Safety gear makes cut

Kanata-based firm carves out niche with ap­parel de­signed to pre­vent lac­er­a­tions in ath­letes, high-risk work­ers

Ottawa Business Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID SALI david@greatriver.ca

Kanata firm scores ma­jor deal with Cana­dian Tire to mar­ket line of cloth­ing de­signed to pre­vent lac­er­a­tions from hockey and speed skates.

While the NHL sea­son is just be­gin­ning, an Ot­tawa-based man­u­fac­turer of safety prod­ucts for hockey and other high-risk en­deav­ours is al­ready cel­e­brat­ing its own Stan­ley Cup of mer­chan­dis­ing deals.

BASE360, which makes high-tech shirts, shorts, socks and gloves de­signed to pre­vent lac­er­a­tions to hockey play­ers, speed skaters and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, an­nounced ear­lier this month it has inked a con­tract to sell its prod­ucts at Cana­dian Tire out­lets start­ing this sea­son.

The deal, which company co-founder Rolf Loyens says is in “the higher six fig­ures,” puts BASE360’s BOD­YARMOUR brand on shelves at hun­dreds of the gi­ant sport­ing goods re­tailer’s stores across the coun­try. It’s a huge op­por­tu­nity for Mr. Loyens’ company, which was launched about eight years ago and em­ploys just over a dozen peo­ple, in­clud­ing three at its Kanata head­quar­ters.

As any suc­cess­ful ath­lete knows, there is a price for glory, and it’s no dif­fer­ent for a small business strug­gling to land its first ma­jor client. Mr. Loyens says the Cana­dian Tire deal is the cul­mi­na­tion of years of sweat, toil and frus­tra­tion.

“That also, as a business, comes with cer­tain chal­lenges as well,” he ex­plains, rhyming off hur­dles that in­cluded the lo­gis­tics of de­liv­er­ing prod­ucts to that many stores, not to men­tion se­cur­ing fi­nanc­ing for the pur­chase or­ders.

“You have to be very cre­ative in try­ing to make sure that you can fi­nance and de­liver … there’s re­ally no wig­gle room. That’s what makes it ex­cit­ing to be an en­tre­pre­neur. It’s also the stress­ful part of be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur.”

BASE360’s line of light­weight, cutre­sis­tant hockey ap­parel is de­signed to be worn un­der reg­u­lar equip­ment to pre­vent lac­er­a­tions from skate blades, which ac­count for almost half of all in­juries in the sport, Mr. Loyens says. Par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas of the body – the wrists, calves and Achilles ten­dons, for ex­am­ple – are cov­ered in fab­ric re­in­forced with high- strength Kevlar and Dyneema, syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als com­monly used in body ar­mour, to guard against po­ten­tially se­ri­ous, even ca­reer-jeop­ar­diz­ing, cuts.

The firm part­nered with Gar­ma­tex Tech­nolo­gies, a Van­cou­ver-based man­u­fac­turer of sci­en­tif­i­cally en­gi­neered fab­rics, to cre­ate the pro­tec­tive hockey wear. The Business De­vel­op­ment Bank of Canada has pro­vided cash for tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing, but it’s “nowhere near what is re­quired,” Mr. Loyens says.

Still, he’s grate­ful for BDC’s help. It’s been a long road to get to this point, he notes, with more than its share of ob­sta­cles, in­clud­ing le­gal chal­lenges from ma­jor sports equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers over patents and trade­marks.

Through it all, Mr. Loyens and his part­ners re­mained un­daunted.

“It’s that prover­bial David vs. Go­liath strug­gle,” he says. “We’re go­ing to con­tinue to fight the fight.”

A man­ager at Coca-Cola and Telus be­fore launch­ing BASE360, Mr. Loyens came up with the idea with his friend and for­mer business part­ner Ross An­gus. Mr. An­gus, a long­time mi­nor hockey coach in Ne­pean, wit­nessed one of his play­ers get cut by an er­rant skate blade and fig­ured there had to be a way to re­duce the risk of such an in­jury.

“It hap­pens fre­quently – more fre­quently than peo­ple re­al­ize,” Mr. Loyens says. “To me, th­ese are pre­ventable in­juries. It’s just a mat­ter of try­ing to find a so­lu­tion. We de­cided, ‘You know what? There’s noth­ing out there. Let’s fig­ure out how to do it.’ There was a lot of trial and er­ror. What we started off with eight years ago is a to­tally dif­fer­ent prod­uct than what it is to­day. Peo­ple aren’t go­ing to wear it if it’s heavy, it’s bulky, it doesn’t breathe, it’s not com­fort­able.”

Trag­i­cally, Mr. An­gus never lived to see his vi­sion fully come to fruition. The fa­ther of three, an el­e­va­tor tech­ni­cian by trade, died three years ago this month when he fell down an el­e­va­tor shaft at a west Ot­tawa con­struc­tion site.

He con­tin­ues to in­spire his close buddy ev­ery day.

“It was both of our dreams to see this,” Mr. Loyens says, smil­ing at the thought of his friend. “Part of it is do­ing it for his mem­ory.”

Mario De­mers, a for­mer di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions at Med-Eng Sys­tems, came on board three years ago, and net­work­ing led them to the part­ner­ship with Gar­ma­tex a year later.

The firm be­gan branch­ing out beyond hockey when Mr. Loyens’ son switched sports to speed skat­ing. Now, BASE360 is also mak­ing cloth­ing for law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, with plans to de­sign prod­ucts for in­dus­trial work­ers next.

For now, Mr. Loyens says, he and his part­ners are happy to com­pete in the shadow of the big­ger play­ers in the sports ap­parel game, but that could change.

“We’re not ready to exit be­cause now we’re see­ing the growth in our business,” he says. “Hav­ing said that, you al­ways have to be open to the mar­ket­place. There’s been a lot of con­sol­i­da­tion of com­pa­nies in hockey and the re­al­ity is the big boys have a lot of mar­ket­ing dol­lars be­hind them and dis­tri­bu­tion (net­works). And dis­tri­bu­tion is key to any kind of re­tail business, so … if there’s an op­por­tu­nity to work with one of the larger com­pa­nies, then we’re happy to lis­ten.

“At the end of the day, we may not be the big­gest company, but we’re the best at what we do.”

PHOTO BY GORD WE­BER

BASE360, a small firm head­quar­tered in Kanata, has cracked the na­tional mar­ket with its line of cut-resistant hockey wear.

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