This interview first appeared in a Dutch local referees’ magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.
How long have you been making whistles? Who are the founders?
Ron Foxcroft, Founder & C.E.O., Fox 40 International Inc.
Ron Foxcroft, the man behind the first pealess whistle, was recently named by Referee Magazine as one of the 52 most influential referees in North American History. He has also been recognized as one of the top 30 officials who have made a difference by the National Association of Sports Officials.
As a young referee, the idea to create the revolutionary pealess whistle came to Ron after falling victim to many frustrating incidents involving faulty pea-style whistles. The most embarrassing of these incidents took place at the Montreal Olympics during the Gold Medal basketball game. A player from the Yugoslavian national team elbowed a U.S team member. Ron blew the whistle – but nothing happened! Ron was booed by thousands of disgruntled fans that thought he had missed the call. That’s when Ron knew he had to come up with a superior design, one that would never jam, stick, or fail… and so the Fox 40 Classic Pealess whistle was born.
Ron first introduced his Fox 40 Classic Pealess Whistle at the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis. It was here that Ron’s innovative pealess design changed the game for referees worldwide. The Fox 40 Whistle is the whistle of choice for referees in numerous professional sports leagues including the NBA, NFL, NHL, CFL, FIBA, FIFA and NCAA. Fox 40 Whistles are not only for sports, they are also used around the world by organizations and individuals for search and rescue, marine, outdoor and personal safety.
Ron plays an active role as Founder & C.E.O. of Fox 40, Chairman & C.E.O. of Fluke Transportation, and has been named by Profit Magazine as one of the top 10 entrepreneurs of the decade. He also proudly continues in his eighth season with the National Basketball Association as an Evaluator of Officials.
Dave Foxcroft, President & C.O.O., Fox 40 International Inc.
Dave Foxcroft has listened to whistles all of his life, he has also listened to the people who use them. Knowing everything about his products and his customers is very important to him.
Here at Fox 40, Dave is responsible for managing Fox 40’s Global Sales, Marketing and Operations. He oversees the development of the company’s diverse, innovative product base and strategic acquisitions.
Dave’s experience along with his highly capable team, has led Fox 40 to a pivotal point in its evolution. Fox 40 is a product-led, consumer-focused, whistle and accessory company that people worldwide have come to know and trust. Dave is excited about the future growth opportunities for Fox 40 International, and would like to thank you for your support and continued patronage. “Growth in our business creates opportunities for us to make an even bigger difference for our clients by allowing us to bring new ideas and innovations of the highest performance, while staying focused on social and environmental issues. These are the things that allow us to be a dynamic, competitive force in the marketplace.”
Dave served as Chairman of the Canadian Sporting Goods Association for 5 years and is currently a Board Member serving as Past Chairman of the Association. As a delegate for the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry Association and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, he is directly involved in many events of the industry. He is also an active supporter of several charitable associations that support today’s youth. Dave plays an active role in the community and is on the board of directors as well as a member of the Burlington Minor Football Association. If he isn’t at Fox 40’s Worldwide Headquarters, you might find him working as a professional referee in the Canadian Football League (CFL Referee #30). This season Dave uses the Fox 40 CMG Sonik Blast. If you can’t see him, you’ll definitely hear his whistle!
Where did Ron Foxcroft get the idea to develop a pealess whistle?
Ron Foxcroft was a referee with a problem
Since an injury ended his football playing days at the age of 17, he gained satisfaction as a basketball referee. Eventually refereeing became a very successful part-time career, in addition to his full-time job as President of a Hamilton, Ontario trucking company, Fluke Transport & Warehousing, which sports the famous slogan “If It’s On Time, It’s A Fluke.” Although in demand around the world as a referee of professional and even Olympic basketball games, Ron found himself frequently let down by his one piece of essential equipment.
“I always had a problem with whistles,” he explains. “They have a cork pea in them and when you blow a pea-whistle really hard, nothing comes out. When they’re frozen or wet or get some dirt inside, they lose their efficiency.” As a result, Foxcroft, like many other referees, sometimes found himself unable to stop play even though he saw a clear violation take place. In a fast-moving game like basketball, a whistle that fails does not get a second chance to sound. In a really big game, even when the whistle did work, the play occasionally was not stopped because the whistle’s sound was drowned out by the noise of the roaring crowds.
