Balex Automatic Boat Loader
We hit the ground running to help Balex Marine take the stress out of boating with a hassle-free, remote controlled launch and retrieval system.
Avid boatie and garage inventor Lex Bacon had been working a way to make boat launching and retrieving easier in various forms for more than 10 years. His Automatic Boat Loader (ABL) caught the attention of entrepreneur Paul Symes, who invested into the business in late 2013. Together, they got in touch with Locus Research to take the product from prototype to market launch within a year.
We loved the R&D challenge and opportunity to shake up the marine industry with never-seen-before technology. We kiwi’s are a water loving nation and with a large addressable international market, we were keen to get our feet wet (so you don’t have to).
TESTING THE WATERS
The team initially worked on market validation before building a lean Minimum Viable Product (MVP) programme that rapidly developed the product, brand, and marketing. This fully integrated programme allowed the whole team to get immersed in the company.
Using Lex’s original prototype as the basic concept, the team developed a powered roller ABL system to automatically launch or recover a boat onto a trailer. The two Hydraulic Drive Units replace the rear wobble arms on bottom end of a trailer. The Power and Pump Assembly, housed in a durable casing, is connected to the winch-end of the trailer. With wireless remote control, the launch and retrieval process can be started, stopped, and paused at the touch of a button.
A big part of our development was a large trailer study to ensure the system can be easily installed onto any new or existing wobble-roller trailer, the most common trailer in NZ. Identifying the major trailer manufacturers and working alongside them to ensure compatibility helped further refine the product.
All this resulted in the first version of the ABL with enough torque to pull up to 2,500kg of boat quickly and smoothly in all weather conditions. The whole process is controlled with an external remote, so your feet stay dry while the ABL does all the work. No pushing, shoving, ropes, hooks, or winches required.
The ABL MVP was launched at the Hutchwilco Boat Show in May 2014, which proved excellent market validation. They also picked up the prize of the Hutchwilco Award for Most Innovative Local Product.
“It was beyond our expectations to get the Hutchwilco award at our first product launch,” said managing director Paul Symes, who accepted the award alongside Mr Bacon.
GETTING MORE TRACTION
Our ongoing study of hull shapes and materials highlighted the need for more traction in order to work on both alloy and glass fibre boats. We embarked on a mission to improve on the MVP and get the best grip with the most power without damaging the hull. After many material samples, configurations and rigorous tests at the boat ramp, we ended up with an ABL version ready for market. As the product developed, so did the brand, which was reflected by the design itself, as well as the supporting collateral: brochures, website, and photography.
The entire development process was not without its challenges but lead to great insights and ultimately patents to protect the idea.
The Balex team impressed us so much that we decided to commit to their venture. The team was incubated at the Locus studio and benefitted from our capabilities beyond the typical product development programme. We helped them secure Callaghan funding and assisted with an intensive capital development scheme through angel investment that helped keep their heads above water and launch them into the world market.
A TOE IN EVERY OCEAN
Balex has continued to grow their wonderful team and has now established their own offices. They have signed industry leaders and manufacturers and developed a strong reseller network to get the ABL on every trailer around.
The ABL is used by happy boaties throughout New Zealand and regularly features in the press and media and has partnered with TV3’s Big Angry Fish who are as excited about the ABL as we are.
Balex aims for its Automatic Boat Loader to become the new benchmark for the launch and retrieval of trailer boats. Balex aspires for this remotely controlled system to become what garage door openers are to garages, and dishwashers are to kitchens – once thought an unnecessary luxury, but now the standard.
“Once you use it, you will never go without it! The Balex ABL is innovation at its finest, it takes the final pain out of fishing.”
– Milan Radonich, TV-Host, TV3’s Big Angry Fish, Extreme Boat & Voyager Trailer