A familiar face in Northland is Ian Walker – dairy and beef farmer, politician, lobbyist, businessman, and owner operator of the former Kaitaia Computer Shop, which now trades as Folders.
Walker has been in the Far North for the past 15 years and has turned his hand to many ventures in the region.
After spending some years in marketing and advertising in Auckland and Wellington, Walker and wife Anne moved north to begin farming. However, they say it did not “stretch the grey matter enough”, so around five years ago they bought Kaitaia’s Paper Plus store.
This followed his other roles as a director of Northland Port Corporation, a Northland regional councillor, and president of Farmers of New Zealand, a couterpoint to Federated Farmers.
As if this wasn’t enough, when the Kaitaia Computer Shop came on the market in 2009, the Walkers bought that business, turning it from a small computer sales and service outlet into something much larger, with new premises in Kaitaia’s main street.
“We sought to increase the product offering [by] becoming a Jaycar stockist, a Kodak Express outlet, and recently have become a foundation member of the New Zealand Leading Edge Electronics Group,” he says.
Walker’s first IT experience stems from his days at advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather, when he computerised the production department. He then studied management information systems as part of his Masters of Business Administration and more recently, he has become an advocate for regional broadband.
“Other than that, marketing is in my blood and moving from one sector to another has never bothered me,” he says.
Walker chose the name ‘Folders’ because he believes it is easy to remember. He says the business has quadrupled its turnover since he took ownership and he now employs three technicians, two store staff and four part-timers.
“I believe we are the dominant player in the local market across most of our product ranges. We are rapidly increasing our business clients, setting up and servicing server networks as well as continuing with small and home business computing. We are also a major supplier of security systems, alternative energy systems, wireless broadband connections, website design and hosting, and cool electronic stuff,” he says.
Supply arrangements have been built to compete with the big players, as well as offer complete after-sales service.
Folders serves clients north of Kaikohe, but has network clients as far south as Whangarei. The current clientele is split evenly between businesses and home consumers, with both parts of the customer base growing well.
The business’ website and Facebook page are works-in-progress, but he plans to gear up his company’s marketing efforts early this year.
The business also supplies broadband through Ubernetworks. Walker says the government is too focused on urban fibre at the expense of the rural sector, “where the productivity is highest and we have the greatest potential to grow NZ Inc”.
The company has had supply challenges, but is gradually overcoming them thanks to healthy competition among distributors.
“Most are reluctant to service this far north and are wary of providing standard trading terms and good pricing,” he claims. “That has been our greatest challenge, but now we have Auckland distributors actually concerned about losing our business to competitors because we are becoming a significant customer these days.
“Our distributors and brands are continually being reviewed because that is the nature of the industry. Margins are low and product quality variable. Where we can maintain a strong relationship, we do.”
He says business was difficult last year, but the company still achieved double-digit growth and boosted profits.
Walker expects growth in 2011 to come from further improvements in its range and in supply agreements, along with the company’s web design service.
“My hobby is building profitable businesses and helping build our community. Juggling commitments can sometimes be trying, but as they say, if you want to get a job done, find a busy individual.”