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40-Plus Years Strong, Packaging-Atlanta Looks to the Next Generation

By Steve Young

March 20, 2024

Team Packaging-Atlanta (from left): Trey Wimmer, Peter Haddon, Pat Haddon, Martha Haddon, Grey Haddon, Chase Haddon, and Nick Hourigan.

Company: Packaging-Atlanta
Established: 1983
Joined AICC: 2014
Phone: 770-345-7144
Headquarters: Canton, Georgia
Owners: Pat and Martha Haddon

The roots of Packaging-Atlanta run deep in the red clay of North Georgia. Pat Haddon, president and owner, traces his company’s ancestry back to two long-lost names in the corrugated business: Mead Corporation and St. Joe Paper. “I didn’t know my grandfather very well, but I heard stories about him. He was one of those really strong-handed general managers who worked for Mead,” he recalls. “My uncle was also in the business; he was a bigwig down at St. Joe in College Park. He ran that company back in the ’60s.”

Now owned by WestRock, the College Park corrugator plant holds, for Haddon, a certain sentimental value. “That plant has a lot of memories for me because there was so much interaction of my family around there,” he says. “I was just an innocent little kid at the time.”

With the corrugated legacy well-established in the Haddon family tree, Haddon’s father, Tom, started his own sheet plant. “My dad decided back in the late ’60s to open up his own sheet plant,” Pat remembers. “I was about 15 years old, and I didn’t really know what that meant, but he opened up in a building about two blocks from the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta. He put a sheet plant on the second floor of this building, and everything had to be taken up and down an old elevator to get on a truck to be delivered.”

According to Pat, his father grew the business to the point where it relocated to a larger location north of Atlanta, but the business never achieved his father’s vision for it. “He kept wanting to evolve it and move into more of a niche business, and he got into different forms of specialty containers for the air freight business,” he says. “But he was a single owner, and he just didn’t want to continue it by the time I got to college.”

Fresh out of Georgia Southern University in 1978, Pat started working in sales for two companies: one in Georgia and the other in Alabama. “I began out of college. I had two separate sales jobs with two different small sheet plants,” he recalls. “I started brokering—it was a good way to start; it was back in 1983.”

The economy, however, rerouted Haddon’s sales career, as a downturn forced him into a straight-commission arrangement. “They said, ‘You can go on straight commission, or you can look for another job.’ I said, ‘I’ll go straight commission.’ A year later, I tripled my income. That’s when I realized I don’t need someone else to decide for me what I’m going to do or how I’m going to do it. I want to work on my own. That’s how we started.”

The “we” in Pat’s story is Martha Haddon, whom he met early in his sales career. He recalls, “Martha was working in a bank, and I just asked her, ‘Do you want to join me? I think I have about 20 hours of work.’ Well, we never worked less than 60–70 hours a week. But we had fun.”

Martha remembers those days with a fondness any entrepreneur would feel about the early days of their business. “We sold everything—toilet paper, stretch film, packing tape, boxes, anything packaging-related—because back in the day, there weren’t as many large distributorships or companies that were all service,” she explains. “If anyone needed a case of stretch film, we would throw the dog in the back of the car and go deliver it.”

Picking up the theme, Pat adds, “Those days are the golden days in my book. You got out; you met a lot of people. You had to connect with the company to meet their shipping guys. You had to meet people and do everything.”

As the Haddons tell it, their company’s growth prodded their desire—and need—to expand the business beyond their successful distributorship and into manufacturing. “I had a couple of guys who made our product for us, and it got to the point where you always know that you’re in the middle of the line or the back of the line; you’re never in the front of the line,” Pat says. “So, it was about control.”

“Control and service,” adds Martha, further explaining that the decision to start manufacturing on their own was guided by Pat’s acuity in costing and pricing. “Pat has always had a talent or ability to figure out costing and understanding whether something’s financially a good decision. When we decided to go into manufacturing, he was doing the calculations in his head, saying, ‘We can do this. We can make this ourselves, and we can do better.’ It drives everybody crazy because he has the old-school, in-his-head methodology, which in today’s world is probably not the current technology to use.”

Like many independents, the start was modest: a couple of band saws in a 1,500-square-foot space sublet from their first customer, a printer of sheet music in Fulton Industrial Park. “We bought deadstock sheets from Linpac and made pads for them,” Martha recalls. “We used one of our customers’ employees that got off at 3; he would come over and help us.”

Adds Pat, “We’d work until midnight eating band saw dust. That’s how we started out.”

