FitTech Insider

Will home fitness spread to Third Places, Melanie Lauer?

The livingroom gym has become more normal in recent years. Homefitness company Kettler is now taking a new approach: It is translating home fitness into intimate places outside of one's own home, so-called Third Places. For example in one's own hotel room.

Melanie Lauer, CEO of Trisport AG, took over the license rights for Kettler Europe at the end of 2019 and guided it out of insolvency. In the company’s Swiss home, she and her team are currently putting all their efforts into new designs and new innovations. And business is booming. She told us what's the secret behind their success, what new products we can expect on the market soon and why the global delivery situation is becoming increasingly problematic. She also announced some big news, namely that they will be entering the hotel business at the end of this year ...

Hoi, Melanie! You've already been working in Switzerland for a year. What was the most Swiss thing you did?
Saying "please" many times because the Swiss are absolutely polite. I don't think there is any people in the world who are more polite than the Swiss and I had to get used to that as a sometimes brusque German and I'm very happy about that.

Since October 2021 you have been launching a new line of fitness equipment for home use under the name Hoi by Kettler. On the one hand Hoi means "Home of innovation" but it is also a Swiss greeting. What do you expect from this rebranding?
With the rebranding we want to set a clear line between the old and the new world of Kettler and we want to connect this with our new Swiss home. The old world of Kettler brings the values of trust and the promise of quality. We take that with us. But what the old world lost at some point along the way was innovation and, to a certain extent, design. That's what we were missing and that's what we're adding. That's how we come to this new world Hoi by Kettler.

Melanie Lauer at FitTech Summit V: Tech or Die!

On November 8 and 9, 2021, FitTech Summit V: Tech or Die! will take place digitally. At Europe's most relevant conference on the future of fitness and health technology, Melanie Lauer will discuss the next wave of home fitness equipment. Get your free ticket now!

In our last conversation, you told us that you had planned your dumbbell inventory for 18 months in spring 2020 but had already sold out after 7 days. You told the podcast by Stern that you also rapidly increased your staff by four times at that time. What other figures illustrate how the Kettler company developed in 2021?
Yes, at that time we had greatly increased the number of staff to 40. In the meantime, we've added a lot of external workers like freelancers who enrich the team. Every month, one or two new employees join the team. You can see our development very clearly in the turnover and especially in the order statistics. Just last week we sat together with the team and couldn't believe ourselves that our expectations had been so completely outperformed. We are now more than one and a half or even two years ahead of our business plan.

To what do you attribute this success?
To the fact that, on the one hand, our entire team is absolutely passionate about this topic and everyone is giving 150%. On the other hand, we have a brand that is so popular and so interlinked that you can only be successful with this brand if you get it right in terms of business management and product development. Another important aspect is the emotionality of this brand. Last week at the sales meeting I asked the team: What do you associate with the Kettler brand? And everyone started telling their own personal childhood story. Everyone had such a glow on their face. And that's what makes this brand so strong and why it's completely poised for success.

You can have the best team in the world but what if the market is not ready?
Oh, the market is ready! The home fitness market is developing magnificently. We can see that, partly because new products and new competitors are popping up every day, and partly because of the sales growth. This is not only related to the pandemic, but also to the flexibility that people generally want. You can also see this in the larger target group that is now being caught with fitness than, for example, in the 80s. This is actually a very logical consequence.

The pandemic has not only brought positive developments for the home fitness market. The time it takes for an ordered unit to be delivered to you has drastically increased from 80 to 200 days. Will this still be the case at the end of 2021?
Yes, the delivery situation will not improve even in 2022. Today we still have priority rates of containers for 18,000$, which was 1,200$ and the trend is still increasing. You can really sense the battle for containers. Companies like Amazon have already pre-booked their containers for the whole of next year because everyone is expecting a shortage. And on the other hand, we also have the prices of raw materials like plastic or stainless steel, which are developing very sharply. And obviously the consumers can tell that from the price, and the last increase hasn't happened yet.

