Hawera home to bingo empire
New Zealand’s bingo king doesn’t actually play the game.
Keith Ranford has built his career around the popular pastime, with customers from Kaitaia to Invercargill, plus the Pacific Islands, the Chatham Islands and Kiribati.
Based in Hawera, South Taranaki, Ranford Bingo and Fundraising Supplies was supplying bingo tickets, dabbers (pens), raffle tickets and a range of other fundraising supplies to faraway customers by mail order for years before online shopping became a thing.
‘‘We’re the biggest supplier in New Zealand. It shows you can operate a good business from a small town, a nationwide business.’’
Ranford said many of his customers knew more about Hawera than people in the South Taranaki town did about his business.
‘‘We’ve been going 30 years, but no one knows what we do,’’ he said.
Bingo is popular in large and small centres throughout the country, with a particularly strong following in Auckland.
Some games had a prize pool of $1000 and the game could become quite addictive, he said.
‘‘When they banned smoking everyone was worried it would go to the wall but it was the opposite, it made it better. More people started playing.’’
There was competition between groups, with some afraid to stop over the Christmas break for fear their regulars would go to another hall while they were shut.
Changes had come as technology had replaced the traditional human caller in some halls, and some players used digital devices instead of paper tickets.
But running a regular bingo night remained a good fundraiser, he said.
The business was one of the first to get one of the new 0800 numbers when Telecom introduced them in the early 1990s. ’’The 0800 number was our biggest saviour. Before that, people used to call collect. Many people weren’t too comfortable doing that and our toll bills were horrendous.’’
Although some customers used email and online ordering, he preferred the telephone because of the contact it gave with the customers.
‘‘People ring us and we pack up their parcel straight away and send it away by 4pm, it’s on their doorstep the next morning.’’
Ranford Bingo owner Keith Ranford and receptionist Chloe Duncan in Hawera are well known to bingo organisers around the country by voice if not their faces.