A few years later, in 1985, with the help of a loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA), Packaging-Atlanta found its own dedicated location in Powder Springs, Georgia, 20 miles west of Atlanta. “That SBA loan put us into a separate building, our own first building,” Pat says. “There were no docks on the building—it was just straight in. But it was our first building where we took care of it; we had our own product, and we had our own system.”

Packaging-Atlanta’s new facility allowed the acquisition of additional equipment, beginning with a 50″ Hooper flexo press, a 64″ letter press, a semiautomatic gluer, a Miehle flatbed die cutter, a slitter, and a band saw. “That’s the basics of a sheet plant,” Pat remembers. “We got sheets in every day; we’d work in the morning, and I went out to sell in the afternoon.”

The company’s early market mix was a typical brown box industrial packaging, and the Haddons felt the typical growing pains of owning their own plant and staffing it. “We would find anything we could in terms of business,” Pat says, “and we went through a rotation of finding some people, which was really an offshoot of another sheet plant in the Fulton Industrial Park. Everyone they knocked off or fired was our starting point.”

As the company has grown, so, too, has its need for more space. From its Powder Springs location in the 1980s, Packaging-Atlanta has moved three times—first to Marietta, Georgia, in the early ’90s, then to a second location in Marietta, and finally to its current site in Canton. “In the ’90s, we were tripling our space, but it was half the cost on the lease. So we realized a pretty good deal.”

Referring to the company’s current, 76,000-square-foot facility, Pat says, “I knew that it was time to move out of Marietta. We just needed the space. The guys that were in the building before us made aquariums, and they were a customer of mine.”

Now in its 41st year, Packaging-Atlanta today enjoys a unique market niche in the food service, bakery, and pizza markets. And it’s not just all local. “We have a portion of our company dedicated to a local market, a regional market, and a national market,” Pat says.

The company’s roster of converting equipment in its Canton location has been tailored to support these markets: two Baysek flatbed die cutters, a 3-color 66″ Apstar flexo folder-gluer, a 3-color Dong Fang Topra flexo folder-gluer, and a 3-color 66″ McKinley rotary die cutter. In addition, Packaging-Atlanta’s pizza box business is supported by 2-color and 3-color Kiwi flexo printers and a digital pizza printer acquired in 2022.

A second location in Lakeland, Florida, opened in October 2022, serves as a manufacturing and distribution point for pizza box customers in the state. It is housed in a 24,000-square-foot building.

The company’s path into the food and bakery and pizza business was by happenstance as much as it was by design. Marketed under the trade name LTI/Bake ’n Ship® Trays, Packaging-Atlanta’s food and bakery specialties consist of patented plastic film-laminated corrugated die cuts and trays that are impervious to grease and moisture and resist heat up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the Haddons, they found this unique market through a longtime friend who was a partner in a startup called Laminated Technologies Inc. (LTI). “He was an acquaintance of ours for a good long while and was one of six or seven guys that started the company in the late ’90s,” Pat says. “They went public, but they needed a partner to produce the product, which was then mostly waterproof corrugated coolers.”

Pat recalls that Packaging-Atlanta’s early relationship with LTI was mainly as a sample maker. “They needed help,” he remembers. “They said, ‘Why don’t you guys buy a CAD (computer-aided design) table where we can start producing samples?’ So, we bought a CAD table for them, and there was a mutual agreement where we would produce whatever they needed.”

To their line of waterproof corrugated coolers, LTI soon added bakery circles. Still, the company struggled to produce the sales needed to support the venture. This, Pat says, is when they asked him if he would like to buy LTI and its assets. “Just around the year 2000, they figured out they weren’t going to have much time before they were going to do something to create more revenue for the company,” he says. “So, they asked me if I would take the assets of the company—the patents and trademarks. That’s what we bought. They knew it was time.”

LTI’s patents and trademarks were not the only assets the Haddons acquired. “Then, I had to lead through which employees would work for us,” Pat recalls. “And we decided to select a couple of the sales-oriented people to try to make this work.”

Pat, working with the LTI alumni now resident at Packaging-Atlanta, eventually developed a new food product specialty: film-laminated oven-proof corrugated trays used by commercial bakeries. “It was good because we hired a couple of other guys, and I tagged along and we made sales calls together,” he says. “They were the ones that got us into the food business—into the food shows—because back then, we didn’t really have any reason to go to food shows. We entered national food shows, regional food shows, and that really helped a lot. I always thought it was interesting because when we finally got to the point where we were producing these food trays and cake circles, people were calling us going, ‘Man, this really works!’”

