Industry Profile – Ken Hartshorn

Over the years, Houghton Boston has evolved into a specialized printer offering high quality book production to publishers in Western Canada and the Northwest United States. Their expertise and years of print excellence also includes corporate printing, magazines, catalogues and publications for the tourism, agriculture and educational sectors.

The company also designs and manufactures a wide range of packaging options – from traditional promotional materials to specialized custom work including die cutting, foil embossing and multi-panel options. To complete their customer service cycle, Houghton Boston provides full direct mail fulfillment services.

Graphic Arts Magazine editor Luke Vorstermans, sat down with General Manager, Kent Hartshorn and asked for his perspective on how Houghton Boston maintains its reputation as a successful, service-oriented printer.

What motivated you to enter this industry?

My father owned a printing company, so I’ve always had ink in my veins. After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in economics, I was planning to pursue a career in education. However, my father asked me to give him a hand in increasing sales for a summer and well, that turned out to be a 23-year summer.

Is goal setting a part of your business strategy?

Absolutely! I also make sure our goals are shared with all those involved in achieving them. I find it very rewarding to set and accomplish personal and team goals – whether it’s in the work environment or at home.

What’s been the biggest challenge in building this business?

Earlier on, it was anticipating and, of course, financing the myriad of changes as the marketplace changed. I find today’s biggest challenge is attracting highly competent individuals to our company.

In hindsight, what would you do differently?

I would have invested more time and money for further education and training, not just for myself, but also for my staff. While some business systems can pass the test of time, management and staff must continually increase their knowledge base to succeed in this competitive environment.

Was there an error in judgment that you learned from?

I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. For example, early in my career I was overly complacent as larger print companies with deeper pockets were eroding our market share. Today, I’m more vigilant and Houghton Boston continually evaluates and invests in markets where we can exploit the shortcomings of our competitors.

Do you have an overall management philosophy?

Stay calm… be positive… watch for signs!

…And the most important quality in business today?


Describe your definition of success in twelve words.

An enriched family environment complemented by the ongoing profitability of the business.

Is it possible to “get close to the customer” in this technological era?

Certainly! In fact, the electronic transfer of information and customer relation software has given me a better understanding of our customers and what’s important to them. We’re diligent about developing a trusting and successful relationship with our customers, whether they are situated across the street or across the country. Our reputation is our greatest asset and customers trust us to ease their stress and deliver an excellent product.

Where do you see your business in five years?

I believe we’ll still be producing print on offset presses but our customers will expect even quicker turn around times and lower prices. This will require additional investment in the appropriate equipment and materials. We will continue to focus on niche markets, both in Canada and the United States, because we can’t remain profitable if we try to be all things to all people. I also believe that we will be excelling in market segments that we’re presently not even aware of.

Do you have a nugget of advice for start-up entrepreneurs?

Assuming they’ve done the research required, I would suggest developing a mastermind group that they can seek expert advice from – people who have “been there” and can provide ongoing support in the areas of marketing, sales, finances etc. It’s also imperative that you have a passion for your chosen vocation.

How do you juggle your business and family?

Family is extremely important to me. I have a wonderful spouse that keeps things in line at home and excellent, qualified people working at Houghton Boston. Both of those factors are a great asset in keeping a balance between work and family.

What quality of life is the most important to you?

A fulfilling work environment that allows ample time for family and friends. Oh, and keeping fit both physically and mentally.

Is there a book you would recommend?

The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. However, for pure entertainment, I enjoy any of Stuart McLean’s, Vinyl Cafe books or Dr. Dave Perrin’s, Adventures of a Country Vet.

… And your dreams for the future?

I have only begun to check off items on my life’s “to do” list. Judy and I have specific personal goals that predominately include our children, volunteering and travel. Future dreams also include the tremendous opportunity at Houghton Boston, as we move forward with our company’s positive outlook.           


0 responses to “Industry Profile – Ken Hartshorn

  1. Thanks for the article – direct mail is often overlooked, but it can be a really great marketing tool and is excellent when it comes to reaching your target market. Thanks again!