executive impact

Life Fitness Japan

By Chris Betros

Anyone who works out at a fitness club in Japan is probably using state-of-the art equipment from American company Life Fitness Japan. A subsidiary of Brunswick Co, Life Fitness has had a presence in the Japanese market since 1984 when its fitness machines were imported by Sony Enterprise. The company became a K.K. in 1999.

Heading up the Japan operations is Paul Shippee. Originally from Maine, Shippee worked in Japan in the insurance business before joining Life Fitness as general manager for Japan in 2003.

Shippee speaks enthusiastically about the latest innovations in cardio equipment and trends in Japan. Last month, Life Fitness Japan launched the Discover SE and Discover SI consoles that integrate with the newest Life Fitness cloud-based technology, LFconnect. This new cardio line, in conjunction with the LFconnect website, allows end users to personalize their workout experience and helps fitness facilities customize the content available on the equipment with asset management tools.

Discover, the third generation of Life Fitness’ touch-screen technology, is the most user-friendly and intuitive yet. The surface capacitive touch screen with Swipe Technology gives exercisers easy access to their personal iPhone, iPod or Android smartphone content, Lifescape interactive courses, open-Internet browsing, and On-Demand videos.

Japan Today catches up with Shippee to hear more.

What is Life Fitness’ history in Japan?

Life Fitness has been in Japan since 1984. We used a distributor back then, Sony Enterprise. They were looking for gaps in their product line and they chose fitness equipment. That was when fitness was taking off in the 1980s, you know with Olivia Newton-John singing “Let’s Get Physical.”

The market in Japan has always been slow to grow. Our typical buying cycle is 5-7 years because you can run one of our treadmills for five years straight, 40,000 kms and not have to change a thing on it. We had a bit of a growth spurt in the mid-2000s. This year has been a challenging year, but we are doing OK and we are diversifying along with the market.

How did the disaster last year affect business?

Some of our biggest customers, such as Konami Sports and Central Sports, had facilities in the affected regions that were damaged and in lieu of the money they were reserving for possible expansion, they had to fix up those clubs first. So that did affect us.

Who are your main customers?

Most of the major commercial fitness clubs, the majority of 5-star hotels, the Tokyo American Club and we are big on U.S. bases in Japan. Universities are very big for us, too. Besides Tokyo, we have offices in Osaka and Kyushu. We can cover the country because the head offices of fitness clubs, which are located in Tokyo, will work with us when they expand in other cities.

Do you sell equipment for home use in Japan?

Some but not as much as in other countries. There are voltage, service and pricing issues, as well as the size of homes to consider.

What is your best-selling machine?

Definitely treadmills are our best seller. For example, if you go to JEXER Sports Club at Ueno Station, they have about 45 running machines. That is huge. Even in the biggest club in America, there might be 30-40, so we are seeing increasing popularity in Japan.

What about languages?

Our commercial equipment comes in 16 languages. Some of our clients, which have English, Korean and Chinese-speaking communities, love our treadmills.

Also, some customers want an easy-to-read LCD to let them know how fast they are going, for how long, in kanji, not kana. All the other makers use kana or an English alphabet. We are the first and only one to use kanji in the LCD. We have done it for Russia, Japan and the Arab countries.

What other trends are we seeing?

We’ve gone way beyond the days when you would just walk up to a machine and hit QuickStart – even though many still do it. The trend now is to be able to use television, the Internet, your iPhone, Android phone -- everything is open.

We just launched our new console. It’s high-definition, Internet-connected. It works for iPhone and Android, and we are the only maker that uses both. It’s very exciting. The new consoles are also API (application programming interface) open to third-party app developers. Establishing a link between an exerciser’s digital life and the workout experience, LFopen provides developers access to future Life Fitness equipment software technology and the ability to customize apps leveraging workout presets, workout results, real time monitoring and more.

We have virtual reality landscapes. For example, you can get on the treadmill and jog in the German Black Forest or along the beach in New Zealand plus many more. And it is interactive, so the faster you go, the faster the frame rate is on the image.

How is the new tech being received in Japan?

Japanese are very tech-savvy. IT is entering everyone’s lives. Once they find out that they can go to the gym and use Facebook or Twitter, watch movies and be entertained while they are working out, they love it.

How popular are fitness clubs in Japan?

Market research shows that only about 3% of the population is a member of a fitness club, as compared to New Zealand which has membership rates of 14-16%, America and Australia at 10-12%, and the UK at 12%. We are seeing more 24-hour clubs open, more women-only clubs, personal trainers, among other trends.

How do you market the company?

We are at the health and fitness trade show in Japan in June every year. We also travel with customers to America for major trade shows there. We do some advertising in Japanese print media, but we believe the best way to market are products is through direct customer interaction., face-to-face.

Do you visit your clients much?

Half a day every day I am out visiting clients. The thing that gives me the most satisfaction is when we open a new club, seeing the smile on customers who have been waiting for weeks for the club to open.

How often do you work out?

I try to do something every day, whether it is on the exercise bike or running. I apply every year to run in the Tokyo Marathon and I have done 7 Ironmans in Australia, New Zealand, Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan and America. I’m pleased to say that I finished them all.

© Japan Today

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Tokyo needs more 24-hour gyms!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Tokyo needs more affordable gyms! No wonder nobody goes - they cant afford it! The one near my place has an unbelievable 52,500yen joining fee... Then 12,000yen per month.

