also took the opposite tack of many in the publishing industry at the time. Rather than try to cut costs and increase margins by reducing trim size and using lower quality paper, he made the magazine as visually appealing as possible. He also invested heavily in relationships with writers and photographers, relationships he values as their contributions are at the heart of the magazine.
“It’s nice to end up with people who feel like colleagues and not just hired guns,” says Thomas of the contributors.
As the magazine continued to grow, Thomas wanted to cover more than construction in Maine. Branching out to cover lifestyle issues proved successful, but Thomas wasn’t comfortable covering the issues in a magazine geared toward construction and design. So in 2009 he began publishing Maine Magazine.
With the growth of Maine Media Collective, Thomas decided to leave his construction venture and throw himself full time into the media business. He sold his shares to Kevin Lord in 2010, and Lord still operates that business today.
While it was never Thomas’ intent to build a media collective, there has proven to be an appetite for the content, and Maine Media Collective has grown well past its original print magazines – though those still thrive. Thomas’ venture now includes everything from podcasts to art galleries under the umbrella of three different entities. They also put on events, including the Kennebunkport Festival. During the time the company has grown, Thomas notes that they have benefitted from the continued loyalty of advertisers, some of whom have been there since Maine Home and Design first launched amid much skepticism.
Even though his business was launched as a print magazine, Thomas has never eschewed new technology. Maine Magazine has flourished on social media, with nearly 150,000 Facebook followers and nearly 50,000 Instagram followers. The ability to connect with the community – both on social media and off – is part of why Maine Media Collective continues to grow, according to Thomas.
“We find that particularly here in Maine, the ability to connect with our community and create community has been significant in our success,” says Thomas.
So what’s next for Kevin Thomas and Maine Media Collective? Thomas says there is still room to grow, with the possibility of more titles on the horizon. However, he says, don’t expect them for at least a couple of years.
Though Kevin Thomas never finished his college degree, and has no background in journalism, he combined his work ethic, appreciation for Maine, and business acumen to build a successful media collective. Thomas launched his venture at a time when people said a print magazine couldn’t be profitable, but he took risks and didn’t sacrifice quality. A decade later, he and the Maine Media Collective are continuing to thrive and to showcase our beautiful state. That is why Kevin Thomas is a Maine Icon.