MrTakeOutBags.com : Our Story
Experts in Foodservice Packaging Solutions
Just outside of Pittsburgh (in New Kensington) at the age of 15, Jeff Holmes started his early career in the car business at a Buick dealership that his dad worked at as Service Manager.
Jeff started at the lowest level and worked his way up through nearly every job at that dealership. He did it all - washing, waxing, changing tires, driving customers home, running for parts, clean-up, service, sales - until he eventually became the New and Used Car Sales Manager. His boss had a serious heart attack and Jeff was promoted at just 23 years old.
However, one day when Jeff was 35 (after constantly working 60+ hour weeks and having very little time to spend with his wife and three young sons) he decided to leave that career behind and follow his dream owning his own business. With a six, five, and three year old at home, the timing could have been better but something needed to change. Dropping his sons off at soccer and baseball fields and going to work on Saturdays was painfully difficult. So was coming home when they were already in bed, since car sales hours were 9 am to 9 pm on weekdays.
Soon after this soul-searching decision, Jeff stumbled across an ad in the Pittsburgh Business Times for a sleepy, little paper company called Samuel Stewart Paper. The owner was very sick and the once thriving business was losing money. Thinking he could turn it around, Jeff decided to take the plunge and buy the business.
Using all his savings, Jeff mortgaged every last penny he had in his name and put it on the line to get a loan. That included the house, the car, even the life insurance policy. It was a risky move, but there's nothing like being dependent on success to get you there.
So in 1988 BABCOR Packaging (MrTakeOutBags.com's parent company) was born, but it was an uphill battle.
The business Jeff purchased was located in a (now) 130+ year old building along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh PA. We've made some updates - but we still operate out of that same building.
The Uphill Battle
From the very first day there were issues. Jeff was devastated when he arrived at the business he just purchased, only to discover that the former Office Manager took all the critical vendor and customer files. When confronted, she said she decided to go into business for herself, using the pertinent information as a starting point and leaving Jeff with nothing.
He was at a total loss and did not know how to proceed. Jeff didn't know the customers or the vendors; and he didn't know the products or the pricing. There was the option to take the former Office Manager to court, but that would have cost Jeff both time and money that he did not have. So instead, he simply started from the ground up.
Shortly after that in early December, during the busiest time of year, Jeff woke in the night to tremendous chest pressure. Working day and night had clearly taken its toll. He wore himself out and was now very sick. After a couple of ambulance rides to two different hospitals, Jeff learned he had Pericarditis - a disease that infects the heart's outer membrane. If he didn't get it under control, it would be deadly.
After several days Jeff was released from intensive care and ordered to stay home and rest. Barely strong enough to walk, he was back out on the road making deliveries and serving his clients.
Despite these blows, and hemorrhaging money that he didn't have month after month, Jeff couldn't give up. He had his three young boys and his wife to think of. Selling off the company's older inventory for cash put food on the table, but it was very difficult making ends meet. Jeff remained optimistic and saw there was room for improvement in the industry. When a couple of Jeff's local competitors decided to sell out, he borrowed more money to acquire their assets and hired their sales people.
His retail packaging business (BABCOR) was definitely growing, albeit slowly. The problem was big box retailers were driving small, independent stores out of business. It was those small businesses that were Jeff's best clients. Sales stopped climbing but expenses went up. One day Jeff discovered he could rent his warehouse out, stay at home and make more money than he could make in profits from working at his packaging business. This was a huge discouragement and he didn't know what to do.
Moving into Food Packaging
At a Retail Packaging Show he attended, Jeff shared his dilemma with the President of a good supply company. That supplier suggested he start calling on food businesses in addition to retailers since he himself was seeing the growth in food service packaging. At that very moment Jeff declared he was going to be called Mr. Food Service Packaging at next year's Retail Packaging Show.
And so as Jeff continued talking with his established retail businesses, he started making cold calls on restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. The business card he left behind even said in bold letters: Mr. Food Service Packaging. He immediately found these business owners complaining about how difficult it was to find unique products through the big food distributors. Owners also mentioned their food suppliers had very high minimum order quantities when it came to printed items. There was another frequent complaint they had when it came to buying from large vendors: there were no eco-friendly packaging options. This is an issue near and dear to Jeff's heart.
In Pittsburgh and across the country, the big food service distributors offered only high-demand items. They don't have the time or interest in helping small to medium-sized businesses get what they need. They just wanted to offer items that would sell fast, not waste time with any of the more interesting or niche products.
That's when the light bulb went off. After listening to business owners, Jeff knew he wanted to do things differently. If only he could find suppliers who could supply him with unique product options. That would be the key to success.
Offering a Unique Product
Jeff decided to provide innovative and premium quality products that weren't easy to get elsewhere. He also made sure to stock an array of earth-friendly items. Jeff understood that being on the cutting edge meant he wouldn't be a good fit for all, but he would be an excellent fit for some. It was another risk he was willing to take, so he stocked his warehouse. Many items needed to be special-ordered in large quantities and were not yet proven to sell well.
Selling boxes and bags all around the Pittsburgh area was starting to go well. After attending a packaging convention in Chicago, though, Jeff decided he wanted a better way to offer his hard-to-find products to a larger audience. After deciding against hiring sales reps in other states, and after some long discussions with trusted friends, he knew it was time to build a website. This was no small undertaking in 2003. For the next two years, Jeff spent his nights, weekends, and all extra free time coming up with everything necessary to launch what would become MrTakeOutBags.com.
The site went live in November of 2005. Sales came in almost immediately and each month was more successful than the last. Word spread around the country and the business grew rapidly. Now, over 30 years later, Jeff is still helping many of those business he started out with all those years ago. Long time employees as well as Jeff's youngest son (who was only three when the company began), spend their days helping a variety of new clients.
Since 2005, MrTakeOutBags.com offers useful, unique packaging to customers, while the BABCOR Packaging side of the business specialized in retail and custom-printed packaging. A company's packaging can influence its success. It can change the way people see them. It can help them market and build their brand. It can add perceived value and echo the company's overall voice and style. Together the two companies help each customer meet their goals of having packaging that helps them build their own successful business.
As Zig Ziglar famously said "if you can dream it, you can achieve it". Between dreaming and achieving lies a lot of work, obstacles and challenges, wins and losses. The will to succeed and the ability to find good people to help you succeed can make all the difference. Ziglar also said "You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want."