Thursday, June 30, 2011

Technogym, the wellness company. A critical evaluation

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International Business Strategy of Technogym®, The Wellness Company

A Critical Evaluation

Buy Technogym, the wellness company. A critical evaluation term paper

Table of Contents















Vladimir “You should have been a poet.”

Estragon “I was.” (Gesture towards his rags.) “Isn’t that obvious?” � S. Beckett

ABSTRACT This article is the result of an analysis of the International Strategy of an Italian fitness equipment company. It starts providing information about the popularity of fitness activities and lists reasons why people are attracted to them, in order to better set Technogym® in a business environment in which it operates.

Technogym®’s strategy has been analysed through a deductive method, comparing the firm to its main competitor and pointing out what the company actually did to become a leader of the European Fitness Equipment market.

Furthermore this paper will attempt to highlight the choice of the Italian company, as a small/medium business, for going global, analysing the main literature on globalisation concepts, and on small Italian manufacturers.

The conclusions have been dedicated to the potential gaps into Technogym®’s International Strategy to be eventually improved in order to enlarge their market share and built entry barriers in new markets such as China and East Europe.

The Value Chain model by Porter has been deliberately neglected since considered a traditional way to run a business. Such model is based on the company’s core competence and the product is its starting point (Bugatti & Di Martino, 00). Hence it is no longer suitable for a customer-oriented company as Technogym®. The Value Chain lacks of problem solving and network value. Instead a CRM and Kratzman’s models (see appendix) have been used to discourse on gaining strategic and competitive advantage.


The most important thing is to forecast where customers are moving and to be in front of them. � P. Kotler

According to the IHRSA report (001), in this past decade there has been a growing emphasis on the holistic or mind/body approach to exercise and this has effectively redefined the concept of fitness as people’s interest in adopting an active lifestyle extends beyond the physical benefits. The Wellness Industry is more luckily to be cited, where individual wellness is a continuum that aims not only at staying healthy and capable but also at extending one’s active life span and scope of life.

Among those who exercise regularly, the payoff is great, both physically and psychologically. At least half of 1,00 interviewees suggest that exercise has a positive impact on the following aspects

Source IHRSA, 001

In 000 and 001 gender needs and ego, key factors for preference of exercise, were replaced by the need to be healthy (Tekes report) hence the relationship between health and fitness (= wellness) is the key to the industry’s future.

Sources CENSIS, 00

1 17 00 007 01


In 001 the European Market for Fitness Equipment reached a value of 1,116 million Euros (, which is an increase of 4.8%, comparing it to 000 when the value was about 1,065 million Euros.

Prices of equipment have basically decreased as a result of market competition.

In details, Germany represents the biggest Fitness Equipment market, with a value of 5 million Euros, but Italy has the highest growth rate with 6.5%, followed by Spain (6.4%). The above table shows the trend of people who will exercise regularly in the future (in Italy).

UK and Ireland represent the second largest market in terms of value 1.% and quantity 0.5%. The European market is dominated by two big fitness equipment companies LifeFitness (the first company in the world) and Technogym®, the first in Europe.

It is interesting to notice that Spain is some years behind the other European countries,

Italy presents a strong growth potential market; USA, UK and Germany are somehow mature markets for fitness (Giusti & Scamper, 00).

Could this happen as Germany and USA are between innovation and wealth-driven stage and UK is in the wealth-driven one? It would mean that the industries have no longer motivations to invest and they begin to lose their competitive advantage. On the other hand, Italian companies should be willing to create new technology and methods through innovation, since Italy is supposed to be in the innovation-driven stage (Porter, 10).

The final part of the fitness puzzle is demography people in the world are living longer. From 010�00, the population of elderly aged 65�84 is expected to grow 80%, the under 65 population will grow just 7%.

Fitness manufactures are or should be aware of the changes. They know that the consumer is in control. Manufactures do not define market trends, consumers do.


There are three kinds of companies those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who wonder what’s happened. � Anonymous

Technogym® was established on the 0th of October 18 by Nerio Alessandri. It is the European market leader in the fitness and biomedical rehabilitation equipment fields, the world’s second-largest fitness equipment company and the only one of the top six not US-owed.

