Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Hockey innovators have no need to pad out their numbers

Black Sticks goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex is employed part-time by OBO to provide player feedback. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Black Sticks goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex is employed part-time by OBO to provide player feedback. Photo / Paul Estcourt

When hockey teams from around the world go head-to-head at the London Olympics the vast majority of their goalkeepers will be wearing protective gear designed and made in New Zealand.

Over the past 18 years Palmerston North-based OBO has grown rapidly and now exports around $4 million of its products annually, says Simon Barnett, who founded the company in 1994.

He said close to 70 per cent of the goalkeepers at this year's Olympics would be kitted out in protective gear such as leg guards and helmets made by the New Zealand company, whose products cater solely for goalies.

OBO occupied a niche thanks to its focus on just one part of the field hockey market, which allowed it to develop the perfect product, said Barnett, who is also a part-time marketing lecturer at Massey University.

"There's probably only 100,000 people we can sell to globally, but we export to 62 countries and have 65 to 70 per cent market share."

He said New Zealand's two hockey goalkeepers - Kyle Pontifex and Bianca Russell - would be sporting OBO equipment in London.

Pontifex also works part-time for the company, which employs 14 staff, providing player feedback.

Research and design takes place in OBO's laboratory, which features technology that takes video footage at 22,000 frames a second to capture the impact of a hockey ball hitting a dummy's head.

Barnett said the fact that most teams did not have back-up goalies these days was a good sign that the equipment worked. "In the old days, [teams] would definitely have taken two goalkeepers, but goalies just don't get injured as much as they used to because the protective gear has improved so much."

Barnett said that when he established OBO protective pads were commonly made out of cumbersome materials such as leather and bamboo.

The New Zealand firm began experimenting with much lighter closed-cell foam, he said.

"We didn't invent [the use of] closed-cell foam but what we did do was take what was already being done by one or two companies and do it a lot better."

Barnett said OBO's core products, including leg guards and hand protectors, were manufactured in Palmerston North, while other products such as helmets were made overseas.

- NZ Herald

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