Martha adds, “For people to call up and say, ‘Will you sell me your product?’, that’s an advantage. When you can develop a niche item, whether it’s food or a specialized pad that not everybody does, when people ask you for it, that’s a good thing.”

The initial gamble on the LTI process and product has paid off. “We were just selling brown boxes and a lot of just local business,” Pat says. “Then, this comes along, and we have customers in California, Texas, Chicago, and we’re making sales calls in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We even had a guy call us from India. It’s evolved, customers evolved, we diversified, and it’s really made a big difference in the profitability of the company.”

The first qualifier Pat and Martha use in describing their business is “family.” “We’re a family-run business,” Pat says when asked for his “elevator speech” about Packaging-Atlanta.

And as the principal owners of the company, the Haddons are staying true to family, bringing up the next generation of leadership in their three sons, Chase, Peter, and Grey, and their son-in-law, Nick Hourigan. Trey Wimmer, a longtime friend of Grey’s from his college days, has also recently joined the company.

Chase, a civil engineer, joined the family business in 2015 after working in New York and California. His role is design and sales, following in his father’s footsteps. About his transition from working for a general contractor to the family business, he says, “When I would tell people about family and about how my dad started this company called Packaging-Atlanta, they would always say, ‘You’re crazy not to go back and work for your family business.’ So, after hearing that several times, I called Pat one day, and of course, he said, ‘You can come back and start any day.’”

It was also around this time, Chase remembers, that Hourigan came into the business. “It worked out with Nick, my brother-in-law, who was thinking about the same thing, and we started talking and said, ‘Man, maybe we should jump into this. This could be fun and more satisfying than what we’re doing now.’”

Hourigan is Packaging-Atlanta’s operations manager, though he says he “wears many hats.” Before joining the family business in 2015, he worked in logistics for an expanded metals company in the Atlanta area. His manufacturing experience was a perfect fit for the company, he says. “I took my experience over there and figured I could help the team here, so I talked to Pat and Martha, and they said, ‘You’d would be a good addition to the team, and you can grow with the company.’”

Peter, the next of the Haddon sons into Packaging-Atlanta, joined in 2017. His prior experience, he says, helps him now in his role as production supervisor in the plant. “I got a degree from the School of Forestry at the University of Georgia,” he says. “I was wildland firefighting; I spent six months just putting out fires.”

He, too, felt the call of the family business when the opportunity was pointed out to him by others. “I was doing all that manual labor with a whole crew of 22 guys, and I was one of two with an education,” he recalls. “They said, ‘Man, what are you doing out here with us when you’ve got this great opportunity back home?’ And I was, like, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’”

Grey is the most recent son to come into the business, joining last fall. He attended Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he played golf and nurtured his interest in physical therapy. He later attended the Physical Therapy School at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, and after that, he worked the operations side of the physical therapy business. “I opened up nine different physical therapy clinics and learned about leading teams, serving patients, and developing teams,” he says.

Grey’s newfound role at the company is in systems development, and he believes his experience has prepared him well. “It’s not about the particular product of physical therapy or corrugated,” he says. “It’s just what you’re doing in the day-to-day. You’re going to have lots of problems, and you get to figure those out; you build relationships with staff and customers.”

The last member of the Packaging-Atlanta family is Grey’s friend and colleague from the physical therapy business. Wimmer and Grey met on a missions trip in South America. Wimmer played baseball at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and graduated from the Medical College of Georgia with his physical therapy degree. After working in the corporate world of physical therapy, he saw the advantages of working in a family business. “When the conversation with Pat and Martha started, it became exciting that I could be part of something that was a family-oriented business,” Wimmer says. “Seeing a business that is family-run, you just don’t see a lot of these anymore.”

He, like Grey, sees a natural affinity between his former profession and corrugated. “I always told our staff, ‘It’s not a tangible thing. Your product is service,’ and I think that translates to most fields, including corrugated,” he says.

Now 40-plus years strong, Packaging-Atlanta is a successful, niche-oriented family business. Pat and Martha have laid a strong foundation through prudent investment in the company’s food, bakery, and pizza specialty businesses, and they are ensuring its future in the transition to the next generation. “We have spent the last three years investing in new equipment and improving our management, group,” Pat says, “and we will continue to position ourselves in stronger marketing efforts in local and regional areas of the South.”

Yet, to the Haddons, the most rewarding part of their work is their family’s involvement and the confidence they have in them. “The future of our business will depend on future leadership,” Pat says. “The second generation is now on the doorstep of taking a big leap into running our company.”

Steve Young is AICC’s ambassador-at-large. He can be reached at 202-297-0583 or