A Smooth Move

The first thing you notice about Clint and Shelley Thomsen (right) is how healthy they look.

It’s not surprising to hear that they like to keep fit; they think nothing of biking 30 kilometres to Waipukurau for a cup of coffee or that they recently cycled from Mount Cook to the West Coast, a trail of 300kms. As well, they’ve trekked in Nepal and South America.

Ok, so what’s their secret? Are they shining examples of taking the deer velvet capsules that they sell?

Clint and Shelley have run their business, Gevir Premium Deer Velvet since 1990 and their story is interesting, because originally they were farmers but a series of events changed that.

The combination of a downturn in farming in the late 1980s and Shelley’s ill health, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when she was 28, were catalysts for finding something that would help her and possibly provide an extra income.

“Clint had a brainwave about processing deer antler velvet and I was very interested in turning to the medicinal side of it for my MS – so we kind of got started and blundered our way along,” says Shelley.

They already farmed deer on their property near Takapau. “We were building up the stags anyway,” says Clint,

“So we just took a greater interest in what deer antler velvet was used for. I started boiling it up in the kitchen. It was revolting – it stank the house out.”

A government grant, available at the time for small business enterprises, helped them get started.

“The grant enabled us to source the machines we needed. It was a big learning curve; I had no business experience whatsoever, apart from working in an office. We were required to do feasibility studies and to source machines that we didn’t even know existed,” says Shelley.

Gevir Deer Antler Velvet began slowly but soon business began to snowball so in 1991 they decided to build a factory to process the antler velvet themselves. Gradually the Thomsens have eased out of farming by leasing and selling off some of their property.

Clint doesn’t miss farming at all and besides the deer antler velvet, they have other business interests. Now Gevir is well established they can also take time off to pursue their love of travel, which they do several times a year.

They’ve recently been to Papua New Guinea and in the past few years have visited Egypt, Africa and Mexico.

Gevir Deer Velvet hasn’t been an overnight sensation though. It’s taken a massive effort by both of them to develop and market their product.

In the beginning they had to overcome public perception that deer velvet was merely used as an aphrodisiac.

“In 15 years that little factory has been turning over a lot more than the whole farm did,” says Clint.”

“There were other deer velvet products on the shelves but mostly they were sold without any additional information or support. We started doing product stands at shows because we realised no one had a clue what it was for or what it did. At first we used to get the odd ‘nudge nudge, wink wink – we know what that’s for,’ from the guys.”

But eventually we got people who come to our displays saying things like, ‘Oh yeah, my grandmother takes this; it’s great for arthritis’.

“It was neat to start getting a flow of customers who used it and felt its benefits. It gave both us and the product credibility,” says Shelley.

Male deer grow a new set of antlers every year and are the only mammals to do so. The velvet is the epidermis that covers the inner structure of bone and cartilage. The Chinese have used deer velvet medicinally for thousands of years and say it promotes well-being and longevity.

Deer antler velvet is a very seasonal product, so hence its desirability.

The Thomsens now buy their deer antler velvet from PGG Wrightsons. “We contract for it by grade and price and they hold it until we need it. Then we bring it into the factory and I spend the next couple of months processing it.

“Basically you take off all the hair and the velvet. People think we just use that part but we use the whole stick. It is dried and in the process loses about 70% of its weight. We then grind it up into a powder, it’s tested for bacteria and sent away to be capsulated in Nelson,” says Clint.

He thinks part of Gevir’s success is their ability to get behind their product and market it. They’ve attended countless trade shows and early on, Shelley promoted it on radio and television.

Other deer velvet producers have come and gone but Gevir Premium Velvet remains strong.

It is sold through health shops, pharmacies, Farmlands and PGG Wrightsons. They also employ an agent, Reagan Cotter, who works from his office in Napier.

“That’s taken a lot of work out of it,” says Clint.

They say it’s exciting to hear what customers use deer velvet for and how it has helped them.

“The biggest one we hear about, for people of all ages is arthritis and rheumatics. The next one is frozen shoulders and fingers – such as dairy farmers who suffer from chilblains. It is also great for helping to build stamina for sports people and those with injuries.”

And has it helped Shelley? She says while MS can only be managed and not cured, she thinks deer velvet has helped her, but she also takes a holistic approach though diet, exercise and meditation.

Clint, who takes a dose of deer velvet capsules everyday reckons it helps him too – “I don’t get colds and I do have arthritis from my days farming and shearing, but I don’t even notice it.”

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