Just a few minutes a day can mean a million-dollar look

Updated: 2013-01-12 09:00

By Zhao Yanrong (China Daily)

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It's the chair that promises to turn your acres of ugly fat into kilos of prime muscle and give you a million-dollar look. All it takes, the television advertisement will tell you, is a few minutes a day in the AB Lounge, and you too will have the kind of abdomen and sexy muscle lines that will leave others breathless.

It is unclear what effect this body-building machine has had on the world's collective muscle tone, but 3 million of them have been sold in the past 10 years or so, and, at several hundred dollars apiece, it is easy to understand why thousands of people in the city of Xiamen, East China, are cheering.

The maker is Evere Sports Goods Co of Xiamen, which also makes other kinds of fitness equipment, working with many top fitness brands in Europe, the United States and Japan.

The company also makes AB Doer, a simple structure to exercise arm and chest muscles, of which 2.9 million are said to have been sold in Western countries in three years to 2001.

The company, which employs about 2,000 people in Xiamen, produced and exported fitness equipment to overseas markets worth up to $100 million last year.

Xiamen was chosen as the location for the factory because of its proximity to where its backer is based, in Taiwan, said David Fang, chief consulting officer of Evere.

Fang is also a professor at the National Kaohsiung University of Application Science in Taiwan.

He is confident about the industry in Xiamen and of Evere's future there.

"The Xiamen city government pays a lot of attention to sports related industries. With the long history of fitness equipment manufacturing in Xiamen an industry cluster has formed with many resources that we need for business."

For example, over the past two years the Xiamen entry-exit inspection and quarantine bureau and the bureau of economic development of Xiamen city government have kept local companies abreast of what is happening with policy and in the market so they can tap into international business. That kind of support has helped the company win international customers, Fang said.

Exports are an important part of the original-equipment manufacturing business in which Evere is involved, and efficient operations at Xiamen customs have benefited the company, he added.

Because Xiamen is in southern China, winters are relatively mild, another advantage for the industry in the city. Manufacturing fitness equipment involves making joints and welding, and factories need an open environment all year round. In a much more open working environment, workers do not need to wear bulky work clothes to keep warm.

"With such a good natural and business environment, Xiamen is a perfect city for us to develop our business," Fang said.

Evere's strategic location has helped it gain market share in Western countries not only in original equipment manufacturing, but in original design manufacturing, where the profit margins are bigger.

"There has been a transition period for many manufacturing companies like us," said Bacone He, Evere's technical director.

"We started with OEM, and as our manufacturing has improved, with better quality control, our international clients have begun to trust us more and have given us more design work, helping us to transfer to ODM."

Even though such manufacturing is labor-intensive, Evere has mechanized to a certain extent, increasing productivity.

It owns more than 80 patents in the fitness equipment business, and its performance in creating patents last year drew plaudits from the committee of Xiamen Tong'an Industrial Area, where Evere Sports is located.

Evere may even be stronger in design than some of its clients, He said.

A lot of bodybuilding equipment used in fitness clubs have strict design criteria, and Evere puts more work into developing small and simple products designed to be used in the home.

In Japan 1.5 million leg exercisers called Magic Leg sold from 2006 to 2010. Earlier, the product, which Evere designed, and which is aimed at eliminating extra fat on legs, abdominals and thighs, failed to make a mark in Western markets.

"Because Western families usually have a larger living area and prefer bigger bodybuilding equipment to enhance their muscle lines, such as the treadmill and elliptical trainer, and push-up and sit-up products, the Magic Leg got a very quiet response in our traditional Western markets," He added.

After the company shifted sales of product to the Asian market, they took off in Japan.

"Japanese girls prefer long and slim legs and arms," He said. "They want their thigh muscles to be very lean, and the Magic Leg can do that. Because Magic Leg is relatively small it suits Japanese apartments, which is why it did so well there."

He says he is proud of the company's record with patents, and says it limits the ability of Chinese rivals to market products similar to Evere's overseas.

In addition to the traditional markets that Evere has entered in the US, Europe and Japan, it also hopes to sell its products at home and in countries including India, South America and Australia. It plans to market its products under its own name.

He says annual turnover in the fitness equipment market in China is about 2 billion yuan ($321 million), but he expects this to reach 20 billion yuan in 10 years.

"About 10 percent of our business is domestic, and we are confident that will grow."