Luckily the city offers a low-key training room which has some weight training equipment, for a princely 200yen a visit.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Tokyo needs more affordable gyms! No wonder nobody goes - they cant afford it! The one near my place has an unbelievable 52,500yen joining fee... Then 12,000yen per month.

That's true! In Greece, one year subscription in the local gym was just 100 euros, the same amount that you have to pay in Japan's gyms monthly...

Of course, it is always the supply and demand law...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I gave up on private gyms a while back. It's not so much the cost, but the harsh terms of the contracts, that enforce things like "contract fees" (I pay them 10,000 yen for them to allow me to sign their contract. I mean WTF?!?) don't allow drop-in systems, don't open til 10 a.m., and all the petty rules that belong in an elementary school ("Please speak quietly," read one of the many signs at a Tipness, right beside their aerobics studio, with its 1,000 watt deafening sound system.)

I was basically paying them for them to boss me around. So I bought a bench and dumbbells for 10,000 yen and am getting the best workout of my life.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

There are exceptions to the expesive gyms. The one I'm a member of is Planet Fitness and they charge me a whopping $10/month for unlimited use of their apparatus. Of course, none of the treadmills are connected to the internet or my cellphone. Also, if I had wanted to use the tanning booths or the masseuses, that would have been $19/month for everything.

It seems to me that someone in Japan should be able to do that as well.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


0 ( +0 / -0 )

Most countries offer cheap gyms/memberships. We are talking about Japan here though; in Tokyo at least nobody has room to have a home-gym setup, so gyms have the monopoly on that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Try the public gyms if you're economizing. Much cheaper and no ridiculous membership conditions.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The gyms are not cheap and if you just wanna do your own workout with some weights it doesn,t pay to join - but for most of the full on fitness clubs the 10,000 to 12,000 yen per month include a number of classes you can enter at any time -anything from aerobics to yoga to martial etc...plus swimming pool use...Where I come from these would often be additional extras on top of your basic monthly fee...So i think if you make use of the instructor led classes -the value is not that bad. Also most gyms have a number of "campaigns" per year where you don,t pay joining fees...I know at mine almost everyone joined during one of these.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Clubs are a joke here. No spinning, no bands, no kettlebells... Buy your own and work out at home.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@marcelito: Yeah but there are a lot of people who dont care for those courses and ONLY want to work out. But of course they don't have that kind of system.

The gym I go to is luckily not so expensive, and I can train whenever I want, but I went to a different branch of the same gym and I couldnt enter because I wasnt a gold member. WTF, some of the rules don't make any sense.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No spinning, no bands, no kettlebells... Buy your own and work out at home.

tmarie, i can do without even those silly fads. It's all a gimmick to get you to buy the next best thing. All you need is your own body to get a great workout.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm with my local Renaissance sports club. Very reasonable rates. However, I really wish they were open MUCH earlier than 10 a.m.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sour, they might be fads but if they get people up and moving and enjoying the gym, shouldn't this be the market they cater to? They lost me with nothing but boring classes that are the same time after time. I invested in things for home and they're the ones losing out, not me.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

And yes, the times here... 10 open and 10 close? Yes, great for the average man or woman who works.... No concept of catering to needs here. Except Gold's which is very expensive and is usually for juice heads.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Tokyo, schmokyo! For those of us who live in inaka...I pay 2250/month for a tiny room with one universal machine and three treadmills. The hours are not as convenient as a city gym (10 - 12:30; 1:30 - 9), but I make due. Also houses an "Olympic" size pool which I use 1x/week for an xtra 520 yen. I miss gyms back home (The U.S. for me), open 24h (or at least 6 a.m. - 11 p.m.), affordable, with machines and free weights galore. When I tell people that I would get a swim in at 6 a.m. before work, they don't believe me. AND, my membership back home was subsidized by my employer to promote healthy living. So, I only paid UD$10/month! (Planet Fitness)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I belonged to a Gym in Rural shikoku for almost 2 years and let me tell you it aint worth the 10000 yen joining fee plus 7000 yen per month fee closed on fridays .... I went day time only cannot go public holidays and sundays, SO many ojiys and abasans I was the youngest by 30 yrs and i,m in my 30,s what put me off was how they hog the gym equipment and in between sets they chat amongst themselves sometimes using that particular machine for 10 mins, and then there,s the pool 5 lanes 25m but 3 lanes are for aqua aerobics 36 ogisans and obasans rippling the water to the sound of Olivia newton John ( lets get physical) that leaves only 2 lanes for swimming and usually there are between 5 and 6 swimmers per lane... I cancelled my membership this August and have been doing my own routine since then... In a nutshell the gyms have to offer what your paying, and that,s not the case from my experience...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I get my workouts through Aikido and Judo, affordable training through martial arts!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not sure what they mean by machines- running treadmills, if that's your thing, fine, but machine weight lifting is not good for you and doesn't increase strength. STICK WITH FREE WEIGHTS. If you're going to spend that money and your time doing it, find out what it is you're doing and what IT is doing to your body. (Read Mark Rippetoe's books, others).

For those complaining about the price of gyms, a 20 kilo bag of sand costs 235 Yen. get a couple and put them in your backpack and do squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, walking, etc. Make your own exercises, careful of natural body mvmnt so you don't get injured. If you want something not so unwieldy, pay more than 235 yen, but less than one yrs membership at a gym and get a free weight barbell system or kettle bells. I prefer these methods to going to the gym.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

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