YAKIMA, Wash. -- For years, John Rothenbueler served as a consultant for Kwik Lok Corp., a Yakima Valley company producing plastic bag closures recognizable around the world.
Rothenbueler, then partner with the accounting firm Alegria & Co., had urged the Paxton family to form a management succession plan for the company, which has been in business for more than six decades. But that never happened, and when Jerre Paxton, son of founder Floyd Paxton and president since 1968, died in January 2015, the company faced an uncertain future.
Now, nearly two years later, Kwik Lok recently completed a $5.3 million remodel, a visible symbol that the company is ready to move forward.
It’s the first major move from Rothenbueler, 61, who was appointed CEO of the company by its board of directors in April 2015.
The remodel did more than give Kwik Lok’s headquarters a new look, Rothenbueler said during a recent phone interview.
“The overall goal was to improve the efficiency and modernize operations,” he said.
The Paxton family had left the company in good financial shape, but it was clear that improvements were needed to enable future growth, he said.
For example, the engineering department, which plays an essential role in the development of new products, lacked the space needed to work. One of the buildings at the Kwik Lok property at 2712 S. 16th Ave. was remodeled to create that additional workspace. Another building, which once housed the company’s bottled water operation, became a parts and assembly building, eliminating the need to store parts in three buildings.
Finally, there was about $1 million in safety and efficiency improvements made to equipment not only in Yakima but also at the company’s plants in New Haven, Ind.; Cambridge, Ontario; and in Ireland, Japan and Australia.
“We’re starting to get competition around the world, and competition brings the best out of us,” Rothenbueler said. “We have to do everything we can to make product efficiently as we can and be price-competitive.”
The company employs about 400 workers at all its locations, including 120 in Yakima.
Kwik Lok will introduce several new products at the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas, which starts Oct. 8.
Among them is a paper-based, biodegradable bag closure. The closure costs more than plastic ones, but given consumer demand for more sustainable materials, Rothenbueler expects it will get a good response.
The company also is introducing a bag closure machine aimed at small bakeries. A loaf of bread is fed into the machine, which puts the bread in a bag and closes it.
Finally, Kwik Lok is offering a new closure machine producing labels that can have information printed via a laser, eliminating extra fumes that come with ink-based printing.
There are other products in the works, including developing a closure with a new plastic technology that would be biodegradable when in contact with certain additives, and closures that give signs of being tampered with. The remodel will enable the company to better implement the new products, Rothenbueler said.
Rothenbueler credits the board and staff with giving him the ability to move forward with the changes, which have not only proved beneficial for the company but also for his own professional development.
“Public accounting is a tough job,” he said. “After grinding it out for almost 39 years, (being Kwik Lok’s CEO) was a refreshing change.”
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• This story was edited to correct the location of Kwik Lok's plant in New Haven, Ind. as well as the spelling of former president Jerre Paxton and when he became president of the company.