Inefficient and out-dated conventional rodent control methods drove Robbie van Dam and Craig Bond to develop a more humane and effective trap. Eight years after launching their product Goodnature is now a thriving export business.
For hundreds of years humans have controlled pests through devices such as snap-traps or chemicals. But now there is a new technology proving to be much more humane and effective, and it’s a highly successful Kiwi invention. It’s also achieving export success around the globe.
Goodnature self-resetting traps never actually trap the animal, but they do kill the animal – generally possums, stoats or rats – instantly and humanely, without any need to use nasty chemicals.
Robbie van Dam, co-founder and design leader at Goodnature, and a recent speaker at the Better by Design CEO Summit in March, says the business is now scaling up quickly. In fact, growth has been so fast that the company has been hiring more staff at its Wellington base, including its first international salesperson, and is looking for larger premises. Its export prospects have never been better – with exports now making up 55 percent of sales and expected to climb to 80 percent of sales in the next two to three years. Currently the company exports to 19 countries via four distributors.
So what is the background to this unique trap? Why is it proving so popular?
“New Zealand is a world leader in pest control. The issue is that most of the methods we’ve built in the past three decades can’t be applied anywhere else on the planet. We’ve got to be good global citizens, and whatever we make in New Zealand has to be scalable and transferable,” explains Robbie. “Everyone’s experiencing bio-diversity decline and we want to be part of the discussion and the solution.”
Toxins and chemicals are not part of the solution, with countries like the US making it almost impossible to certify new chemicals, adds Robbie. And traditional trapping products are a race to the bottom – while as a commodity, the cheapest trap almost always wins.
So the Goodnature traps, launched eight years ago, with their instant, humane mechanism represents a really significant shift in the market, he says.
There are three distinct markets the company targets: the ecology market – controlling pests on conservation estates and supplying community groups around the world; the general consumer market; and industrial pest-control organisations.
Design-thinking has had a major role to play in the success of Goodnature, which, of course, is the primary reason Robbie was speaking at the Better by Design Summit.
Robbie, with co-founder Craig Bond, started the business after they both left design school with industrial design degrees. At the time Robbie had a part-time job at the Department of Conservation, which is where he learnt about the efforts to protect New Zealand’s native species.
“Craig and I sat down and nutted out how we could contribute to the restoration of New Zealand’s bio-diversity, and that was the genesis for Goodnature,” recalls Robbie.
He explains the ramifications of using chemicals “blindly” to kill pests, both in domestic settings and in the wild. He’s seen the results, and describes it as alarming. But the two design graduates were determined to do something about it – to actively seek and build a solution.
A $20K Innovation Grant got them out of the starting blocks to building their re-setting trap.
After presenting two options, a further $250K was stumped up, which covered all the tooling, injection moulding, and sustained the company for a further two or three years.
In more recent times they have been boot-strapping their growth into new markets.
So where do they see their market-share heading globally?
“Our view is that if we can capture ten percent of the US pest control market, which is estimated to be worth around US$15 billion, then we’ll be OK,” says Robbie.
Scandinavia is another big ‘push market’ he says. “Because Scandinavia and all of Europe has banned toxicants and are actively seeking alternatives – as is the UK.
Australia, which has a similar pet-control regime to this country is also on Robbie and Craig’s radar.
In terms of finding distributors around the world, Robbie explains that until now it has largely been a case of the markets coming to them. Individuals see the product somewhere, perhaps online, and make contact with the company.
“We seed the [global] market with product – as people ask for it, we put the product into their hands and see how they perform with it in-market,” says Robbie. “Depending on how these individuals perform we then discuss their ability to access channels that we currently can’t.”
He says they posted a video on social media around a year ago that demonstrated how the traps work, and it’s currently sitting at around 11 million views.
And a recent outbreak of hepatitis in Hong Kong, transmitted from rats to humans, triggered a lot of interest out of Asia in the Goodnature product.
Ecology is where the heart is
Robbie says the ecology aspect of the business is where their heart primarily lies. “That’s the fundamental pillar of the brand,” he explains. “Creating some form of harmony in environments. “Right from the outset we’ve been growing and attempting to understand what species we can control in-market,” he says, adding that following the Summit he was heading to Hawaii to see how their product can assist in the control of the wild mongoose, which is decimating local wildlife.
Goodnature traps currently cover around a dozen invasive species around the world, and the company is targeting the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Top-100 Invasive Species list – on it you’ll find everything from squirrels and minks to tree-snakes.
It may take new technologies to succeed against other species, “but the spin-off is really powerful for all of our existing product”, says Robbie.
“It’s critical to continue to explore, and understand, these other emerging markets. Even if it’s just as a mechanism to ensure you’re constantly innovating and staying ahead of the competition.”
To view a video of Robbie van Dam’s talk at the Better by Design CEO Summit go to: https://youtu.be/vEbsfnM7Zto
Story by Glenn Baker, editor of NZBusiness and ExporterToday.co.nz