Although the occasional malfunctioning of small plastic whistles was hardly a problem likely to cripple professional basketball, it did hinder proper enforcement of the rules, not to mention causing referees such as Foxcroft substantial embarrassment from time to time. On one particularly frustrating occasion, a crowd of 18,000 fans (a record at that time for basketball attendance in Canada) at the Montreal Olympic finals, booed and hissed at Foxcroft when a Yugoslavian player elbowed a U.S. team member and was not penalized. Foxcroft had seen the infraction and blown his whistle, but it had failed to sound!
Conception of the Fox 40 Pealess Whistle
Eventually, he decided it was up to him to improve the situation. He made a wish list of features for a better whistle, and Foxcroft showed it to a plastics molding company in Stoney Creek, Ontario. They agreed to make parts for such a whistle if Foxcroft could present him with a design. They also recommended an Oakville, Ontario design consultant, Chuck Shepherd, who agreed to take on the project.
The first prototype Chuck produced was louder and more reliable than a pea-style whistle, but too large and awkward. Undaunted, Shepherd worked with Foxcroft through more than 14 prototypes before at last perfecting the Fox 40 pealess whistle. The Fox 40 whistle looked, felt and sounded very much like its predecessor, but worked on a very different principle. A pea-style whistle gets its shrill from the movement of the small cork pea in its interior, which alternately covers and uncovers the hole through which air is released. This produces a rapid alternation of sound and silence, the characteristic whistle vibrato – until the pea gets stuck in the hole.
The Fox 40 Pealess Whistle is much like a harmonically-tuned instrument, because it produces three slightly different frequencies simultaneously. The different frequencies are superimposed on one another out of phase, and thus alternately reinforce and cancel out each other. The result is a loud, piercing vibrato that has no moving parts to get stuck.
Perserverance pays off!
Although Foxcroft was convinced a better whistle would sweep the basketball market, he was unable to obtain bank financing for the venture. He managed to put together $150,000 from his own private funds and, in 1987, he created Fox 40 International Inc. The whistle is a plastic-molded injection process that is ultrasonically welded together, rather than glued.
The Fox 40 Pealess Whistle was a success from the first time it was used professionally, at the 1987 Pan Am Games in Indianapolis, Indiana. Foxcroft was surprised to discover how far beyond basketball its appeal traveled – even the Indianapolis Police Department was interested in using this new whistle. In 1990, the pealess whistle was tested by the National Hockey League and had become the whistle of choice for the National Basketball Association, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Football League, the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League. It was heard above the crowd at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and was the whistle of choice in the 1990 World Cup Soccer held in Italy, the 1994 World Cup held in the United States and the 2002 World Cup in China and Korea. Fox 40 Pealess Whistles have since been used in numerous world-class tournaments, leagues and every Olympics.
Today Fox 40 whistles are sold in over 140 countries, not only to referees, but to coaches, water safety, search and rescue teams, personal security, animal trainers and all sport enthusiasts as well as the outdoor market and the premium incentive market. In fact, the Fox 40 Pealess Whistle is an approved and recommended sound-signaling device for the Coast Guards worldwide.
The complete line of Fox 40 products has since grown substantially! The line now includes many patented whistles – Classic, Mini, Sonik, Pearl, and SuperForce, most available in fingergrip and CMG (Cushioned Mouth Grip) styles; whistle attachments; a full line of Pro Coaching Boards in various sizes and over a dozen sports; Mouthguards and an expanding Marine Safety product division.
Fox 40 has worldwide patents to protect themselves from imitations. However, Foxcroft says “Automation is your best form of protection, even better than a patent in some cases.” He believes that for a new product to succeed, it must be cheaper than products of the competitors. Furthermore, the developer must use innovative merchandising and have the best customer service and sales people in place.
Fox 40 continues to develop new and innovative products as well as attending all the major sporting goods, premier incentives and safety tradeshows worldwide.
Ron’s son, Dave Foxcroft, joined the research, development and promotional team and is currently President and COO. In 25 years of business the company has grown and is now comprised of a Canadian head office with a U.S. based sister company Tri-Foxco U.S.A.
How does it work?
Fox 40 Pealess Whistles have harmonically-tuned chambers that emit different frequencies. Each chamber has its own tone; when blown together they create the desired sound. Our whistles have 2, 3 or 4 chambers, and are finely tuned like a instrument with its own frequency, calibration and sound.
I have conducted a survey among members of my own referee association, some of whom say the tone produced by the Fox 40 whistles is a little shrill, others disagree. But even some of the latter concur that it is hard to produce a softer note for “simple” fouls and a harder one for more vicious fouls. The note comes out the same. They say it is easier to vary the intonation of the sound with pea whistles. Is this a correct assumption?
