Helen Twose 's Opinion

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Pedalling his own bike for a change

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Cycle products are a new direction for Christchurch designer

After developing a wide range of designs for other people, David Lovegrove now has himself as a client.
After developing a wide range of designs for other people, David Lovegrove now has himself as a client.

In the busy lead-up to Christmas, David Lovegrove has given himself an extra task - launching the perfect stocking filler for cycle enthusiasts.

The award-winning industrial designer and founder of Christchurch design firm 4ormfunction has spent 15 years creating products and designs for clients; this time around he's taking everything he has learned and applying it to his own creation.

The result is Biomaxa, a lanoline-based bicycle lubricant with a unique bottle design that allows for easy application to a bike chain.

Lovegrove, 44, says the lanoline, a by-product of cleaning sheep's wool, gives Biomaxa a New Zealand story, with some added eco credentials that set it apart from the existing petrochemical-based offerings.

Biomaxa also has a distinctive whiff reminiscent of the woolshed that is "really New Zealandish", he says.

It's the first product in a line-up of petrochemical-free cycle accessories Lovegrove plans to launch with an eye to a worldwide market.

"Traditionally I suppose we've been a product incubator or an ideas incubator or an innovation incubator.

"I suppose if we're looking to take that to the next step we want to be a business incubator, so basically be able to spin out ideas and IP [intellectual property] packaged around businesses.

"Hopefully we can add a whole lot of different companies to New Zealand and the globe with deep-rooted New Zealand beliefs and ideals."

Biomaxa is a test case to see if 4ormfunction can take its clever ideas and turn them into a commercial product.

"I suppose as designers we always keep little black books and I think designers tend to be wired a bit differently," says Lovegrove. "Everywhere you look you can see opportunities."

It's also a way to diversify the business, he says.

The need to create a resilient business, controlling its own destiny, came after several cornerstone clients, including Navman and HumanWare, changed ownership and left New Zealand roughly five years ago.

"Overnight a number of workstreams just got chopped.

"Unfortunately it was the perfect storm. Those things both happened in quite a short period of time, then the financial crisis on top of that meant we had to rebuild ourselves."

In a way, diversity of work is one of the reasons 4ormfunction came into being in 1999.

Lovegrove had just returned from his OE, during which he worked for design consultancies doing "some pretty cool stuff", including work for a Formula 1 race team.

He knew he could easily slip back into a role at his old employer, Fisher & Paykel Appliances, but craved the variety design consultancy offered.

As a proud Kiwi, Lovegrove was also keen to lift the design values of New Zealand products for the benefit of companies here.

The firm of six industrial designers, product designers and mechanical engineers has now clocked up more than 130 projects for clients ranging from multinational corporates to inventors wanting help to realise their dream.

The work has garnered 4ormfunction local and international accolades, most recently top honours at the Designers Institute of New Zealand awards for a second year running, for the SmartBar barbell created for Les Mills.

Featuring retractable teeth that hold the weight plates in place and allow for quick and easy changes, the SmartBar has been sold in its thousands in some 50 countries.

It's been followed by the SmartStep, and other products are in the pipeline.

Despite adding Biomaxa to the work portfolio, Lovegrove doesn't plan on growing 4ormfunction into "mega-corp", preferring to keep the team small and remain hands on in the business.

"I still love my job and I've been doing it for 20 years now.

"Delivering something that's unique and innovative to market is just really rewarding."

- NZ Herald

Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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