• It employs more than 800 people in Italy and abroad, 100 or more of whom are employed in research and development;

• It has subsidiaries in the US, Brazil, Hong Kong, Great Britain, Germany, Benelux, France, Spain and Switzerland;

• It exports to over 60 countries worldwide;

• Its products have been chosen by over 5,000 Fitness Centres and 0,000 privates homes in 60 different countries;

• It now controls a share of 80% of the Italian market and this is its financial situation



EBITDA + 16,4%


Source Il Sole 4 Ore, 00

The key factors for the company’s growth are

The implementation of the company was unplanned . Nerio Alessandri, a young man of years old, due to his love for sports and physical activity, joined a very poorly equipped fitness club. He immediately realized he could do something for that place. His first piece of fitness equipment, a Hack Squat machine, was designed and assembled in his own car shed. It was no long before a complete line of strength equipment had been conceived and produced. Since then, Technogym® has created an international network of subsidiaries and distributors, becoming a reference point for the whole industry, as of Nerio Alessandri’s commitment to incorporating continuous technological advancement with innovative product design. (

Technogym®, being initially a small business in any respect number of employees, capital invested, turnover, and also being owner managed, independent and lacking stock market quotation (cf. Agarval, 17), did not have the power for a price-based competition; therefore, it adopted a strategy of continuous product innovation based on design and, by incorporating high-quality functional characteristics, could increase its international competitiveness (cf. Bonaccorsi, 1).

In the first stage the company was centred on the domestic market and it had no intention to go international ( Subsequently, having the domestic market as a core market, it started to look for opportunities outside (Keegan, 15). As to an immature market, highly fragmented and without a leadership, Technogym® can be considered a pioneer of the fitness industry in Italy. It is worth to point out that when Body Building was a core exercise for gymnasiums, Technogym® was already talking about Fitness and when people started to take into high consideration the fitness concept, Alessandri came out with the Wellness idea. Therefore “Wellness” is its banner and Vision (Foa, 001).


National developments have [...] driven changes in the global economy; even more than a so-called ‘globalisation’ has driven national evolution. � J. Zysman

Alessandri considers his company as global (Foa, 001) note that, in Italian, global means “che riguarda, interessa l’intero globo (=concerning/including the whole world)”.

According to Bartlett and Ghoshal (18), having a “Global Mentality” means to create standard products, assuming that customers have standard tastes. Products or services, or both are not supposed to meet local requirements. Main and strategic decisions are managed from the centre and subsidiaries are very much subordinate to the headquarters. “The same thing, the same way, everywhere.” (Levitt, T., 18) is this a keystone to become a successful company?

From my point of view, academic models are too much remote from reality so I would rather interpret ‘Globalisation’ in a much more flexible way, than crystallizing on such positions. Ohmae (18) argued “Globalisation � is about thinking global and acting local” or, even less specific, Robertson (1) stated that it was a phenomenon fostering awareness of the world.

Lazear (1) confirms that there is no firm truly global and as a model for his studies on ‘Globalisation’, chooses multinational firms provided that are in more than one country.

Zysman, (16) claimed that “Globalism is only an emblem. The suddenly pervasive intrusion of the notion of globalism is an effort by governments and companies to apply a label to a diverse package of changes that they do not understand”. Thus, a label for an era. At the beginning, these ‘labels’ or code words to devise an era have always a negative meaning. Later, a positive acceptation supersedes the negative one and, after a while, the code word becomes neutral. Figure A is a chart representing the “Code-Word Cycle”

Figure A At the beginning code words to define eras have negative meanings to become neutral as the time passes.

Another viewpoint is that the ‘global era’ began when (due to) Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese firms entered Western and mainly US market, in a dramatic competitive way (Dertouzon et al, 18). Such a tough ‘global’ competition required that firms urgently internationalise their operations (Palich & Gomez-Mejia, 1).

Especially culturally related ‘global’ firms had (still have) to adapt somewhat to maximize their performance over their markets (Palich & Gomez-Mejia, 1). Other studies have showed that adapting policies and practices, to make them suitable for contexts in which they do business, is a must for multinational firms (Brewster, 15; Dowling, Schuler & Welch, 14; Forster & Whipp, 15). Hence adaptation and flexibility are characteristics of global companies. From this perspective, Technogym® is ‘global’ it required world scale to realise its value, but the sources of its development remained internal. Product quality, price and reliability in delivery are its success factors (cf. Bonaccorsi, 1). The company’s approach to flexibility allow them to modify their product to cope with customer requirement. This is a “product adaptation to individual foreign customer requirements” (cf. Bonaccorsi, 1, p. 55).


