Our booth in Verona (Picture © Augusto Bizzi for Leon Paul)
Chances are high that you’ve never even heard of the name 'QP Sports'. Rest assured, fencers, that’s not due to an oversight on your behalf, but actually a wanted phenomenon, not to say that its a part of the brand’s philosophy. In fact, as Richard, who defines himself as a “man in a women’s world”, explains to us in his opening statement, QP Sport is a true niche business, expert in the manufacturing of chest protectors for various sports, ranging from fencing to other martial arts and even rugby. As the only producer specialising in chest and breast protection (if you have a chest protector, it’s likely that somehow it’s coming out of one their moulds), they offer their expertise and knowledge to other, strong brands they collaborate with, who then take care of production and sales – a win win situation for both, because producing a chest protector or any annexed product themselves has “no commercial sense for a fencing manufacturer”, says Richard. “If every manufacturer had to develop the tools for making chest protectors themselves, they’d have no return on those investments, because sales are limited due to the relatively small size of the market. So the manufacturers rely on us”. Not surprisingly, QP sports sales statistics reflect this situation: The brand itself is based in New Zealand, but almost all the product stock goes into export, 75% of which goes to the EU, mostly to the United Kingdom, France and Germany, where it is purchased by business customers, among them Leon Paul. (Your current plastic chest protector is made by QP sport as well!)
And as one of the oldest customers (we’ve been working with Richard and his brand since the 90s!) we can definitely say that the confidence awarded to QP sports is more than justified. Case in point? Verona 2018. When the schedule gets tight, Richard is very hands on and not only doubles as an efficient and reliable courier personally delivering boxes full of foil guards from his hotel to the tournament venue, but also makes sure every package of FoilGuards contains the set of Velcro dots needed to attach FoilGuard to your current chest protector.
Ready for collection: Foilguards delivered by Richard Shearer himself (Picture © Leon Paul)
Yet, this kind of “last minute support” is only the tip of the iceberg of the relationship between QP Sport and fencing manufacturers, especially when it comes to new products, which can be very challenging to develop… and the history behind FoilGuard is a perfect example of that: The first steps taken by QP Sports to produce this particular item date back to 2016 when Richard was approached by the FIE’s SEMI commission to work on a solution to the problem of the deflection of hits in foil fencing. However, the first prototypes, with which Leon Paul helped to do the testing, showed, this task required quite a lot of adjustments along the way. “Generally, when we’d have solved one problem, a new one would show up“, Richard breaks down the development process of FoilGuard, which was littered with unexpected difficulties, among them insufficient thermal regulation (which fencer wants to be more sweaty than you already are anyway?). So, in order to achieve a product allowing adequate heat management, a lot of input from fencers and manufacturers (Richard came specifically up to our London headquarters during the process, in order to “meet with the experts”, as he, who admits that he is not a fencer, calls it) was necessary… and in the end, the outcome was quite different from the very first approach. Yet, once the right material – which is a specifically engineered foam – was found, the whole process was still far from being completed: the moulds still had to be created (and you have to consider there are nine sizes for women plus five for men, because FoilGuard is designed to fit perfectly over your current chest protector!), the product had to be officially presented to the FIE (that was at Leipzig 2017 Senior World Championships, by the way) and after the FIE congress in Dubai in November 2017, where this new piece of fencing kit was officially added to the FIE rulebook, mass production (including final quality control) still had to be launched. Talk about a tough task list!
Anyway, minor bumps along the way notwithstanding, everything worked out – stock and sales of FoilGuard at Verona 2018 fencing World Championships were proof of that. “I am really happy to see our customers sell a product we can all be proud of”, said Richard as a conclusion to our talk, not yet knowing that a few days later, when the foil delegations would show up in Verona, FoilGuard would sell like hot cakes.
And – one might add today – it was definitely a good thing that QP Sports, at the time of our nice little chat in Verona (thanks a lot, Richard!) was still building up stock. A stock that is all the more useful now, with the imminent start of the 2018/19 fencing season, in which FoilGuard is not only mandatory in all FIE foil fencing events but also for domestic events in many countries, such as Italy, Germany and the US.If you need one, or simply want to check out this product you now know the history of – it's this way (men's version here). * As of now the new soft cover is not only mandatory in all official FIE foil competitions; many countries, among them Germany, Italy and the US, decided to follow the FIE’s lead even for domestic events, which means that, depending on where you live, you might not be allowed to compete without updating your foil kit. In case of doubt, please check back with your national federation.