The Houghton family has never been afraid to expand their business.

The Houghton family has never been afraid to expand their business.

Brothers Dennis, Mark and Kent Houghton together operate Central Plastics, Inc. in McPherson, a custom extrusion producer for anything from window frames to oxygen tubing.

Their father, Chester Houghton, started the extrusion company in 1968 with Roy Swick and Virgil Anderson. The company began with two extruders, three employees and 4,500 square feet of production and warehouse space. Now, Central Plastics has expanded to 210,000 square feet at its original location and employs over 200 people, with another expansion in the works.

“It’s a warehouse expansion, but right now our production area is pretty cramped because we have stuff that should be in a warehouse in that area. It stifles our production and we need new space,” said Dennis Houghton, president of Central Plastics, about the company’s 38,000 square foot expansion. “A lot of our customers are looking for just-in-time items, so they don’t keep inventory. That means we need to keep inventory for them, and we need the warehouse space to do that. It will allow us more room on our production floor for more extruders as well.”

Chester Houghton isn’t in the office as much, now at age 97, but he still enjoys visiting his sons’ offices at the family-run plant. Mark Houghton, vice president of production and operations, agrees with his brothers in that their father is proud of how they’ve grown the family business.

“He said that we’d be a big producer when we have 7 or 8 machines — that would make him happy. Now we have 45,” Mark Houghton laughed. “He was always into expansion.”

Kent Houghton, vice president of tools and die, agrees because the expansion will allow them to hire 25 McPherson residents over the next five years.

“[Chester Houghton] was so happy to see the way we run the business and that we are employing more people and taking care of them. We’re a family-oriented business and we treat our employees like family too,” Kent Houghton said. “For small companies like us, our success helps to build the success of McPherson.”

During Monday’s meeting, the McPherson City Commission approved an industrial revenue bond abatement for Central Plastics, which allows them a sales tax exemption while purchasing materials for the new warehouse.

“McPherson is just a good place for businesses,” Mark Houghton said. “It’s a good location, good electricity rates, great people, and even new businesses coming into town do well just because McPherson is business-oriented, from MIDC [McPherson Industrial Development Corporation] to the city commission.”

The family business

Dennis Houghton explained that Central Plastics has stayed in the family over the past 48 years. Of course, these brothers never thought they would find themselves working in dad’s shop.

“I got my business finance degree in 1972 and I just shored up some pricing issues and helped with organizing the way things are done, then Kent came in with his experience and Mark came in after being a bank examiner for some time. Each of us used those skills to make the company grow, and try not to step on each others toes,” Dennis Houghton laughed. “We’re locally based, we all grew up in McPherson and we’re glad McPherson has a lot to offer and it’s allowed us to stay in the community.”

While many siblings can hardly sit through a Thanksgiving dinner together, the Houghtons found ways to work together and stay on good terms at the end of the day.

“Part of the reasons why I think we do well is because we each have our own focus. Different people have run a family company and don’t succeed when they come against differences, but you need to just communicate, plod on and solve problems.”

Now, some of Chester Houghton’s grandchildren are taking the reigns at Central Plastics.

“The third generation is upon us. Well, they better be upon us because I’m not getting any younger,” Dennis Houghton laughed. “We just hope the company succeeds and we keep on the same path we have in the past.”

Mark Houghton said that working as a family in their hometown has its benefits, even during rough patches.

“We’re here making our own decisions. We can confer and we don’t have a corporation to report to, so we can be family oriented with our employees too,” Mark Houghton said. “Even during the recession, we didn’t have a layoff, we kept everyone who wanted to be here.”

In the same way, Dennis Houghton explained that part of the business’ success is due to Chester Houghton’s groundwork with a different kind of people — customers.

“Our success is in our customers. For example, our dad called on a customer who was making screens in his garage in Missouri and now he’s a major commercial producer with over 2,000 employees. We feel lucky to be a part of these companies,” Dennis Houghton said.

New additions

A lot has changed since Chester Houghton began plastic extrusions.

“Prior to the late 1960s, there really wasn’t anything to come back for. There was the refinery, but none of the companies were here like what we have now,” Dennis Houghton explained. “When I was growing up, Kansas Highway 61 was filled with people going from McPherson to Hutchinson to work, and there still are some, but now the highway is filled with people coming into McPherson to work. Once we get the housing component to solve somehow, we can have a larger population of workers.”

The business expanded quite a bit under Chester Houghton’s leadership. Now, his sons are following those footsteps, with some new challenges as well.

“To grow as a business now, it’s become more complex,” Dennis Houghton explained. “There’s more compliance and bureaucracy. We had to wait two months for a signature from the state that our water runoff from the buildings won’t cause any problems, but that’s just the world we live in.”

Now, the Houghtons are looking toward new technology and materials in the plastics industry. Once the expansion is complete, Central Plastics will have the room to look into new products and materials.

“Technology has changed how we’re making dies, so we’re using an electrified wire to cut them so it’s amazingly precise compared to when dad use to cut them out by hand,” Dennis Houghton said. “These advances have let us produce better, more unique products. It’s been a good ride so far and we’re looking forward to what’s in the future.”

For more information about Central Plastics, visit http://www.cpi-ks.com.