Even in the world of WWE, where contact between wrestlers is often faked, if you’re not careful, it could mean the loss of teeth – Swiss star Cesaro lost part of his two front teeth after colliding with a ring post.
The former two sports – rugby and UFC – also have another commonality. Professionals have been known to use mouthgaurds made by Oral Protection (OPRO), the brainchild of former dentist Anthony Lovat. It’s quite the feat, with its roots stemming from a concern that children suffer dental trauma when playing contact sports.
“It seemed to me that no one was doing anything to prevent this and as dentists, we are there to repair the damage after it is done,” he said. “But it was clear to me that injury prevention would be far better than repair.”
Further research revealed no one owned the market for custom-fit mouthguards – and due to the nature of the product, there was always going to be demand. Parents were becoming more educated around teeth and the need to protect them from injury.
Initially, Lovat wrote 100 letters to schools offering them custom-fit mouthguards. Some three months later and there was still no response. Things changed, however, when he was contacted by Roger Uttley (former England and Irish Lions rugby player), who was director of physical education and head of rugby at Harrow School.
Lovat ended up fitting 150 pupils with mouthguards, which led to his attending ISPEC (the Independent Schools PE Conference), giving him “the opportunity to address a wide audience of PE teachers and explain the concept of OPRO.”
While the company started off the back of amateur sports, it soon found professional athletes among its customers. Lovat took this in his stride, explaining to Real Business that “everyone should have access to the same level of protection regardless of the level of sport played. Unlike bones, teeth do not heal.”
Since then OPRO has achieved tremendous growth success. Lovat explained: “Our business model has allowed OPRO to be self-funding and not reliant on outside investment to grow. Plus, our bank has been fully supportive of our growth strategy, which has allowed us to invest in infrastructure such as IT, new product development and our people.”
Part of that growth strategy was to embed itself in combat sports such as MMA, boxing and taekwondo. The company has even snagged itself partnerships with the likes of UFC and the England Rugby club.
“We are always looking to partner with the best athletes, teams and federations across the categories of ball, stick and combat sports,” Lovat explained, “and the RFU and UFC are at the top of the pyramid in their respective sports. But we also reach out to athletes who are just starting out in their careers. We recently signed a partnership with Jordan Thomas, the first British World Karate Champion in 12 years.”
Other partners include Great Britain’s hockey and taekwando team, as well as AVIVA Rugby Premiership Rugby teams. These were all garnered through Lovat’s DIG approach: (1) Discover, (2) Ideate and (3) Generate.
“When it comes to pitching and securing partnerships, the first stage, discover, is looking at our portfolio of partners and seeing where we have a gap or where we need to partner with a new athlete or team that fits the brand values of OPRO. The second stage, ideate, is where we meet athletes or teams and work out what a partnership could offer.
“The generate phase is where we help tell our story of protection to all athletes in that sport through the partnership and generate growth, which includes increasing participation, education and ultimately, revenue. For any business on the lookout for potential partners, my advice is to work with brands that share the same core beliefs and ethos as those of your company.
“As with any successful partnership, shared goals and common interests make for the best type, and longest lasting, relationships.”
Undoubtedly, OPRO has shaken-up the market, with Lovat emphasising the company’s penchant for pushing boundaries.
“Innovation for the consumer is at the heart of everything we do and it is this innovation and desire to provide the best fitting mouthguards, which provide the best possible protection, that have made us world-leaders in mouthguard development,” he said. “Our custom-fit manufacturing facility contains bespoke equipment that gives us the capability to produce up to 3,000 mouthguards a day.
“There are lots of exciting developments this year. January saw the launch of the ultimate self-fitting mouthguard, the Power-Fit, which is a unique combination of the Self-Fit mouthguard with its patented fins and patented Power-Cage, and the protection of a Custom-Fit mouthguard. It can also be customised which until now is something a consumer has only been able to achieve with our Custom-Fit mouthguards.
“April 1st, we will be launching our UFC range of mouthguards, which have a completely different look and feel from our main OPRO range. We have completely overhauled the look of the packaging for our Self-Fit range which will be unveiled in June, so we have a busy time ahead. Added to this we will be working on developments for 2019 and beyond and have a full schedule of projects underway.”
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