The simplest ideas are often the best. It’s a philosophy Carac Group espouses as it designs and manufactures ground-breaking trailer and towing products for its global markets.
Forever looking to create simple solutions to everyday problems, John Burling is a Taranaki engineer and inventor with a mind that never rests. He built his first go-kart at the age of eight, and his first custom motorbike at 12. As a youngster, he would fix all the neighbours’ chainsaws and was fascinated with machinery of all kinds. In his early 20s, the former New Zealand motor cross champion opened a motorcycle shop and began building trailers. But the couplings he used on them never fit properly and were unsafe, so John created his own improved version.
That was 30 years ago. Today, Carac is a recognised trade mark and the Carac Coupling is sold throughout the US, Europe, South America and Australasia.
“A good friend talked me into developing it,” says John. “I guess the rest is history because today we’re making around 3000 of them a month. We sell it with an unbreakable lifetime warranty because we designed it to meet the highest safety standards anywhere.”
Clearly, John hasn’t rested on his laurels. Carac Group, the company he and wife Yvonne founded, now has seven factories, around 50 staff, eight robots and 100 metal-pressing machines. It manufactures and distributes more than 4,500 different products for agricultural, road and boat applications, exporting many of them around the globe.
Recognising back then that he had created something special with the Carac Coupling, John understood the value of protecting his intellectual property. He had been working with AJ Park’s former managing partner Greg Arthur since inventing the T-bar anti-roll system for quad bikes 40 years ago. Since then John has used AJ Park for all his IP requirements.
From left to right: Sarah Barclay, Senior Associate of AJ Park, John Burling, Managing Director of Carac Group, Kieran O'Connell, Senior Associate of AJ Park
AJ Park senior associates Sarah Barclay and Kieran O’Connell have been working with John and his team of business advisors for several years. They carry out patent and trade mark searches, offer advice, and help refine the company’s IP strategy as Carac Group enters new markets and expands its distribution channels.
Sarah describes Carac Group as a true New Zealand business success story and is excited about the future of the business.
“John epitomises all those wonderful Kiwi values – he’s humble, innovative and hardworking, and proudly designs and manufactures all his products in New Zealand,” she says. “He likes to work with a team of people he can trust. He’s able to weigh up the costs against the value of filing a patent application, and can let things go if they don’t stack up commercially. He also understands the patent process and the need for confidentiality before filing.”
Sarah’s recent work with John has involved providing expert advice to prepare and file patent applications for Carac Group’s newest products: the TOWLOCK™ and TrackGrip®.
Safety and ease of use are common features of John’s inventions. The TOWLOCK is an oval device that slips over the towball shank and holds a load tight regardless of the angle it’s towed at or the roughness of the terrain. It’s proving extremely popular in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
TrackGrip is a traction enhancer that’s sold all over the world and has massive potential for further penetration into existing markets and expansion into new markets. John believes the product has saved hundreds of lives and saved countless hours of manpower.
“In the Arctic Circle they weld lug bars onto the digger tracks to use in the ice and then grind them off in the summer, but it costs thousands of dollars and takes days,” explains John. “With TrackGrip you can set up a machine in 20 minutes for half the cost. This product will revolutionize the way people work in the Northern hemisphere.”
Carac Group sells its products locally through companies such as Hitachi, Caterpillar, Porter Hire and Repco, and has international distributers in the UK, Norway, North America, Australia, Malaysia, and now South America and South Africa.
John holds patents and patent applications at various stages of their 20-year lifespan. While filing them is not a cheap exercise, it’s often worth the investment, he acknowledges.
“That’s where the reality check comes from having experts to advise me,” says John. “AJ Park and my other business advisors help me weigh up the cost versus the benefits. We’re about to sell millions of dollars worth of TOWLOCKs into the United States and now it’s taking off in New Zealand so we will get a good return on our investment.
“I’ve been lucky over the years that no one has copied our products on a large scale. People have tried to do knock-offs and to recreate our designs in different ways, but it doesn’t work. We invest a lot into testing our products and making sure they’re right; then people try to undercut us by using inferior steel, and of course it breaks.”
Carac Group uses the services of AJ Park for all of its intellectual property requirements, and John touches base with Sarah Barclay on a weekly basis.
“We have an excellent relationship with AJ Park. They understand me, the way I think, and that makes everything a lot easier,” says John. “Sarah has been here to visit our operations numerous times, which I really appreciate. Sarah is very engineering minded and has the same enthusiasm as I do about our work – I find that pretty rare. I’m constantly recommending AJ Park to others.”
Carac Group has established itself worldwide as a global leader in its field. Protecting its innovations and brands has helped cement a reputation for safety and quality that’s hard to put a value on.
Written by: Deidre Coleman
Photo credit: Mark Bellringer