Bollards have hit the big time for all the wrong reasons, but the businesses behind them are busier than ever. Alex Casey speaks to Big Bollard.
The bollard business is in absolute bedlam. “Oh yeah, without a doubt, it’s just gone crazy,” says Peter Goodwin, CEO of Fel Group, which owns Bollards Online in Auckland. Cameron Woods of Bollards NZ in Christchurch echoes a similar experience of an industry-wide bollard boom. “We are very, very busy – got a big backlog of orders at the moment, mostly headed to Auckland.” Over at Astrolift, which stocks a wide range of both cast-in bollards and bolt-down bollards, marketing manager Josh McKenty reports a nearly 500% increase in searches for “bollard” in the last month.
If you’ve been keeping up with the news, perhaps this will come as no surprise. Over the last few weeks, bollards have been all over the headlines in Aotearoa due to the ongoing issue of ram-raid attacks on retailers and petrol stations, now totalling 15-20 per week. “Bollards no match for thieves who targeted Mobil service station” (NZ Herald). “Demand for bollards skyrocket amid rise in ram raids” (One News). “David Walliams smashes car into bollard after warning Simon Cowell to watch his speed” (Daily Mail, not ram raid-related but still shocking).
On Monday, Grant Robertson said there would be an announcement next week regarding government funding for local businesses to help protect themselves against ram raids. The main prevention measure they will be considering? Bollards. Comparing this approach to the government’s funding of fog cannon installations to target robberies in 2017, reported at the time as being “very, very effective”, Robertson said “the government can carry part of the cost – potentially quite a large part of the cost – of the installation”.
Prior to this month, you may have never thought that hard about bollards before. But for those in the business, bollards have always been top of mind. “The one city that I reckon has got the most bollards in New Zealand is probably Wellington,” Goodwin from Bollards Online muses. “Every time I’ve been there, you see bollards everywhere. Well, I do.” Other places you can guarantee a bollard spot? Outside every Rebel Sport and Warehouse Stationery. “Tap on them,” he explains, “they are filled with concrete because those stores have been hit various times.”
Although there is industry consensus that concrete-filled bollards installed within the ground (rather than bolted to a concrete plate on top) provide the maximum level of protection, Astrolift general manager Danny Blampied says that their most popular bollard remains the steel, bolt-down bollard. “The bolt-down install is the least disruptive and in most cases should act as a deterrent and bring the offending vehicle to a halt,” he explains, adding that retail stores can also remove this kind of bollard to allow wheelchair access during opening hours.
It’s not just your local retail stores that require the brawn of the bollard, either. Bollards can be found in parks, fuel stations, loading docks, shopping malls, fast food restaurants, airports and supermarket carparks. They can be plastic, they can be steel, they can be wood. At Christchurch airport, they can even be rugby players. Goodwin’s most memorable bollard stopped an errant car that was out of control in a Countdown carpark in Hobsonville in 2017. “This was only a 114mm diameter in-ground bollard,” he explains. “They definitely do work.”
Cameron Woods from Bollard NZ in Christchurch says their bollards similarly fill a wide range of purposes – “anything from your dairy owner to your big construction companies, to the residential property owner with a flash vintage car in his garage”. For example, Bollard NZ has signed a deal with the group that owns Shosha vape stores across the country. “Over the last 12 months they’ve been buying our bollards and putting them in front of every one of their stores.”
But recently, Wood has been dealing directly with more and more small business owners – both those already affected by ram raids and those trying to prevent them. “They are very keen to get the bollards in as quick as they can, because some of them have been hit multiple times,” Woods says. “You hear stories where there has been 25 grand worth of damage done and all that’s been taken is a packet of cigarettes or a couple of chocolate bars, it’s just crazy.”
Other bollard traders have seen more inquiries from people who they would “never expect” to need a bollard. “There seems to be some genuine fear that is leading to a bit of panic with shop owners,” says McKenty from Astrolift. He references one person who inquired about installing tyre spikes that would activate in the event of a ram raid. “Our tyre spike speed hump is designed for high-security buildings,” he says. “This shows that people are fed up and are willing to look at some fairly extreme options.”
The options for shopfront security are plentiful, of course, and extend well beyond the humble steel bollard. Goodwin says that both a “good shopfront and street design” can achieve the same protection against ram-raiders, as well as the added bonus of protecting pedestrians from stray vehicles. Bike racks, planter boxes and concrete seats can all serve the same purpose. He references a store in Massey’s Westgate that was ram-raided in 2020, now using tasteful planter boxes as a deterrent.
If bollards are used, it is recommended that they are positioned no more than 1.5 metres apart, meaning most shopfronts will need to purchase more than one. Bollard prices range from anywhere between $150-$400, depending on the materials used. Add installation fees to that, including someone to survey the ground beneath for power, water and internet lines, and the possibility of applying for council consent if the bollard is going on a footpath, and the entire process can amount to a significant amount of time and money.
Because of this, all of the bollard businesses interviewed by The Spinoff welcomed a proposed bollard subsidy from the government, but none of them saw this – or the broader bollard boom – as any reason to celebrate. “Many of these store owners have worked really hard to get to where they are, so you really feel for them when you see them being hit over and over,” Blampied from Astrolift says. “We hope the authorities will really get in behind these shop owners and take some definite measures to deter more copy-cat actions.”
Goodwin from Bollards Online strongly feels that bollards should just be the beginning, rather than any kind of solution to the current problem. “Yes, it will go some way in helping, but it’s not going to stop, say, a smash and grabber with a sledgehammer,” he says. His concern is that, should things get worse, shop owners may feel they have to resort to unsightly metal roller doors. “Who wants to see that every night? I don’t want our society to be like that.” The solution, he says, is getting to the bottom of why “these clowns on TikTok” are continuing to commit these crimes.
“You gotta go back to all the root causes of what is actually happening in society, rather than trying to put bollards in front of everything to stop bad guys.”