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Making money while he sleeps

Owen MacDonald of Waikaha PlastiX"Relaxing on his expansive deck overlooking the Firth of Thames and out to sea past Great Barrier Island, he couldn’t look less like someone producing a new licence plate frame every 17 seconds. "

Owen Macdonald’s lifestyle is so demanding he recently bought himself a kindle.

“I average a novel every three days,” he explains.

Relaxing on his expansive deck overlooking the Firth of Thames and out to sea past Great Barrier Island, he couldn’t look less like someone producing a new licence plate frame every 17 seconds. But, just a few hundred metres away in a small purpose built shed at the bottom of his five acre Miranda lifestyle block, that’s exactly what his company, Waikaha PlastiX, is doing.

Raised in Manurewa, Macdonald started work in the dinosaur days of printing; when individual letters and words were set for each page by hand. The industry evolved a lot faster than dinosaurs ever did of course and he spent the next twenty years installing cutting-edge printing machinery for everyone from the King of Tonga, to progressive companies in Shanghai, and teaching them how to use it. In his spare time he enjoyed offshore yacht racing, and delivering newly built boats to overseas clients.

It was an exciting, albeit frantic, kind of life and by 1996, he’d had enough. Just 45 minutes drive south of Takanini, on the East Coast, Miranda, was close enough to commute to his job daily, yet far enough away from the big apple to enjoy the benefits of rural community life.

“I had two kids coming up to school age and I decided they would get a better all round education in a rural community with old fashioned values,” he said, “Everyone (in Miranda) knows and looks out for each other. It’s the kind of place where if you drive down the road and see someone’s cows out, you go and knock on their door and let them know.”

The drive to and from Auckland became a welcome opportunity to wind down from work. But it was a heart attack a few years later at the age of 36 that made him leave his stressful printing job for good.

Owen MacDonald, owner of Waikaha PlastiX, in his purpose built shed“Heart problems run in my family. Surviving a heart attack helped me make up my mind to start my first business,” he says.

By 1998 digital technology had made it possible to print photographic quality images. However, the big offset machines used to do this weren’t yet capable of simple tasks like putting a crease down a spine. Setting up his own Takanini business, he specialised in doing the little jobs big machines couldn’t, for the next ten years.

Then, in 2007, an opportunity to make and supply licence plate frames came up and Macdonald realised it was a business he could easily set up and run from his Miranda home.

Today, Waikaha PlastiX averages around 10,000 plastic licence plate frames per week. Around 75% of these go to Australia and the rest end up on the fronts and backs of vehicles in New Zealand.

newly moulded plastic licence plates fall from the conveyor belt at Waikaha PlastiXMaking the frames is a simple business. A machine Macdonald sourced from China sucks small beads of plastic (95% raw material and 5% recycled) from a barrel, heats them to 230 degrees and pours the melted plastic into a mould. The finished product is then cooled and dropped onto a conveyor belt which tips it into a wool sack for packing later. Once a week Macdonald delivers the finished product to his Takanini client, and makes the most of his empty van by delivering sausage spices and other goods, to South Auckland butchers on his way home.
When he gets a big order, the machine works non-stop, 24 hours a day.

“If I was in Auckland I’d be paying at least $1500 a month for the building and if I wanted to run the machine round the clock I’d have to pay someone to be on site and supervise it,” he says.

In Miranda he can fill up the barrel, leave the machine to it, and literally make money while he sleeps. The downside? Well it’s possible he may one day run out of novels to read and fish to catch.

Photographs supplied by Paula Trubshaw

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