The new Eclipse as well as the Sonik Blast and Sharx address this issue. Advancements with technology since the Classic was first developed has allowed for more precise whistle chamber calibration, assuring pure frequency performance. This results in less effort and a crisper sound when blowing. The whistles cannot be overblown and the ability to “speak” with the whistle has improved.
Is the relationship with Acme one of rivalry or simply one of competition?
We don’t consider them competition as we feel we develop a better product! Although both companies do produce whistles, the manufacturing process, sound and end result are completely different, so we don’t sense any conflict.
What are your current models?
Fox 40 currently carries 10 different base models of whistles, including 2 new models released in late 2011 – the Eclipse and the Caul. For many of the models we offer a CMG (Cushioned Mouth Grip) version as well as a Fingergrip. The models we offer are: Eclipse, Caul, Classic, Mini, Sonik Blast, Sharx, Micro, Pearl, SuperForce and eWhistle.
How many whistles does Fox 40 sell annually? What is the most popular model?
Fox 40 sells millions of whistles every year in over 140 countries to numerous market categories. After the invention of the original Classic for referees, Fox 40 soon discovered that our whistles were being used by police, fire and rescue professionals around the world. They are now the preferred choice worldwide for rescue workers, lifeguards, school crossing guards, boaters, individual safety use as well as officials of various sports.
Fox 40’s most popular model is the authentic, original Classic. 25 years of proven performance has created a customer loyalty and fan base that continues to amaze and humble us – we certainly do not take it for granted! We continuously strive to innovate and produce the best quality, most trusted whistles in the world. We are like proud parents every time we hear or see someone with a Fox 40 whistle, whether it be in an airport lounge watching a soccer match and hearing the referee blow the whistle, or seeing it around a child’s neck at a marina.
Does Fox 40 have an R&D division? If so, how are new models developed?
Fox 40 has an extensive R&D department specifically for product design, development and testing. We have a team of product designers and engineers who use the latest technology to design our products. As new technology emerges, we take the opportunity to improve or further develop products as well. A great deal of science goes in to the creation of a pealess whistle. We usually have about 7 years of products on the drawing board, from an idea on paper to finished tooling.
We utilize our own research as well as customer feedback to create and execute new products. For instance, the unique one-of-a-kind all-encompassing whistle and fingergrip Caul model was developed through years of proprietary research and development. This was combined with a volunteer team of end users and customers who field-tested prototypes until we perfected it. Due to the success and positive feedback resulting from the Caul, we are now in the process of redesigning our existing fingergrip whistles to encompass the same flexible fingergrip style.
How are new whistles tested?
SLA prototypes and end product are tested in a sound chamber, calibrated with a data recorder and custom computer program designed specifically for testing our whistles. Frequencies, beat patterns, decibel output, and ease of blowing are some of the things we test for when developing a new product.
Is there a new model waiting in the wings we could have a sneak preview of?
Yes we do, but sorry, no sneak peeks allowed! We have a few new models on the drawing table, but we like the element of surprise!
Is Fox 40 in touch with their customer base? In what way?
Fox 40 maintains a corporate website and online product catalog as well as participating in the social media stream. We have a very active Facebook page, and regularly utilize YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest pages for as our social media outlets. We also send out regular eblasts through Constant Contact to our retailers, buying groups and customers. We attend various trades shows locally and around the world, and our staff regularly participates in events or volunteers in our community.
We are a manufacturer so although advertising and end-user marketing is generally the responsibility of our retailers, we regularly collaborate and partner with our retailers and customers on special offers and events. An example of this is the Canadian Tire JumpStart Program, a national charitable program that helps financially disadvantaged kids participate in organized sport and recreation. A portion of the sale of our Sharx whistle is donated to this program. We feel it is very important to be current and connected to our customer base. It’s invaluable for product feedback, providing information to our customers on product development, and simply being a part of a Fox 40 culture!
The Fox 40 company mandate is that every employee in the company is accessible and involved. We all contribute to the success of our company and are equally responsible to provide our customers with the best products and service they expect and deserve.
My problem with the lanyard/ring connection is very susceptible to rust. Is there a way to avoid this? Perhaps a plastic ring?
We have been looking at stainless steel or plated options for all of our whistles. We have tested plastic system, however we are not satisfied with the results and overall performance.