At age 87, Peter Campbell is possibly the world’s most experienced toothbrush manufacturer.
And from a commanding, scenic position in the Waitakeres, surrounded by beautiful native bush, Peter operates what is likely the only cottage industry in the world that manufactures toothbrushes.
“It’s a bit noisy,” he says, “So I can’t have neighbours too close”.
A toolmaking engineer by trade, Peter easily operated his business by himself for decades, but for the past fourteen years he has maintained two employees – one making and one packaging.
Born and bred in New Zealand to British parents, Peter had his first OE at six weeks old when his parents returned to the UK. They stayed for five years, returning to New Zealand in 1938 when it became obvious a war was brewing.
Peter began his apprenticeship in 1950 at the age of 17. As a young man he worked for National Brush in Penrose, making plastic moulds - eventually becoming manager in 1964. National Brush, which employed around a hundred people, was the parent company of Consolidated Plastic Industries (CPI), which made numerous products from toothbrushes to carpet sweepers, employing around 600.
Peter became frustrated with the directors who would not consider using a better-quality nylon filament – DuPont Tynex© 612 - for their toothbrushes, preferring the 610 filament. The 612 nylon is said to combine “excellent resilience and elasticity with high wet strength”, which are considered ideal properties for the bristles of toothbrushes. Nylon absorbs water, and the degree of this determines its effectiveness and resilience; the 612 nylon absorbs less water making it superior to the 610.
in 1970 after eight years as manager, Peter resigned and went to Europe to look around the industry and consider his options, with the intention of manufacturing toothbrushes himself. In England he purchased an Evans manufacturing plant, which after decades of use, continues to pump out toothbrushes with impressive reliability. While Evans is now defunct, Peter uses a local toolmaker for spare parts when necessary.
Since his early days as manager at National Brush, Peter has travelled every four years to Freiburg, Germany to attend Interbrush Expo, the international trade fair for the broom, brush, paint roller and mop Industry. Traditionally toothbrushes were made by the brush making industry. This began to change in the seventies when Johnson & Johnson produced the Reach toothbrush, paving the way for other oral health multinationals to quickly follow suit with their own plants.
Peter’s toothbrushes, under the brand Luxident, have been stocked exclusively in pharmacies and dental surgeries since 1975. He wasn’t interested in competing in supermarkets with the multinational manufacturers like Colgate, content with his niche local market.
In September 1989 Peter was at a dental conference in Christchurch when he was approached by a Japanese business representative who requested his details. He thought nothing more of it until he got a call a short time later from one of his wholesalers to ask if he was still in business. The Japanese businessman had been trying unsuccessfully to contact him and in desperation had contacted the wholesaler. Initially Peter thought someone was pulling his leg, but by December he had his first order from Japan for 10,000 denture brushes – his signature product. The orders from Japan have continued to come, averaging around 40,000 per year.
“It was the easiest sale I ever had,” reminisces Peter, who used to travel the whole of New Zealand selling his toothbrushes. In those days most pharmacies stocked the Luxident range, with personalised versions being very popular with dentists as promotional items.
Peter continues to produce toothbrushes and is content at his stage in life with things as they are.
“I don’t get around the country these days, and most of the pharmacists and dentists who were my customers have retired now, or passed on, and the new ones haven’t heard of me.” he says.
However, he still supplies five wholesalers in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, and that gives him plenty to keep him occupied.