Technogym: 25 years of growth, design innovation, European domination - SNEWS

Technogym: 25 years of growth, design innovation, European domination

You'd never know it was Technogym's 25th anniversary this year. The Italian company didn't utter a peep about it at its massive IHRSA showing earlier this month, and it won't likely say much as the year progresses.
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You'd never know it was Technogym's 25th anniversary this year. The Italian company didn't utter a peep about it at its massive IHRSA showing earlier this month, and it won't likely say much as the year progresses.

In Italy, the silver anniversary celebration will likely not happen for nearly another year. That's when "The Wellness Company" plans to hold a huge inauguration ceremony for its sprawling new campus in the picturesque small town of Gambettola, Italy, only a few kilometers from the Romagna village of Cesena where the founder, Nerio Alessandri, was born and where he created and sold his first piece of equipment in 1983 at age 22.

Technogym has come a long way since those early days, not only in its business, size and revenues (now globally closing in on USD $500 million), but also in its style that has gone from the typical utilitarian gym-look of yore (see a picture of the first product, right) to a sleek and very Italian (whatever that really means) design that very few other companies have gotten the hang of (see second photo, right). One thing hasn't changed: It's still in the same region, in Cesena's neighboring town of Gambettola surrounded by verdant rolling hills.

Next to its emphasis on "wellness" rather than "fitness" -- a whole-body approach it adopted officially in 1992 -- comes an emphasis on family in the broad sense of the word. That means not only Alessandri's family but also the extended family of the region where he was raised and still conducts business. The new "Technogym Village," for example, will not only unite all the current 14 buildings in a three-mile area of Gambettola on one campus, it will also have education and training areas, facilities for conferences, and a community center and gym that will be available for the community.

"We have this social responsibility," Enrico Manaresi, manager of international public relations, told SNEWS® on a visit to Technogym's headquarters in 2007. In fact, the company has been voted the best place to work in Italy, and was recently one of Fortune magazine's "10 Best Places to Work" in Europe -- a rare feat for a fitness equipment supplier.

Far ahead of the times globally when it added the tagline "The Wellness Company" 16 years ago, Technogym has held on to that slogan and its broader meaning, in the past going so far as to have a huge bin of apples in its booths and inviting show attendees to help themselves. At that time, it was on the forefront of a wave dubbed wellness that had barely begun to swell globally.

That's not to say Technogym (www.technogymusa.com) after a dozen years in the United States (its first IHRSA show was in 1997 after founding a small office here the previous year) has made gigantic headway, but it's made some headway each year -- particularly since its real push started in 2002. Growth was cited recently by Alessandri as 67 percent from 2005 to 2006 in the U.S. market. It now sits strongly in the top five commercial equipment manufacturers here. Where in that five may depend on how you slice the pie -- as well as on the current value of the dollar against the euro. Technogym dominates Europe and nearly a third of its business is in Italy. Currently, barely 10 percent of its business is in the United States. It employs over 1,400 people at 12 branches worldwide.

"We believe we have the right product for the U.S. market," Manaresi said. "Our goal is to be No. 1 in the world, and we must be at least No. 3 in the United States."

Alessandri, when he named the company, saw it as "technology" for the gym, ergo Technogym. As a mechanical engineer and industrial designer by degree, he wanted to take more innovation into a traditionally low-tech area (at that time), as well as incorporate higher-level design.

"Design is our first priority," Manaresi said. "We don't want to attract fitness fanatics. We want to attract every kind of person."

Its Kinesis system -- called "movement" rather than "exercise," introduced in 2006, was a breakthrough in design -- finding a look that was sleek and discrete with its infrastructure of cables and weight stacks behind a wall (click here to see it). Designed by internationally acclaimed designer Antonio Citterio and launched at the Milan Design Show, it is sold at high-end furniture shows and home stores. But at a price of EUR 8,000 (these days directly converted at about USD $12,600 although that's not the U.S. price), it remains only in reach of a select audience.

"It's a design product you can use for movement," Manaresi continued to explain. "It's an icon of our philosophy."

This year the company introduced in the United States its new FLEXability line -- or at least what are likely the first two pieces of a line that will be all about encouraging people to stretch. That's something that no other company in the world has really managed to do, but these two pieces allow anybody without any knowledge of what to do or how to do it to actually stretch properly and well.

A line of equipment specifically for the home is currently sold in Italy and other European countries, but in the United States, the company has focused on the commercial venues, although some of that equipment works well for high-end home users also. The company started to introduce the home line in Asia last year and will eventually reach in the U.S. market with it also. Already the U.S. website has a segment dedicated to home use of equipment, showcasing for example the Kinesis piece on an office wall.

Now, the company looks ahead to the grand opening of its new Technogym Village, estimated to be ready in spring 2009. The company will likely invite Italian dignitaries as well as the Gambettola community, plus hold a conference on wellness, SNEWS® was told on its visit there last year.

"Our ultimate goal is to design a house," Manaresi said about the company's goal to make fitness and the equipment a beautiful part of every home. "Yes, we also do fitness but that's what everybody does. It's the bread and butter. But our ultimate goal is to go beyond that.

"The fitness trade shows talk to a very small audience, and the world is much broader," he said. "We want to talk to the world."

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