Through LeBlanc Designs, he’s been designing and airbrushing helmets for more than 20 years. Now he and his wife Renee, as new owners of Grattan Helmets, are assembling protective headgear.
Grattan, which had been based in Ontario, is a well-known name in harness racing.
“We joked about buying Grattan for years,” said Renee. “We didn’t know the opportunity would come up.”
The owner, familiar with Duane’s work, called and suggested they buy the company. Negotiations began in March 2015 and they officially became owners in March, this year. Preparations for taking over involved both going to Ontario to learn about the assembly process. A helmet can be put together in two or three days but painting requires a couple of weeks, and the LeBlancs now have one area of their home set aside for each job.
“People were already getting Duane to paint a helmet for them, now we can handle the whole process,” said Renee, who handles customer service. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
The fibreglass shells come from Ontario, and Canadian-made parts are used as much as possible. Samples go through testing and any helmet can be randomly tested to ensure it meets safety specifications.
Some orders are for helmets without designs, and bulk shipments of them go to Sweden, but Duane’s designs are also known around the world.
“It’s nice to watch races from other places and see a helmet you painted,” he said. “During the past month we’ve shipped as far as Australia and Ireland, but the U.S. is my biggest market.
“A lot of people call and tell us what their colours are and wait to see what I design; some are very specific about what they want.”
Duane also paints goalie masks, including some for the Junior A Bearcats, as well as motorcycle helmets and tanks. Custom vinyl graphics for helmets is another product he offers.
This year he painted one of his most unusual items: a golf club.
It’s a big business step for someone who started out as a junior high student, painting a helmet for his father, Billy LeBlanc.
“I did a lot of drawing and painting when I was growing up, and I really enjoy designing and painting,” he added. “I’m glad this is something I’m able to do full time.”
Business has grown steadily and the LeBlancs’ hope is to grow it more through word of mouth and increased use of social media.