Vulgarity is simply the conduct of other people. � O. Wilde

In a country where a cornerstone of its industry (FIAT) seems to be about to verge on bankruptcy and one of the reasons is the lack of R&D investments (for more than 10 years they invested less than 1%), Technogym® employs 10 people in R&D, including 50 electronics engineers and 0 software specialists and they invest 7% in Research, this is why they are always up to date, particularly when it is about technology (as it will be explained further on).

Furthermore, Italy is a large power distance and individualist country (Hofstede, 180), that is

• authority (managers) is obeyed with no questions;

• the number of levels in the hierarchy should match the power distance of the culture (Snodgrass & Sekaran, 18);

• the communications may create “one-up” situations as they go top-down;

• people tend not to be involved with groups and teams.

Within this context, Technogym® appears to be different. Cooperation is a strong element of its strategy and people working for them are called ‘collaborators’, thus, they are fully committed to the company and its vision. For two consecutive years (001 and 00) it was on the list of “Great places to work” companies (Vitale, 00). Thus, Trust is the “essential ingredient for the primary workplace relationship between the employee and the employer.


If it works, it is obsolete. � N. Alessandri

Technogym® started as a small business , with less than 500 employees but sales greater than $500,000 (Baird, Lyles & Orris, 14). It focused on strength equipment rather than CV equipment, quickly changing and innovating the products (Cooper, 17).

When they first entered the international market they had to face a harsh reality; LifeFitness (Technogym®’s main competitor) was an industrial colossus, it had good margins to play with, reflected in a very competitive price plan. It was in the market for the long term and had deep pockets to survive the possible price war.

They started out with the great idea of Technogym® Training Institute and added tangible value to their products, ensuring that gym owners perceived their brand as strong and of great quality. To look at product development they went for a vertical integration backward and forward, creating a quality network in terms of relationship marketing as “the quality of relationships [...] differentiate[s] and define[s] the boundaries of the network organization” underlines Achrol (17).

Alliances have been considered an important option for small firms to penetrate foreign markets (Lyles, 10). They defy the well-known theory of market-entry barriers of Porter, since “Companies not even aligned today may prove to be tomorrow’s biggest rival” writes Jordan Lewis .

A collaborative relationship goes from one extreme that is ‘arm’s length’ to the other one which is the ‘vertical integration’. In between there is the partnership. Lambert et al (16) claim that there are three degrees and types of partnership integration

• Type I (short term, limited coordination);

• Type II (long term, from coordination to integration of activities);

• Type III (permanent, each party is an extension of the other one).

Technogym® has chosen the third type, adopting a concept of integrated product . They establish partnerships with every fitness club they deal with, helping them to open. They sell them all the equipment they need with 10% discount (Virgin Active, 00) and they offer a lifetime guarantee, that is technical assistance for free anytime and anywhere. Technogym® agrees with each of its clients ‘sole selling right’ from the outset of the initial sale. Replacement of obsolete machinery or new equipment is arranged through Technogym only.

“[...] the imaginative application of ‘partnership’ can contribute substantially toward customer acquisition, retention and value-enhancement objectives”. (Cornell, 00). Among the crucial elements for partnership to succeed (Barr, 16), leadership, innovation, risk taking and problem solving seem to better suit Technogym®. In a partnership, Technogym® always stays in a position of leadership and, innovation (one of the first company at using CAD Pro/ENGINEER software) has made them stop being follower. Furthermore this year Alessandri has become a new member of the Capitalia board (Calderoni & Serafini, 00). This will certainly mean a better financial availability, so even a stronger positioning for the company.

Concerning distribution, it is a company’s key factor “success will not follow unless this is correct, strong and solidified.” (Kratzman, 00). Direct distribution is the most common way of selling fitness equipment. 51% of the total European market value is realized by direct distribution (, especially due to the lower costs. An increasing tendency towards direct selling can be expected since the fitness equipment market has high growth potential “Even in difficult economic times, people tend to hang on their health club ticket”, says Byrne (00) so manufacturers achieve critical mass. This growth in sales has made direct distribution vital in such a competitive market this is also a way for big international companies to conquer new markets and establish their brand. Technogym® used distribution agents for foreign markets until 14 (Sumner Smith, 18), then changed over to direct distribution because it is cheaper, provides better service for the customers, is easy to control and “makes no sense using a dealer that sells multiple brands.”, said LifeFitness (18), the American supplier of fitness equipment.

