Q&A with four-time Fieldays Innovation Award winner The Wrangler Ltd

Twenty-five years ago, Waverley and Wilco Klein Ovink invented the Wrangler, an innovation that has changed the game for farmers all over the globe.

They were encouraged to enter the Wrangler into the Fieldays Innovation Awards in 1995 where they took home an award. Since then, they have won three more Fieldays Innovation Awards, and have achieved incredible success locally and globally with their innovations.

The Wrangler Ltd is a family-owned engineering business, with several second-generation family members now working for the business among a great team of guys making quality New Zealand products in Whakatane.

We got to chat with Waverley, Marketing and Admin Director at The Wrangler Ltd, to hear the amazing story about her experience with Fieldays Innovations.

Entries for the Fieldays Innovation Awards close on the 1 May. Apply now here.

The Wrangler was a game changer in the dairy industry when it was released. What was the problem you were trying to solve with your idea?

Originally Wilco made the Wrangler for us to make sharemilking easier. It was taking two people to treat a cow: one to hold the rope and the other to examine the hoof, and it wasn’t safe for any of us. As a cadet, Wilco watched a cow being treated for lameness, but she fell and broke her hip. It had got him thinking there had to be a better way. We looked around to buy something and were surprised to find there was nothing here for holding and treating a lame cow – so Wilco built one.

It was so novel we were able to take out a patent on securing and lifting a hoof. Pretty soon the vets were loving it and wanting all of their farmers to have one and suggested we take it to Fieldays. It was there talking to farmers at Fieldays that we started to find the true extent of lameness in the dairy industry. Every farmer had hoof knife scars on their arms and just considered it part of farming, and we heard from guys getting kicked in the head by cows. It was normal to put off treating cows, farmers would just give her a jab of penicillin and hope she’d come right, not realising how much a lame cow really cost them by being sick. Some of the figures of the number of lame cows on farms was staggering.

How did you and Wilco come up with the idea for the Wrangler?

We wanted something that would not only hold the hoof, but the cow too, and stop her falling during treatment. It needed to be easy for someone as small as me to use, and fast enough that our staff would use it. It needed to be bulletproof, multifunctional for every type of veterinary procedure we might need, and able to sit outside and be maintained just with a yard hose. Wilco welded various bits of scrap metal together and the cows soon showed us what worked and didn’t work.

How did you feel the day you won your first Innovation Award?

We were absolutely stoked to win the Fieldays Prototype Award in 1995. The judges were very excited to see the Wrangler, and the encouragement they’d given us spurred us to refine it further, coming back the following year and winning the New Equipment Innovation Award in 1996.

What opportunities or business growth have you received after you won the Innovations Awards for the Wrangler?

The newspaper publicity from the wins was invaluable and having a small space to exhibit at the Fieldays Innovation Hub allowed us to get started. We’ve gone on to win many national and regional business awards since, particularly for innovation, and it’s always a great boost to business.

Since then, you have won two Innovations Awards for Ride Over Gate and Pollen Smart – how have those ventures grown since their Innovation Award wins?

The Ride Over Gate has been a great export success, selling well in the USA and Australia through our distributors there. Winning the Fieldays Innovation Award for Pollensmart gave it a fantastic start, with many Kiwifruit growers coming to our stand to see it for themselves. The increased Orchard Gate Return growers are getting with the Pollensmart is testament to the judges picking a winning innovation, and Fieldays has been one of the best ways for us to promote it to growers.

How would you describe your experience of exhibiting at the Innovation Hub over the years?

The Fieldays Innovation Hub is a great way to gauge public interest in a product. Farmers love putting their collective heads together and problem solving, and we all love a good idea. We’ve had various exhibit spaces – from an outside space at the Innovation Hub in 1995 and 1996, to exhibiting our innovation on our own site in 2011, to having both an exhibit at the Innovation Hub as well as on our own site in 2015 and 2016.

Having won multiple awards over the years, how do you think the Fieldays Innovation Awards have evolved since you first entered? Twenty-five years ago, the Innovation Hub was an outside area, and the awards presentation was the judges walking around dropping off the awards to winners. We love how supportive the Innovation Hub is and having the awards breakfast was a great chance to get together and talk with fellow innovators. It’s not easy turning a great idea into a great business so the support at Fieldays Innovations is invaluable.

As an innovator, what do you think is the most challenging aspect of getting your innovation recognised?

The hardest part is getting the message out there. Advertising is expensive, so thinking outside the box for marketing is a must. We’re lucky in farming circles to have Fieldays Innovations where we can showcase our products, and starting with an Innovations stand is brilliant because it costs less than a big site yet it attracts so many visitors.

What advice would you give to businesses entering or thinking of entering the Innovation Awards this year?

Make it obvious with your signage what your product does. People want to ascertain in a glance whether to stop and talk or not, make it easy for them. Also, bring bar stools so you can sit at eye height, and Throaties for four days of talking!

What’s next for The Wrangler Ltd?

We’ve just been granted PollenSmart patents to Italy, China, and Chile, so turning PollenSmart international is a goal. Another goal of ours is to get into more New Zealand orchards, because if more growers use Pollensmart, more growers will get to see the results for themselves so it’s self-fulfilling. We’ve also got another product we want to develop and take to market so we’ll no doubt be back at Fieldays Innovations again!

Any special Fieldays memories you’d like to share?

Last year was 25 years since starting Wrangler at Fieldays Innovations, so having a year off was a surreal way to celebrate. At our first Innovation Award win in 1996 I was overdue pregnant with our first child but thankfully he waited till after I’d manned the stand for four days of Fieldays before he arrived!

For our tenth anniversary at Innovations, Fieldays sent the Suzuki Cheerleaders to our stand several times each day. It was cold and pouring with rain, but they weren’t deterred, and it pulled a big crowd.
The most memorable years of course, have been winning a Fieldays Innovation Award and being flooded with media and farmers interested to know more.

Pollensmart wins Fieldays Innovation Award: Wilco Klein Ovink, Waverley Klein Ovink, David Horwood, and Fairfax Agrimedia Division manager Dean Williamson.
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