Most of the people in Chariton don't even realize they have a Christmas Decoration manufacturing plant on Albia Road near the Chariton School District with all its yellow buses. This is a 10,000 square foot factory and this time of the year it is silent. No hum of machinery, no voices, nor trees or Santas waiting to be shipped. Their work for year 2011 is done. The company is owned and operated by Ken Burger of Russell and it has over 7,000 customers.
Wayne Manufacturing began its business in a basement in 1974 by Ken's father. Ken has operated the business for 22 years. It has grown from a small distributing company to a $1.5 million dollar business.
Each year, starting in January, Ken and his father, now 80 years old, call every city in virtually every state to find out if they are in the market or not for Christmas displays and decorations, whether they want to replace or add to what they have, and whether they would like one of their catalogs that describes the multitude of colorful products to enhance the community's holiday season. The company also has a well maintained Website. There is no middle man to eat up the profits. No showroom is necessary because they are not open for individuals to come by and pick out light strings or other decorations. Ken does all the traveling, usually during February and March and sometimes in the fall. Summer time is no time to be thinking about Christmas. He carries samples of the items available for the coming year. Their sale time is in January and February. Shipping on orders can be delayed until November.
April will be the month to start production again. At the height of production, he employs as many as 15. Some employees come back year after year. Four or five have worked as many as 12 years and are multitrained so they can run the specialty machines that can cost $100,000 and up. A lot of the work is done by hand.
Some customers have been buying from Wayne Mfg. for over ten years and have purchased every park display the company has to offer. New designs are needed to keep the products up to date for these customers. Ken's daughter, Heather, a commercial artist, design's the merchandise. She also provides the scaled computer drawings for the steel frames for custom work. One of the largest custom displays made by the company was a 35 foot modular tree for Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It was made for the judges tower where the Olympic team trained for the ski jump. The company also built a big arch for Carroll, Iowa, as part of the park display that was large enough for tour buses to drive under.
The next time you see a city park decorated with very unique Christmas Decorations, they may have been created and manufactured at our very own Wayne Manufacturing.