For Nina Nguyen, founder of Pakko, her business journey started with a simple question: “How hard can it be to make a cardboard box?”
Pakko is a Brisbane-based manufacturer of cardboard packaging, specialising in functional and custom-made products with no minimum orders and short lead times of just 10 to 12 working days.
“My parents are farmers,” Nina says, “and my mum was struggling to find a cardboard box that was sturdy, moisture resistant and could handle the different weather conditions.
“Initially I searched for an international supplier, based on the perception that importing would be more cost-effective. But I had no understanding of how hard it would be.
“I faced several challenges, including language barriers, ordering the right quantities, quality control and long lead times of upwards of six to eight weeks.”
It was this process that sparked the idea to create a business that could offer custom packaging at a new level of convenience and affordability, made right here in Australia.
House of cardboard
Pakko has grown significantly over the past few years. After starting the business by herself in 2017, Nina has steadily grown Pakko into a team of 25 people, based in their factory in Geebung.
“We are really proud of the team we have built,” Nina says. “50 per cent of our employees are female and 70 per cent are from a diverse background that also speaks a second language.
“We’ve collaborated with a lot of businesses right across Australia and currently have just over 5,000 clients.”
But while Pakko has had a considerable amount of success in a short period of time, Nina is quick to point out it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies, and she’s had to overcome obstacles along the way.
“It was a really big challenge to create the right team dynamic,” she says. “When I look at our team, I put myself in their shoes. When asked what their dream job is, most people won’t respond with working in a factory.
“So I set out to create a positive culture that would be inspiring, engaging and exciting for employees to join. It’s this environment of honesty and transparency, where you can lead and innovate by listening and sharing ideas, which has brought together the incredible team we have today.
“Most of our team members are young, they’re energetic and they’re full of creative ideas. But to lead such a great team like that, you’ve got to be adaptable, committed, and passionate about what you’re doing.”
Nina says being a female Asian leader in a male-dominated space comes with its own challenges.
“I had to break down that barrier, which was a very difficult time,” she says. “I focused on keeping my head high and pushed forward because I believed in what I was doing.
“Over the years, this challenge has subsided as we’ve gained industry recognition and accolades.”
Ahead of the pack
Nina and her team have already put together an impressive resume of achievements.
“We’ve been so lucky to win several awards over the past couple of years,” Nina says. “In 2021, I received the Young Packaging Professional of the Year award. In 2022, I received a Telstra Best of Business Award in the Progressing Australia category, and the award I hold particularly close to my heart – the 2022 Lord Mayor’s Multicultural Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
“The Lord Mayor’s Multicultural Entrepreneur of the Year is something I hold so dearly, because it represents my background and who I am as a person. I was a Vietnamese refugee that came to Australia and built a life and a business from scratch.
“I was someone with a lack of experience in the manufacturing industry. We’ve worked hard over the past five years and have given it a go, and to see our efforts be acknowledged and rewarded has really cemented what I am doing and what the team is doing. It’s also helped to make Pakko a very trustworthy brand.”
Brisbane in a box
Pakko is 100 per cent Australian made, something that Nina is incredibly proud of.
“When setting up Pakko, Brisbane was the best place to be,” she says. “It’s a city that supports local manufacturing and can supply all the required infrastructure.
“I saw an opportunity to make a real difference to our economy, not only within our business, but by supporting and creating opportunities for other Australian businesses to increase their product value, customer satisfaction and overall revenue.
“Our products are also eco-friendly, and we implement as many sustainable practices into our work as possible.
“It’s not just about what we’re trying to do for the environment and for future generations to come, but it’s also about how we can assist other local businesses in their sustainability journey.”
Nina says the Brisbane Business Hub, a resource hub and growth indicator for Brisbane businesses, has been a key part of Pakko’s story.
“The Brisbane Business Hub has been an immense help in building my business,” she says. “It’s provided a place where I can go to reach out for help, collaborate with other business owners and find mentors.
“But I think the biggest thing for me is it’s allowed me the opportunity to share my story.”