But doesn't that matter so much to you because your clientele is usually wealthy?
No, our clientele isn’t wealthy, not only. We offer access for every age group and for various social classes. In terms of age, we really cover all client groups from 18 to 65, our sweet spot are the 25 to 34 year old’s. With our new series, you can buy equipment for even 69€. We are currently working on a rental model so that someone who has a small income can buy back the equipment. Also we’re offering financing, so you don’t have to pay everything at once. Basically, some weights or a yoga mat is enough for home fitness. If you want to exercise at home, you can do it in any price segment.

Speaking of your home bikes, at the last Summit you revealed that you will be launching them in 2022.
Exactly, we are launching the home bikes in 2022. The production will be running from March on, with shipping and so on, they will be out in May. From February onwards, we will offer our customers the opportunity to pre-order the first 500 units.

What technological innovations can your users look forward to in 2022?
We are launching the bike trainer Frame in three different models. We are also working on new home sports equipment like a new cross trainer and a new exercise bike series, which will follow the example of the Frame series. We also have new wooden equipment that we are now launching at Hoi by Kettler and we are currently working intensely on the Hoi by Kettler app, which will be launched by the end of this year or beginning of next year. It will include video and audio files, mini workouts, training plans, basically everything you need to stay fit. On top of that we’re working on other cool digital products, but I can't reveal a launch date yet.

In a recent interview Valerie Bure-Bönström from VAHA told us that the smaller version of her fitness mirror was a reaction to the following realisation: “When we launched in the UK, we found that the available living space there is much smaller than in Germany”. What new things have you learned about your target group in the last few months?
The development is really moving away from the trend that a fitness product only has to be functional, but it's more and more about the equipment being easy to store and an aesthetic appeal. Also, the trend is back to sustainability. So less plastic means more future. We are having great experiences with our small wooden trainers. We've already given the first samples to customers, let them experience it and they were all totally thrilled. So we're really moving away from this black, dark, plastic appearance to more flexible, sustainable and beautiful.

Kettler HOI
Trend sustainability: "Less plastic means more future." (@Kettler)

Now that you mentioned it, how might this booming home fitness trend play out in other home-based places, such as hotels?
In the hotel market we can see that people enjoy simply being for themselves in the evening. And on the other hand, it is the topic of travelling. When you travel, especially for business, you always have to make sure you have as little luggage as possible because otherwise it becomes unwieldy. So it's sometimes easier to sit on the rowing machine in your boxer shorts than to have to get completely dressed and styled again to go to a public space to workout. And there is, of course, a health aspect to it besides this convenience aspect. Do I really feel like standing next to someone and having them cough on me in a gym or disinfect everything beforehand? Probably not, when I can do it just as well in a hotel room. And to that end, we are now working with the Rooco Forte Group, a five star hotel chain to bring our products to hotel rooms on a loan basis at the end of this year for Germany.

We have learned a lot in the pandemic and a lot has changed in life at home. What other habits or changes in habits are you observing that you are adapting your products to?
A lot of it is about hygiene at the moment. We already have products that are antibacterial, for example our wooden products, because wood is antibacterial. But another issue is definitely digitalization and connectivity. If you look at the new products that are coming onto the market, they are all digital and connectable, and that is also our aspiration. That's why we developed the new UX/UI for the bike and updated our existing portfolio to FTMS. I think this is the topic par excellence. On the other hand, we always talk a lot about the health aspect, fitness for health's sake. People are getting older, so people have to be kept healthy longer. How do I maintain my health? How do I monitor my health and how can I benefit by keeping myself healthy?

In our last conversation we also talked about design and that it’s becoming increasingly important. In which ways do you notice this thesis being proven?
We notice it in the feedback from our customers. Design is more and more in demand because fitness is clearly moving away from gaining muscles to wellbeing and health. Thus we get a broader target group that also implies a bigger ratio of woman. At the same time living space becomes smaller,thus fitness equipment needs to harmonize with it

At our next Summit in November 2021, we want to talk to you about the next wave of home fitness. What do you think will be the next step in the development of home fitness equipment?
Collectivity. Flexibility. Design versus pure functionality, health tracking and health maintenance and also health enhancement.

What do you think will define the home fitness market in 2026?
Health, health, health. Health will come before muscle building and that classic Schwarzenegger thing. Connectivity, flexibility and digitalization. That's what will characterize the market.