FitTech Insider

How do you lead a company to its former greatness during transformation, Melanie Lauer?

Since the end of 2019, Swiss sports retailer Trisport has held the exclusive licensing rights to insolvent home sports brand Kettler. CEO Melanie Lauer took up her post shortly thereafter, followed by Covid-19 and the home-sports boom. How does her brand reboot succeed in a radically changing market? "We have to be one step ahead".

Everyone who was a child in Germany in the late 20th century knows Kettler. From 2015 to 2019, the company went through several insolvency proceedings. Then distribution partner Trisport rode to the rescue and secured the licensing rights for Europe. Is familiarity with the brand a curse or a blessing for the new start?
It's a blessing because everyone is curious about what's happening with the brand now. As a result, you can quickly sweep people along. Many people noticed that Kettler was in financial difficulties, but at the same time everyone still has the magic from their own childhood in their minds. When I say which brand I work for, people often immediately say "Oh, I think my grandparents still have a fitness trainer like that at home!", followed by childhood memories of their own Kettcar. According to a recent survey by W&V magazine, 51.8 per cent of Germans know Kettler in connection with fitness equipment. Peloton follows in second place with 11.2 per cent. This means we are still by far the best-known brand in the field.

Melanie Lauer @ FitTech Summit:Digital Edition

On May 25-28 2021, the FitTech Summit is going live with a fully digital edition, with three days full on insights devoted to the future of fitness and health in the post-pandemic world. We are pleased that Melanie Lauer will be part of this event.

When Kettler entered the home fitness market in 1975, John Foley, the founder of fitness equipment manufacturer Peloton, was four years old. What can Kettler learn from young companies such as Peloton, Vaha or Clmbr today?
Kettler has always been a very courageous brand in the past. Unfortunately, the company lost this characteristic over time. At some point, the focus was more on what was in demand on the market and sold well - but it was no longer about daring to do things and taking risks. And that's exactly what the young companies such as Peloton have ahead of us today. We can learn from them to break new ground - and that's exactly what we're doing very consistently now.

You told Forbes that your spring 2020 dumbbell inventory was planned for 18 months - and sold out after seven days. How do you describe the path to your goal?
Not as rocky as we thought at the beginning. We're on a very good path, and it's realistic that in three years we'll have reached the sales size that we had back then at its peak. In addition we want to be a really cool brand again that everyone can be proud of.

You spoke at this year's Online-Ispo about urbanisation as a trend base for product development. How can I imagine your showroom?
We tested our designs in different rooms after completing the initial development phase by applying AR [augmented reality] technology via cell-phone. This allowed us to place our design in a wide variety of real-life living situations in real time, at the touch of a button, and test how the bike works. Our aspiration, especially with the new indoor bike series, is for our products to blend into the living landscape. We want to sell something that every customer is happy with - whether they live in a big, fancy penthouse apartment or a smaller one with IKEA furnishings. For this reason, we have also chosen a very reduced design language for our new products.

Besides urbanisation and downsizing, are there other trends that you create products based on?
Other important topics for us are new materials and colours. The cooler society gets, the more warmth you need in your home. That's why we're bringing new, cheerful colours into our products and trying to get away from the hard black of fitness equipment that is very dominant these days. Together with natural materials such as wood, we want to make our products more classic in this way, creating warmth and wellness. The equipment should not just enhance a home’s fitness aspect but, more importantly, also enrich your own four walls - the home’s overall feel.

What do you know about your target groups?
At the beginning of our journey, we naturally developed different personas and use cases. And just as different as these personas are, so are their motivations. Fitness is no longer just about building muscle and getting a six-pack. The concept of fitness has expanded to include wellbeing. Our brand is home for anyone who shares a love of exercise. For us, exercise means not only working out, but also relaxing.

About Melanie Lauer
Melanie Lauer, born in 1981, studied philosophy and then worked as a PR, marketing and sales manager before joining the German company Conrad in 2013 as Marketing Director for the international B2B area. From 2017 on she worked as Vice President International B2B. Since May 2020, she has been CEO at Trisport/Kettler.
Kettler's transformer Melanie Lauer: "With Corona, the stock of dumbbells that was supposed to last for 18 months was sold out after seven days." (Source: Kettler)

In June 2020 you launched a web store. What insights have you gained into the question of who buys what?
In our webshop, the ratio of men and women is relatively balanced. Our sweet spot is currently the 25 to 35 age group. However, our figures are still very new and of course only show a section of our audience, since the significantly larger share of our business is the B2B business with dealers and distributors.

Marketing specialists may recoil in horror: you do need a specific target group...!
No, we don't need to. We have many different ones, which we are now successively working through and thinking about in product development. With the indoor bike, for example, we are working with different price points and technical specifications for different budgets and needs.

How does Kettler position itself against providers who shoot off motivational fireworks with online classes, leaderboards and targeted music?
After Trisport received the licensing rights, our first step was to look at the existing Kettler products and consider which ones we would basically take over. We then started production for these and delivered them in 2021 so as not to leave a gap in the space and to stay in business. At the same time, we started working on a new product language in terms of design and technology. We were supported by the Graz-based designer Julian Hönig, who worked in the design team at Apple for 10 years. The bike designs were developed by our agency forepeople with whom we worked closely together.

The first product family of his signature will appear with the Indoor Bikes in the first quarter of 2022. In the process, we have analyzed the market, looked at the competition and quickly realised that we had to take a completely new perspective and rethink the topic of home sports equipment design. And that's what we have done.

And on the technological side?
In the tech context, we are working on the topic of apps, among other things, on a digital sports offering for our customers. Connectivity and digital offerings are indispensable for staying ahead of the competition. They also help us to stay in touch with our customers, to understand them better and thus to further develop our products according to their needs. The new generation of Kettler equipment with updated technology and the new, uniform design language will then be launched under the name 'Hoi by Kettler'. 'Hoi' stands for the Swiss greeting and also indicates the connection to the new Swiss home of the German brand.

When will we hear the first tech details about the new devices and ideas?
I will be able to tell you more at the FitTech Summit (May 25-28).

Then we'll be patient. Until then, where do you see the home fitness market heading?
It will continue to grow. In the past ten years, the growth of the market was only in small single digits, but in the past year that has changed. I am convinced that digital will gain even more momentum and that the fitness market will move further into digital. Tech and hardware will and must merge. Health in the sense of health maintenance and health optimisation, including real-time and predictive analysis, will play an increasingly important role. We will also see a strong development in the area of hearables and virtual reality.

What are the most important decisions you need to make for the company in the next year?
In which products do we invest, when and how much? Which partners do we work with and how do we set up our expansion strategy?

What headline would you like to read about the company in 2025?
"Switzerland stands for chocolate, money and Hoi by Kettler!"

In summary, how do you transform a business in a radically changing market?
By trying to stay ahead of the radically changing market in terms of thinking.