Ms Lin, the sales assistant,
went to look at the price tag.
“It’s 169 thousand yuan
[about US$25,000]” she told me without blinking.
“What does it do for that price?”
She took a deep breath, before reeling off a spec list that seemed to have more to do with a sensory experience
centre than a treadmill. While burning off the calories, the Excite – Technogym’s top of the
range model – also enables you to watch TV, listen to your preferred music, and even smell your favourite smell (thanks
to its aroma diffuser).
“Where’s it made?” I asked. Ms Lin handed me a book that had a smiling Nerio Alessandri –
the founder and chairman of Technogym – on the front cover.
I guessed. A nod of the head signalled that I had guessed right.
I leafed through the thick tome to glean a few facts (and
I would later check the company’s website to find out a few more):
The company – the world’s second largest manufacturer of
fitness equipment – started trading in 1975, but it didn’t make a sale in China until 1996, when it sold two pieces
of equipment to China’s National Space Administration, no less, for use in its training centre.
According to Marco Treggiari, the managing director of the company’s
Chinese operation (reported by Bloomberg), Technogym now has sales offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong,
from where it has sold equipment to about 400 gyms (out of the estimated 3,000 that have sprung up in China) and 210 five-star
hotels. Mr Treggiari has estimated that sales in China this year will increase by up to 30 per cent to
you have anything cheaper?” I asked.
Ms Lin took me over to the large
selection of Shu Hua treadmills, and pointed to the SH-5167, the second-best seller. “This one is
2,980 yuan [US$440],” she told me.
“And the best seller?” I asked.
“That’s the SH-5198, it sells at 4,986 yuan [US$736]”.
Ms Lin didn’t want to say how many, but there’s no doubt that she sells many times more of this product
than she does of the Excite – of which she has sold “four or five” in the 18 months she has worked in the
which employs a thousand people, is China’s biggest producer of excercise equipment. The company,
which was established in 1996 – the same year that Technogym began to blaze its own trail in China – is based
in Jinjiang, also in Fujian, less than an hour’s drive to the north of Xiamen. Jinjiang is a city
that has become synonymous with the sports industry:
It is reckoned that something in the order of 20 per cent of sports shoes sold in the world are manufactured there –
made by a significant proportion of the several hundred thousand migrant workers who have flocked to the city in recent years.
And more of more of those Jinjiang-made training shoes are pounding the treadmill machines made by Shu Hua.
Shu Hua’s sales rocketed
after it invested heavily in advertising campaigns featuring Tian Liang, its “Brand Ambassador”. Crowned China’s
“Diving Prince” following his success at the Athens’ Olympics, Tian Liang was a powerful spokesperson for
the brand. Even the controversy surrounding the SH A5210 model which, according to the Beijing Youth Daily,
failed a Shanghai government quality inspection, didn’t dampen the enthusiasm that had been generated.
Zhang Weilian, chairman of Shu
Hua, speaks with evangelical zeal about the company and its mission: “My dream is for every Chinese
family to have a quality treadmill,” he says. Su Hua’s brand vision is equally lofty:
“Chuanbo jiankang, zaofu renlei [promoting healthiness for the benefit of humanity]”
I was puzzled. I
could understand why treadmill sales in many Chinese cities had sky-rocketed (in the many cities with high levels of pollution,
or extreme temperatures and humidity), but why would a fitness-enthusiast living in Xiamen – one of China’s most
“livable cities” – prefer a treadmill to a run on the beach?
I decided to go to the beach to find out.
It was late afternoon when I arrived at my favourite Xiamen beach area, which just happens to be near
to the giant “One country, two systems” sign that faces the Taiwan-controlled islands, a few miles away.
The temperature was in the mid 20s, humidity was bearable,
and there was a light sea breeze. In short, lovely conditions for a jog (I am advised).
However, in the two hours I spent there, I saw only
one “runner”. A man in his 60s who was jogging so slowly that people were passing him at walking
speed – that was until I tried to have a word with him, at which point he found a second wind from somewhere and bolted
away like an Olympic sprinter.
was then that I realised that I should have listened to Ms Lin, who told me that Xiamen people didn’t like running in
public because “It wasn’t convenient”, which I took to be a euphemism for “They feel a bit embarrassed”.
Whatever the reason, this is
good news for the likes of Su Hua and Technogym. It’s also good news for companies across the Taiwan
Straits. In particular it is very good news for Johnson Health Tech Co, Asia’s largest manufacturer
of fitness equipment, which markets its excercise equipment under four brands: Matrix, Vision, Horizon, and Johnson.
The Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou visited the
company earlier this month. He used the visit to impress on a wider audience the benefits of the economic
cooperation framework agreement (ECFA), which is designed to bolster cross-straits economic cooperation by removing trade
barriers and increasing investment. On the 15th August Mr Ma said of Johnson Health Tech:
"One of its products, a portable treadmill that can be folded
and stored under a bed, is innovative and representative of Taiwan's competitiveness".
As far as the likely impact of the agreement
on Taiwanese businesses such as Johnson Heath Tech is concerned, the Taiwanese president, who is a keen jogger, employed
a running analogy: After likening Taiwan's trade barriers to iron shackles that retarded a jogger's stride, Mr Ma went
on to tell the Focus Taiwan News Channel that "The signing of the ECFA is like giving that jogger a pair of lightweight
sneakers that would help him to run fast”.
However, as with so many of the tangibles
that will accrue from the ECFA, Johnson Health Tech’s stowable treadmill won’t be staring you in the face.
For thousands of satisfied mainland customers, though, it will be a daily reminder that cross-straits cooperation is
picking up pace.