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Pac Fire Australia goes Forward (but Back) to Early Ownership Beginnings

It is just more than 18 months since the ownership of Pac Fire Australia was reunited with the owners of Pacific Helmets New Zealand, and there has been a lot going on.

But going back to the early beginnings, in the late 1990’s the Pacific helmet range was distributed in Australia by the then Protector Safety company. The helmets began to make major inroads into the purchasing plans of both structural and bushfire agency operations as they were not only unique in their construction, but unlike many other helmets they were all certified to AS/NZS Standards. The Kevlar reinforced helmets were proving (and have proved) to provide both extremely high levels of personal safety and protection, but they are also lightweight and very durable. Helmets that are 15+ years old with considerable levels of use and abuse, are regularly tested to the original laboratory test procedures and they still pass as if they are new helmets. That is a claim not made by any other helmet manufacturer in the world.

So with helmet sales in Australia taking off, Pacific Helmets New Zealand owners Marion and David Bennett set up Pacific Helmets Australia in conjunction with Keith and Kerrie Ward. This proved to be a very agreeable partnership for some 15 years until Keith decided that it was time that he retired. During these 15 years, Keith expanded the range of products sold to include a full range of PPE for emergency services, with some outstanding distribution rights for recognised branded products like Bristol Uniforms, ESKA fire gloves and YDS boots. As opportunities were identified, there came a whole range of other products required by emergency services – rescue tools, evacuation fans, fire hose to name just a few.

As these products came on-stream from 2005, the name of the company was changed to Pac Fire Australia, reflecting that fact that not only safety helmets were sold. Gradually representation was established in all major Australian states, and in the last 6 months a large new distribution centre was opened in Yatala, Southern Queensland in order to cope with the increasing volume of products. Of course, all this development also brings requirements for upgraded computer software, improved HR processes and the infrastructure to support the larger business.

To ensure coverage of all of Australia and to have both warehousing and support for the sales team, a branch warehouse in Adelaide exists to support both South and Western Australia customers and to provide a base for sales staff. Recently George Stojcevski was promoted to S.E Australian Sales Manager and he along with support from Head Office travel widely and regularly to all SE states and major customers. Kerry Lovett has responsibility for all sales in WA, Keith Ross travels throughout Queensland and NT, and the HQ sales team based in Yatala supports all sales operations.

While all this has been proceeding in Australia, Pacific Helmets in New Zealand also continues to expand. From the first Pacific F2 structural fire helmet sold to the New Zealand Fire Service in 1984, subsequently modified slightly for the London Fire Brigade in 1990, the range of helmet designs now exceeds 100 models and shape variations. Without exception, all helmets are certified to the appropriate international Standard (there are some 20 primary helmet Standards and many supporting Standards to be complied with), and along with ISO 9001 certification now held for over 20 years, the company is unique in the Southern Hemisphere.

Each year Pacific Helmets sells helmets to around 50 countries and has sold products in around 90 counties world-wide. Some of these countries have comparatively small annual requirements, but it is important to have contacts in as many countries as possible. There are also opportunities in oil and gas plants, mining, military, shipping and construction industries where head protection of the highest calibre is essential.

Perhaps the biggest change of all with the acquisition of Pac Fire is the decision by two more of the Bennett family to join the company and take over management of Pac Fire Australia. Effectively this means that on both sides of the Tasman, there is now the next generation of the family taking responsibility for day-to-day operations, even if David Bennett is not entirely letting go of the purse strings yet!

Left: Sarah Bennett, General Manager and Paul Clark, Business Development Manager for PAC Fire Australia. Right: Grant Bennett, General Manager of Pacific Helmets (NZ) Ltd.

Grant Bennett has been back with the New Zealand company now for over eight years and is now General Manager. Sarah Bennett and her husband Paul Clark have now taken up their roles as General Manager and Business Development Manager (respectively), and have recently relocated from Melbourne to South Queensland. Sarah has had 15 years in the optical supply industry and holds a Business Masters degree from Otago Uni. For Paul it’s a complete change of life having worked previously as an educational consultant providing guidance to schools regarding challenging behaviour. They have two young boys Leo and Lenny who keep them and the grandparents busy!

The “old master” David, reminds them that they are almost exactly at the age when he and Marion set Pacific Helmets up 32 years ago. He is hoping for a bit more time for a weekly golf day, and maybe a caravan drive around Australia in the near future. But if the current financial year is anything to go on with record sales of helmets both internationally and in Australia. He still fields technical questions and is starting to wonder when he will actually be sent off to pasture! He muses over the fact that as a young man he studied to become a Chartered Accountant, but actually ended up becoming one of the world’s experts on the design of Standards certified safety helmets for emergency services.

It’s been the very close working relationship of Pacific in New Zealand with Pac Fire in Australia that has driven this re-unification of the two companies. Also the Bennett family has had concerns for the continuity of the helmet business were the ownership to transfer to any investor or international safety products company. The helmet manufacturing plant in Wanganui New Zealand is a highly recognised and valued employer in their home city, where some of the staff have worked for the company almost as long as had David. Moreover, the company values its long-term relationships with customers and users of the helmet products.

The fact that the helmets have such a high level of safety performance saving lives and reducing the likelihood of serious injury to emergency crews remains extremely important to the family.

For more information, go to www.pacifichelmets.com

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