Gordonton’s Bag Man

Photo of Jake Riddell

A bustling business selling bags of all shapes and sizes nationally, is nestled quietly in Gordonton’s old dairy factory. Annette Taylor talks to Jake Riddell about the Bulk Bag Company.

Need a hangi bag? Something for rocks, schist or fertiliser or maybe someting to hold asbestos? There’s a good chance that Jake can put his hand on it.

“We also customise and make bags for special orders, such as food certified or UN-approved bulk bags for dangerous goods.”

Jake officially took over the business from his father Don on April 1 2016. “Dad had been running the company, the orders, logistics, packing and distribution for 22 years. It was second nature to him and I had to get him to break things down for me to begin with.”

Everything was done by chequebook and post, so after he got his feet on the ground, Jake set about modernising the company.

“I was amazed with what he had created and where it had all started from. He had customers in every corner of the country – I was sending bags from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, plus I would continue to receive new inquiries every day. He went from selling 100 second-hand bulk bags a month to nearly 1000 new ones a month.”

Early days

It all began 26 years ago when Don, chatting away in a local farm services shop, noticed old sugar bags were being used for rubbish.

“He thought they might still be useful to someone, and searched through the Yellow Pages for businesses that might be interested in the 1-ton bags. A stock feed company was given a sample, then they wanted another 10. Within a few months Dad, with partner Marc Osborne, had regular customers. Things moved quickly from there.”

The bags were used in the importation of sugar from North Queensland. “The hull of the boat was full of raw sugar. Once it arrived at McKay’s sugar in Tauranga, it was emptied into the 1-ton bags and sent to customers throughout New Zealand. Dad and Marc bought many of these used bags, which were returned to McKay’s.”

But bags take up a lot of space – trucks were delivering up to 200 a month – and storage was urgently needed. “Luckily, John Bridgman put the old dairy factory on the market, which was ideal.”

The Bulk Bag Company was in business, which was just as well, because a few years on, McKay’s in Tauranga was bought by Chelsea Sugar – “… now they had 40,000 bags to get rid of!

Staff come on board

“Dad purchased Marc’s share and Mum (Angelique) came on board as local delivery driver and professional bag packer.”

Jake remembers walking down to the factory after school and watching his mother busy packing the bags.
“There were mountains of them, and my sister Katie and I thought it was the best playground ever.”

Don found a supplier in the South Island, who became a distributor and importer for them. “We could now offer a large range of products – woven polypropylene bags, onion bags, hessian and heavy jute bags, hessian rolls, planter bags, shade cloth, frost cloth and wool pack.”

Apart from delivering a few bags during high school, Jake didn’t have much to do with the family business and went off to Massey University to study Agriculture and Commerce.

“In my last year Dad rang and said, ‘I’m quietly looking at selling the bag business if you’re interested’. I passed on the offer as I didn’t see myself coming home just then.”

Time passes…

After graduating in 2013 he got a job with a Palmerston North food safety and biosecurity company, which took him all over the lower North Island to remote country he never thought he’d see. But after a few years, Gordonton and being his own boss called.

“I asked Dad one day if the bag business was still available. He said it sure was – so I finished up in Palmy and came home. I couldn’t wait to apply what I had learnt at Massey, along with being a lot closer to good fishing in Coromandel.”

Nothing beats Gordonton

Jake says the decision was also easy because he loves Gordonton. “I sold my house on Henry Rd and bought a nice big place on Garfield St which also became my office. It was nice and handy to the storage facility to meet customers or get orders out.

“The chicken bacon burger at the Bakehouse became my Friday night dinner and the big breakfast at the Firepot is one of the best I’ve had. I’m just missing a cold beer after work at the local bar!”

He has modernised the business, and found a bulk bag supplier in India with a great quality product, increasing margins and enabling them to be price competitive. And now it’s all on-line.

“Anyone who knows Dad knows he understands relationships and enjoys people. He created strong customer relationships based on exceptional service and I aim to continue this. I’ve dropped everything and driven to Auckland or Tauranga when a customer calls saying they’ve run out of bags and urgently need more.

“I hope to develop a more environmentally friendly bulk packaging solution and get the business to a position where I can hire someone full-time to share the workload. In the meantime I need someone to help with deliveries as Mum and Dad are moving to the beach.”

  • This story ran in the 2019 Winter issue of Home Range magazine, produced by your very own Number 8 Network.
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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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