Hoffer Plastics growing strong in South Elgin
Monday, October 17, 2011 8:08 AM
One has to imagine the amusement and excitement of Hoffer Plastics Corporation founder, Robert A. Hoffer, when he heard the one-word bit of advice — “plastics” — whispered to a naive Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in the 1967 movie classic “The Graduate.”
Photos by Brian Hillfirstname.lastname@example.org
William Hoffer talks about one of the pieces that the company makes. Below, freshly molded parts tumble through a machine.
Hoffer Plastics Corporation
Owners: The Hoffer family
In business since: 1953
Founder: Robert A. Hoffer, former head of plastics for DuPont and General Electric
Factory size: 360,000 square feet
Workforce: 355 (with average tenure of 14.5 years)
Annual sales: $70 million-plus
Customers: Coca-Cola; Aptar (formerly Seaquist); Briggs and Stratton; and Ingersoll-Rand (Schlage)
After all, Hoffer had started his own plastics firm 14 years earlier in South Elgin when the movie became an instant hit. Early on, the family moved to a 24-acre parcel of land on the west side of the Fox River to provide space for future expansion.
Those predictions about the versatility and importance of plastics have come true, with Hoffer Plastics riding the wave and growing along with the popularity of the material. Today the company employs 355 people within a 360,000 square foot facility with about 100 injection molding machines running three shifts, five days a week.
“We make plastic parts for the automotive, packaging and consumer/industrial markets,” said President Bill Hoffer, son of the founder. “For instance, we make the four-piece valves that Coca-Cola uses to hook up their bag-in-a-box syrup to fountains in restaurants and convenience stores. We are the only company that makes those so we ship them all around the world. We expect to ship over 100 million of those valves this year.”
The company’s products run the gamut from pump components that are tinier than a pea to Briggs and Stratton engine covers for lawn mowers.
Hoffer also manufactures engine parts, including carburetors and engine covers, the interior plastic parts which make Schlage locks and crash bars function, packaging including the tops for frozen concentrated orange juice as well as plastic pumps for hair spray and hand lotion bottles.
“Our diversity of product lines has sheltered us during this recession which 1,000 other molders have gone out of business,” said Director of Marketing Charlotte Hoffer Canning. “Coke doesn’t change its orders much but orders for Schlage locks, for instance, are way down because people aren’t building many new houses.”
More than 5,600 molds for the various products, all of which are specially engineered and most of which are owned by the customers are regularly used, maintained and stored by Hoffer.
Some of the larger molds are 16,000 pounds and must be lifted by cranes that run across the ceiling. Twenty-seven toolmakers are employed full-time to repair and regularly maintain the molds.
“It takes all day and a real team effort to remove some of our molds from their machines so that they can be checked, maintained and repaired,” Bill Hoffer said.
Hoffer also has an assembly area where liners for certain products are inserted into caps. These are the thin metallic or paper seals that you find inside the cap of mayonnaise or peanut butter. Hoffer employees insert the liners into the caps and then another company places them onto the product and heat seals the liner on top of the food product.
“My dad built a really solid company with no debt and we have continued to expand, entirely with our own funds. This has put us in a very solid position today,” Bill Hoffer said.
“In addition, Dad had a vision that was dead on. Unlike most of his competitors, he put only 12 or so presses into any single room because he felt that this business needed lots of hands-on management, which doesn’t happen in a massive molding room,” he continued.
“Over the years, many consultants have told us that this manner of doing things was not cost-effective. But now everyone is breaking up those huge open areas in their plants and organizing machines into separate cells with one manager over each cell. This focused factory approach allows real attention to detail and allows zero-defect production,” he explained.
Hoffer and Canning work with two other members of their immediate family — Gretchen Hoffer Farb, director of supply chain management, and Alex Hoffer, business development manager.
“There isn’t any mixing of business and family here. We make sure that we separate the two,” Canning stated. “We have a strong, close-knit family and at work, we all have our very defined business strengths, so we aren’t competing with one another.”
“Nothing in this building will ever come before our relationship as brothers and sisters,” Farb added.
Alex Hoffer adds that “the hardest part about working here is the pressure of knowing that we need to be good stewards of the company because we have 350 families depending on us to remain profitable. I find that every day I work here, I care just a little bit more.”
“Dad would be very encouraged to see that his company is still competitive in this challenging environment and that the third generation of the family is now moving the company ahead and making it even more successful,” Hoffer added.
Over his 40 years in the business, Hoffer has seen many changes but the biggest one is the need to deliver everything immediately.
“We used to have a lead time of 10 to 12 weeks for products and today that is unheard of,” he explained.
Another big change is the level of automation in the plant. Fifteen years ago Hoffer Plastics employed 700 people. Today they employ half that number because of more sophisticated presses, which are largely computer-controlled and the fact that their inventory is monitored through the use of scanners.
Another big change is commitment to the environment and recycling. The company processes between 25 and 30 million pounds of plastic each year and virtually everything they don’t use is now recycled.
During the 1980s the company sent 300,000 pounds of waste to the landfill every year. In 2010 only 1,700 pounds went to the landfill.