It seems as there has been a Flank attack from Technogym® and a consequent Flank defence (Kotler, 00) carried out by LifeFitness.

Flank attacks are used by challengers with fewer resources and when Technogym® decided to penetrate the US market (17), they had to limit their ambitions, implant a branch and a show room in Seattle but hold back with investment into a production plant, due to lack of financial support from ICE . ICE could not sponsor the enterprise Fitness was considered a too innovative market segment and ICE knew not enough to invest money in it. Thus, they had to set up a joint venture with a local manufacturer, to produce under their brand and to assist clients in their behalf.

Technogym® identified the weak points of its main competitor within a product and a geographical strategic dimension. The American company only focused on a segment of the market producing big volumes; Technogym® went for a wider range of products taking into consideration several niche markets, to satisfy smaller sets of customers who have more defined and/or peculiar combination of needs (Kotler, 1). They spotted the area where the competitor was under-performing, areas neglected by LifeFitness and implemented branches there as follows

EU Italy (headquarter), Germany, Spain, France, UK and Benelux


MERCOSUR Brazil (production plant)


Also showing to be aware of new geography of FDI being affected by global economy (Dunning, 18) .

For instance Brazil has become a ‘desirable’ market for foreign investors by overcoming both chronic inflation and repeated backsliding over the past 40 years (McCrary, 001). Firstly they pursued a political solution and later an economic one, said Paulo Ferraz .

Technogym® also worked on effective export strategies (Namiki, 188) such as technological superiority and customer service. In point of fact, the use of computers in the Fitness sector is growing fast and it is a way to add value to the basic exercise machine, getting a competitive advantage on the product/service.

People like to exercise but for some it is tedious and customers can feel lost in a gym if they are not supported by professional staff and frustrated when there is a continuous pattern for insufficient staffing Aware of these problems Technogym® tried to make the workouts on its machines more varied and enjoyable (Clafton, 18), including built-in computers that monitor the user’s workout and keep the user entertained. As for the strength machines, the procedure is 1) work out a fitness regimen with a trainer; ) have it transferred to a key. Drop it into a Technogym® machine and follow the customized instructions for the workout. Technogym® machines are

• user-friendly,

• provided with biofeedback to pace the workout.

The technology they adopted, certainly supports the needs of the markets. Customers receive a personal program, they are not frustrated by using difficult machines to handle and downloading the workout information from the key onto a PC, they track their progress, thus, they are kept motivated.

We gather that the company’s functions have been coordinated from the customer’s point of view as suggested by Kotler (00, p.) (see figure B), while a policy of adaptation to foreign markets is considered of less concern. In actual fact, the most successful companies are the ones that change their strategies to meet consumer needs and expectation. Currently, 18% of the business strategies revolve around consumer needs; it is anticipated that soon 50% will focus more on customer needs and retention issues (Andersen, 00).

Figure B Traditional Organization chart versus Modern Customer-Oriented Company Organization chart. (Kotler, 00, p. ).



+=5-ism Caving in to a target marketing strategy aimed at oneself after holding out for a long period time. “Oh, all right, I’ll buy your stupid cola. Now leave me alone”.- D. Coupland

In bb markets buying behaviours are a lot more complex than in bc ones. This is due to many factors larger size of the market, low number of customers but with a high average spends. Therefore there would also be two different marketing communication strategies for the two contexts.

In a bb environment communication is characterised by personal selling and very little use of advertising that is also the case of little financial resources and/or a target consumer unreachable through advertising. Hence a below-the-line approach is necessary (Fill, 00). Therewith, many surveys show as advertising is not being considered an important success factor by Italian SMF (Bonaccorsi, 1). Technogym® works in a bb environment and its brand name is aligned with its primary function, so that the consumer perceives both content and positioning of the company (Fill, 00). Their products have turned to be advertising materials they are in corporate colours and contain the logo. They have been promoting their visibility by means of sponsorship; the use of it has become very popular (Miller, 17). They are the official supplier for Ferrari in Formula 1 racing, in the sailing of Prada challenge for America’s Cup and a range of football teams. They were also the Official Supplier of Strength and Cardiovascular Equipment at Olympic Games, Sydney 000. Especially the last one is an effective strategic move, able to strengthen their competitive position in the global market, raising the brand awareness. This way they narrowed down customer choice becoming quite a compulsory option for fitness clubs.

