By Esther Goh,
The young and dynamic up-and-comers from Welly company goodnature are revolutionising the way we kill pests to make the process better for animals, the environment and, in the long run, our wallets.
These days, nobody wants unsustainable and toxic materials in their food, clothing, household cleaners – or pest control. And equally, nobody wants to spend their spare time running around dealing to pesky possums.
A trio from Wellington has developed a new technology, however, that taps all these pain points. Endorsed by DoC and MAF, goodnature’s self-triggering possum and stoat traps are powered by a cheap and readily available byproduct – compressed gas – something that’s never successfully been done before, though many attempts have been made using electronic systems.
C02 canisters power each trap for at least 12 animals or more, with the latest version good for 20. The traps are multi-action, so they reset after each catch, and meet MAF animal welfare guidelines for a humane kill. No toxins means no flow-on effects to other animals that might wander by, and the trap can easily be adopted in other countries with minimal red tape.
That’s a whole lot of innovation in one small package, and as goodnature’s Stu Barr says, “We don’t have to make up a [marketing] story because the creation itself is good enough.”
The story begins at Victoria University, where Craig Bond, Robbie Craig and Barr all studied industrial design. Craig held down a part-time gig at DoC, where he helped lay out and reset possum traps – a task that expended an undue amount of effort, he thought. That was the “whisper in the wind” that would lead to, well, bigger things.
Calling upon Bond’s engineering expertise, together they cooked up some proof of concept ideas for self-resetting traps, and delivered them to DoC. That first model was “pretty rudimentary in hindsight but a beautiful artifact in our office today,” Barr laughs.
At the time, DoC had an innovation fund, a contestable amount that varied every year depending on its budget. If not for the 50/50 funding they were granted in 2007, it’s unlikely the idea would have gotten any further.
“Other than that it’s been sweat and tears,” says Barr. “We kept doing contract design work just to generate cash flow that we’d then pour back into this business. The last contract was in the middle of last year and it was enough to make us cry. Hopefully we’ll never have to go back.”
All three had been running their own small businesses so they had some idea of what they were in for, but knew working together would give them that much more firepower. In 2008 they bid goodbye to those ventures and turned their full attention to goodnature – not an easy decision, as the up-and-running companies already had established brands, cashflow and sales. On the other hand, their work with goodnature is fulfilling on an entirely new level, says Barr.
Over the years they’ve settled naturally into comfortable positions. Craig deals with the animals, Bond the technology and Barr the people. Last July marked the launch of their first product, the automatic possum trap, and as of February goodnature had dispatched 3,000 of them – more than the team had predicted, if not quite as many as they’d hoped.
They followed that up with the release of the rat stoat trap to market in March, beginning with an initial run of 600 orders. Along with their flagship products, they also sell accessories such as bait and digital counters that track how many times a trap has been activated.
So, who’s buying? According to Barr, everyone from city and regional councils to community groups and individuals. And, of course, DoC, for which these traps save serious dosh and time.
Craig says current traps are checked every month – all 200,000 of them. Goodnature traps only need to be set once, saving 92 percent in labour costs. And in dollar terms, a single-action trap may cost around half, but add in a regular checking system and that adds up to $2,000 over 20 years, compared with $470.
Sure, we’re one of the only countries in the world with possums, but rats have a bad rap the world over. And every nation has its own pest problems – Hawaii with the mongoose, Sweden with the mink, and so on. Goodnature is in talks with distributors involved in conservation work throughout Asia and Africa, too, as the world slowly moves away from its reliance on toxins for pest control.
Goodnature is still investing heavily in its manufacturing capabilities, most of which is spent on injection moulding tools. Numbers are yet to be finalised for the financial year but Barr thinks they should be just about turning a profit. Otherwise, the plan is to be profitable in the next financial year, which is on the cards.
Part of the growth plan is a brand new website, marking goodnature’s entry into e-commerce. Previously, customers could only buy direct, getting in touch with the company via phone or mail – something that quickly became unmanageable. Keeping customers close was key in those early days, but that level of familiarity couldn’t be sustained forever, Barr says.
“At one point I talked personally to every customer and helped them set up the trap. It meant we could get a really good understanding of how they were using it and why they were buying it.”
While certain parts of the manufacturing process are done by specialist companies in Napier and Auckland and others come off the shelf, goodnature does all its own prototyping and assembly at its “humble” Wellington premises and still sends each individual trap out the door.
As far as Barr knows, nobody else anywhere in the world is using CO2 cartridges to power traps, nobody has commercialised a resetting trap, and nobody has achieved the humane trap standards goodnature has.
People can always choose to buy single-use traps, or poisons, but the benefits of these traps are clear to the socially and environmentally responsible citizen.