The guys at goodnature have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making and perfecting their resetting and toxin free pest trap since establishing in 2005.
Sure, they’ve received half a million dollars from DOC’s innovation fund, and a bit of help from NZTE, but that hasn’t managed to cover the cost of die tooling and other development work required for their innovative and patented solutions to the introduced mammals devastating our forests, birds and other fauna.
Like many start-up businesses, the three friends who all graduated from Victoria University’s design school in 2004 as mature students have bootstrapped their way to developing two unique traps that are only just now being commercially released. The opportunity to grow a global business now beckons.
Along the way they’ve created a logic for trap design that has probably never been applied before, “incorporating industrial design to solve a whole problem,” says Stu Barr. While all three partners are intimately involved in the traps’ designs, by evolved definition Barr is goodnature’s marketing/sales guy, Robbie Craig, the possum, stoat and rat behavioural specialist and Craig Bond, the technology and model making expert.
In the middle of last decade, it was clear that as well as requiring a humane way of killing pests, the Dept. of Conservation (DOC), and others, were after something that was light, durable and easy to use. Barr makes the observation that sometimes it is school groups, or retired volunteers who are helping defend forests and birds; and thus these requirements are even more key for them.
An initial, but quickly discarded, trap prototype proved the feasibility of goodnature’s ‘power’ for resetting traps. As far as Barr’s aware, no one else in the world has adapted the use of CO2 cartridges as the means to operate a trap.
The jaws-oriented proof-of-concept was enough to convince DOC’s innovation fund managers of the promise of a gas powered, completely non-electronic – and with the initial backing in 2007 in Sept. 2009 the Henry 8 Rat and Stoat Trap was the first of goodnature’s products. (Richard Henry is regarded by many as New Zealand’s first conservationist).
“This worked OK,” says Barr, “but not as well as we intended.” As observed in trials, the trap’s success depended on the rat or stoat carrying out a certain action (essentially climbing a type of ladder), but the Henry 8 couldn’t guarantee consistent behaviour.
“The reality was, we spent 80% of our time on the technology, and 20% on behaviour study,” he says. “But, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You can’t do a huge amount of behavioural stuff until you have the product.”
Although in hindsight, they might have attacked the production of the trap differently, the development of a first product hugely influenced the progress of goodnature’s Possum Trap. The team constantly thought of improvements and modifications to Henry 8, and was able to spend 80% of their time on behavioural observations.
As a result the Possum Trap achieved a 10 out of 10 instant humane kill – an ‘A’ class pass, humane pass and the only trap to have achieved the feat.
With the development of a fantastically effective Possum Trap and iterative changes to Henry 8, goodnature “swallowed our pride and spent a year on observational stuff for rats and stoats,” Barr says.
In doing this they understood the drivers for the rodent and mustelid and came to the conclusions:
The technology has to be as perfect as possible – since creating and modifying the injection moulds is an expensive process
Lures are crucial (in the Henry 8, the lure was a secondary consideration)
The Henry 10 Rat and Stoat Trap is definitely new and improved. It also shares the same regulator as the Possum Trap, as well as an in-house developed Auto Lure Dispenser. This drips a small amount of lure onto a pad over time, and will last 8-10 months depending on the temperature.
goodnature also developed a new (self) triggering device (again, non-electronic), with all the technology based on compressed gas.
Which means that goodnature now has two highly effective traps to sell. Its Possum Trap has been on the market since July, and the majority of the 2000 entirely NZ-made are being used in DOC study sites. The Henry 10 will be available from March 2012, and has been part of a DOC trial from the beginning of December.
There is also a large World Wildlife Fund sponsored project in East Taranaki to determine whether a Kakako recovery area will control possums to the level required.
At this stage the Possum Trap sells for $130 + GST each, compared to about $70 for well-known yellow Timms Trap.
The company only sells direct at the moment, and Barr sees that the Possum Trap could sell for more, “as people are prepared to pay up to three times more for a clearly superior product,” he says.
“At the moment we’re getting the trap known, getting it validated,” says Barr. “We have one guy who bought 10 traps, and killed 47 possums in three and a half weeks. We packaged and sent them. He did everything else.”
As well as conservation groups, the Possum Trap will be desirable for those areas with Bovine Tuberculosis, and for private property protection – orchards for example.
As far as the Possum Trap is concerned, the only market for this animal is New Zealand. The possum’s protected in its native Australia, and no other country has been silly enough to have released it into their environment.
But, almost every country in the world has their equivalent of rats and stoats. Hawaii has the mongoose for example, the UK and Scandania the mink. Japan has a critically endangered rat it is trying to protect from the rat that’s familiar to us all.
“And once you cross over into pest control compared to conservation management, it’s a completely different story,” says Barr. “The amount of rice lost to spoilage and eating by rats in Indonesia and Asia after all the work in planting and harvesting is simply immense.”
The development of the traps’ core technology, in NZ conditions which are among the harshest in the world, provide major opportunities. The team needs to change their approach from a conservation path to a pest control mentality, and again new learning.
“But, if the rat trap is in a warehouse, say 50 metres from the user, the job should theoretically be easier,” he says.
goodnature has patented much of its ‘suite of technology”, even though the cost of IP lawyers has been large.
Barr makes his first foray to the United States in February, to see where this market might head. “It takes at least 12 months between someone seeing the product and the sale being made,” he says.
The job now is to engage with and look after customers, and create new, overseas markets for the Rat and Stoat Trap.
Having spent the past six years bootstrapping their way to highly effective means of killing pests, the goodnature team is naturally looking forward to some paydays.
Using good design to perfect a humane pest destruction system is clearly a driving ethos for the three directors – making some money now will be a vindication of the effort and belief that has perfected a world first.