A research, which has not been proved by empirical studies, highlighted as Technogym® had been considered an American company for several years. Even some owners of fitness clubs in Italy, England, Spain and France did think of Technogym® as an American maker. Consumer researches have shown that costumers’ behaviour is affected by intrinsic (product design) and extrinsic (brand name) information cues (Olson & Jacoby, 17). The CO of a product is of great importance as consumers display a preference for products made in some countries more than others (Schooler, 165, 171; Hampton, 177; Baumgartner, & Jolibert, 178; Bannister, & Saunders, 178; Papadopoulos, et al., 187; Samiee, 14).

This could be a key factor as Schooler, (165) demonstrated that identical products in any aspect, except for their CO were evaluated differently by customers . No doubts that “the reputation of some countries appears to enhance the credibility of product groups for which the country is known” (Samiee, 14, p. 5). America has a positive country-image for its fitness equipment, additionally it is a developed country, thus, American products are perceived in a more favourably way than others from other countries (Schooler, 171; Tongberg, 17). On the other hand “industrial buyers tend to be better informed about their purchases than consumers and their decision processes are typically policy-driven and rationalised.” (Samiee, 14, p. 51). The big thing is industrial buyers’ experience with manufacturers and their sourcing countries. In the light of what it has been said, it is wondered how much the presumed “America fame” of Technogym® has affected their brand awareness. Unfortunately no research has been carried out to support either one or the other assumption.


The great Tragedy of Science-the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. � T.H. Huxley

Technogym® has overcome the problems that small enterprises face in their development, so much that it is able to compete with large enterprises on economies of scale, increasing in importance over the last few decades and aligning with the global phenomenon of small business growth.

Nerio Alessandri’s entrepreneurial aspiration, his willingness, intentions and motivations have been determinant keys not to allow various infrastructures factors to affect its expansion plans (cf. Liao, J., Welsch H.P. & Pistrui, D., 001) such as lack of information on foreign markets, financing and bureaucracy which have been considered the three main obstacles faced by Italian SMFs to exporting.


It is unlikely that the fitness market would decline, since “wellness”, once considered a fad, is becoming a way of life. In 00 an estimated 85% of fitness machine sales were in the well-established markets of Western Europe and North America. While some areas are still considered to offer good growth prospects, the previously fast expanding markets of US and UK are showing signs of slowdown, which is why the fitness machine makers will probably gear up to do business elsewhere.

It would be advisable for Technogym® to consider emerging markets such as China (several US-based sports club are moving into China), Eastern Europe and South America. LifeFitness is likely to open a new plant in Hungary. The new factory could position the company for an assault on consumers in the potentially promising region of Eastern Europe (Marsh, 00) this way they may build up entry barriers, conquering the market.


China with its 1. billion inhabitants is an inexhaustible source of long-hour working people for low pay (Anon., 00). It is a cheap place to manufacture machines (this is its comparative advantage), therefore consider its potential as an export market and not merely satisfy its internal demand.

Russia has always been a country devoted to sport, the fitness industry is growing and U.S. fitness equipment companies have a low market share; autochthonous manpower is not expensive in a country tried by the long communist experience. Due to a high political risk or, maybe, little knowledge of the market, it would be recommendable to find local partners to work with. They may select local agents (they already used this distribution channel, in the past) or think of join ventures, making sure to be in control and assure the leadership.

Mexico is another lucrative market for exercise equipment. The overall mentioned market is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 5% over the next three years. Imports are expected to grow by 4% by the end of 00 (source Banco Nacional de Comercio Exterior, 1). Domestic production of exercise equipment is almost limited to simple mechanical appliances, so it is not able to supply the market demand (Campos, 1).

Strictly concerning their new product line it has been conceived from a biomechanics point of view. Their safety has been emphasised, on the other hand, some fitness machines are so far away from the ‘imperfect’ physical frame of human beings to be paradoxically unusable (the military press machine and the last generation fitness benches are two eloquent examples).

Moreover, they should improve their CV equipment. LifeFitness has invented a new system for running machines called “FlexDeck® Shock Absorption System”. The shock absorbers allow the deck to flex downward with the force of the user’s foot and then gently upward as the foot is lifted.

In several fitness clubs customers need to book in order to use a LifeFitness running machine as the demand is high and the available machines are not enough to satisfy it. This technology has been available to the markets for some time and it has been proved that it usually takes an average of a week to copy the improvement your competitors do to their products (Haley, 00).

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