Flexible processes and innovative design help keep Whanganui-based Pacific Helmets at the forefront of global safety helmet design and manufacture with exports to more than 80 countries. But founder and managing director David Bennett also credits much of the company’s success to the ease of doing business in Whanganui, its collaborative networks and skilled, long serving staff.
Pacific Helmets grew out of the boom in motorcycle sales during the 1970s oil crunch and the introduction of compulsory helmets for motorcyclists in 1973. David was involved in subsequent public pressure to make cycle helmets mandatory and, following the dramatic drop in annual deaths and injuries of cyclists since the law was introduced in 1994, says it’s “one of the best things we’ve ever done”.
Since 1984, when the company won the first New Zealand Fire Service tender for helmets made in this country, it has won contracts worldwide to supply customised fire, paramedic, rescue and police helmets. David says customers are impressed with the company’s design flexibility coupled with its focus on customer needs and adherence to international standards certification.
Pacific Helmets currently has some 80 staff at its manufacturing headquarters in Whanganui’s Heads Road industrial area, in the city’s south west, and 15 at the Southern Queensland distribution hub that supplies 90 percent of the Australian emergency services requirements.
It has a close association with component manufacturer Axiam, across town in Aramoho. Axiam supplies approximately 60 kinds of injection-moulded plastic fittings made to designs and moulds produced by Pacific Helmets, which has two 3D printers, two CNC machines and Computer Aided Design (CAD) technologies.
David says Pacific Helmets is a member of the 88-business Heads Road Industrial Group, and all staff are committed to “working smarter not harder” by following the lean manufacturing principles shared by members of the Lean Wanganui group.
Whanganui’s collaborative training organisation INTRANZ supplies some work-ready staff and the company makes time available for government funded in-house literacy and numeracy training provided by Whanganui-based Training for You. Pacific Helmets has a full quality assurance programme which is certified to ISO 9001 2008.
“Over the years we have recruited and trained a highly skilled team of management and employees who, together with consultants when required, have valuable and unsurpassed knowledge in helmet manufacturing,” says David.
The workforce has many strong family connections, and long serving employees who aren’t ready to retire are encouraged to stay on, in part-time roles if they wish.
David has handed the helmet company operations to his son Grant, currently Pacific Helmets general manager, but meanwhile he and his wife Marion share their time between New Zealand and Australia supervising the management transitions required in Australia since they took over the distribution company 18 months ago. But they both enjoy the work and lifestyle advantages Whanganui has to offer and can’t understand why anyone would want to do business or live in large cities.
Finished helmets are trucked to Auckland airport for air freighting and can be across the world in a matter of days, and when he needs to be in Auckland or Australia David can be at Whanganui’s airport in 10 minutes for the 45 minute Air NZ flight to Auckland.
His semi-rural lifestyle block is also just seven minutes’ drive from the factory and he enjoys popping home for lunch … no traffic lights, no congestion.
“There’s no doubt that any business with the right skills and innovative approach can succeed here and stay here,” says David.