Pulse Fitness has an award-winning portfolio of more than 300 pieces of fitness equipment and is the only UK company to research, design, develop and assemble equipment in the UK. Though they are a family business based in Congleton, the company has an impressive global reach supporting 75,000 leisure facilities in 35 countries across six continents. Clearly, they know a thing or two about what it takes to thrive in global markets. We sat down with Phill Griffin, International Sales Director, at The Pulse Group to find out:
- How to approach different markets
- What sort of things are commonly overlooked
- What market is the toughest to crack
How do you approach different markets? What sorts of things do you need to be aware of?
As strange as this may seem, most leisure markets have many similarities across the globe. They all seem to rise and fall depending upon the country’s economic performance and the extent to which it impacts the secondary spend power of the people in that region.
Australia is a great example. In the early 1990’s, Australia entered into a recession and at that point, reports indicated that only 1.2 million people had a gym membership. Over the last two decades, Australia has seen positive GDP growth and not re-entered a recession. This same timeline shows gym membership growth increasing to 4.2 million. This is nearly 20% of the population! As a direct result of this growth, Australia now has a mature fitness industry and a massive demand for fitness equipment and unique fitness solutions. Economic recessions have a direct impact on gym memberships globally. People still perceive a gym membership to be a luxury purchase, and therefore spend less during a recession. As an industry, we need to work harder to change this perception. Fitness is a necessity!
The first step into any new territory is normally the same. First, assess the economic situation within the country and the current state of the fitness market. Next, determine the consumer trends towards fitness. This leads us to age old question: is there demand and if so, can we supply it?
How do you expand to a new market? What kind of research do you need to do in order to be successful?
The key to any new territory is having good partners and people on the ground that understand both the fitness industry and the region.
Pulse Fitness has a fantastic distribution network to over 35 countries around the globe, with some of our partners having been with Pulse for over 25 years. When we add new territories or countries to our “family tree,” we take great care in the background to ensure these companies are fit and proper to represent us. Part of this test always includes business planning and research not only of the fitness sector itself but the region as a whole.
When entering a new market, what sorts of things are often overlooked?
The biggest thing to consider is the strength of your distribution network. Make sure you have good access to the country and a strong network that allows your products to easily travel all over the country once they have arrived in port (assuming there even is a port!) This element of entering into a new region is often overlooked as the only real test is to send the products and hope for the best. Of course, this can be mitigated by having good partners within the region that can support with logistics, importation, customs and local expenses.
The second biggest issue we have encountered over the years is tone and content of our marketing materials. Content used within one region can mean a completely different thing in another. This is certainly sometimes overlooked but a very important thing to be mindful of.
What do you know now that you wish you did before?
If I could start this project again, I would have started much sooner in the USA. It certainly is the land of opportunity. Pulse Fitness launched into the US in 2018 at the IHRSA trade show in San Diego. Since then, we have had an incredible response to our British brand with sales growing steadily. I wish we had started sooner as it’s a very exciting journey and I’m looking forward to seeing where it will go. The US has the biggest fitness market in the world and is saturated with suppliers. In fact, it is home to a lot of our competitors. I like the idea of digging around in their back yard as they do ours.
What is the toughest market to crack and how did you do it?
China is by far, the toughest market to crack but certainly the most rewarding both professionally and personally.
We launched in China four years ago during FIBO 2016. Since then we have made large strides into growing the Pulse brand within the Chinese market with double digit sales growth year-on-year.
The hardest part of selling into China is the vast difference in culture and language.
My second visit to Shanghai was to conduct a sales training course for 50 Chinese salespeople in late 2016. Having been with Pulse for over ten years, I assumed I knew everything there was to know about selling Pulse products. I couldn’t have been more wrong! European markets are in fact, very simple to sell to. Europeans tend to buy with their eyes. So, if the product looks great, it’s reasonably easy to sell. This is certainly not the case in China or as I later found out, in most countries within the far East.
The Chinese are immensely interested in the finer details of a product. This includes the materials the product is made from and the dimensions of the moving parts, right down to the feel of the product. Buyers make purchasing decisions based on these criteria. Basically, the Chinese market buys the engine, not the body of the car. They want to know what’s under the hood.
What did you do differently as a result?
I had to completely re-train myself in the way I describe our products and what I consider the key features of our products. For example, having an 18.5 inch colour TV on a treadmill wasn’t a feature the Chinese buyers were overly impressed with, but having 7 inch rollers and a robust running belt was a big plus! In fact, over the years I have transformed my own thinking and now consider the Chinese customer a more educated buyer as they will buy the best product spec not the ‘so called’ industry top brand or a product that looks good to the eye.