Based in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, BodyPlus International sells various brands of supplements and fitness products – its main business consisting of two private brands, HALEO and BulkSports. Additionally, the company operates two retail stores in Sendai and Tokyo and CrossFit gym in Daikanyama, Tokyo.
BodyPlus was established by Canadian David Halton. Japan Today hears more about the business.
Tell us your background.
I grew up in Calgary, Canada. My mother is Japanese, so I had spent several summer holidays in her hometown, Nara growing up. When I was 14, I saw Tokyo for the first time, Marunouchi to be exact. The huge office buildings, nice restaurants, beautiful women - everything that Calgary did not have. From that day I knew I wanted to have an office in one of those buildings and take some fine women to fancy restaurants.
Why are you based in Sendai?
I was always bad with authority and probably had too much energy for my own good so I was kicked out of my high school in my last year. Then I moved to Vancouver to get my diploma and at the same time started taking college classes I thought would help me in building my own business. I was sitting in Accounting, Entrepreneurship and Business Law Classes for about a week before I decided I did not want to be there for four plus years. I wanted to get out and do it. At that time, my sister was in Sendai, teaching English, so I thought it was a perfect time for me to start my life in Japanese business. That is what brought me to Sendai at age 19 and it has been home ever since.
What does the BodyPlus International do?
Our core business is producing sports supplements. We sell various brands of supplements and fitness products but our main business consists of our two private brands, HALEO and BulkSports. Additionally we operate two retail stores in Sendai and Tokyo and a CrossFit gym in Daikanyama, Tokyo.
Do you own the company?
Yes, my wife and I are shareholders. For some reason I am often asked if my father started the company or if I license the HALEO brand for Japan. I take it as a compliment.
How do you sell the supplements?
The large majority of our business consists of online sales direct to our end users. You can also find our HALEO brand at higher end, specialty sports stores and gyms across the country.
Are there cultural differences in the way supplements are viewed in Japan compared with the U.S.?
In the U.S., people are generally more aware of the benefits of taking in quality protein, low carb diets, etc. You see high protein snacks and drinks in supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations. In Japan, only athletes and dieting women look at protein intake in their diets and the general public view supplements as something used only by athletes.
Another major difference is that Japanese people in general place greater value on quality, safety and taste with foods and supplements compared to Western cultures. In North America and other countries, I think it takes more time to explain the quality differences and the associated costs.
Is it difficult or time-consuming getting Japanese government approval to sell supplements in Japan?
Through experience, I have found that it isn't worth the effort to import finished food products into Japan. One of the turning points for BodyPlus but was life-threatening at the time was when Japanese customs suddenly changed the tariff code on our main imported protein product. It went from marginally profitable to the landed cost being 25% more than our retail price for the product. I was very lucky (and still am) to have some great mentors in Japan who gave me a chance and produced products for me domestically.
These products made our brands, HALEO and BulkSports. Now that we generally purchase raw materials that are available in Japan, the suppliers go through all of the regulatory work which makes our lives much easier.
How do you market CrossFit and your supplement business? Do you advertise, use social media or rely mainly on word of mouth?
For many years, we had bare bones advertising and could see how powerful word of mouth is. Actually, the first time we started advertising and sponsoring professional sports teams was when we were profitable enough to need to reduce tax payments and advertising is the logical move. Now, social media is very effective and free but being in Tokyo and because CrossFit is new to Japan, we have been featured in all of the major publications and quite a few TV spots.
Tell us about the CrossFit gym. What makes it different from other gyms?
The major difference between a CrossFit "Box" (what CrossFitters call a gym) and a regular gym is the atmosphere and social aspect. You can go to a gym for years and never know the names of five people there. That is not possible at CrossFit. People greet each other, work out in pairs and groups, compete against each other and then compete together as a team.
I didn't get it either until I saw first hand the incredible community that developed in the six months we have been open at HALEO CrossFit Daikanyama. We have a very international community made up CEOs, housewives, students, professional athletes, IT guys, you name it. Extremely diverse but the one common denominator is everyone is so motivated to improve. We cheer and encourage each other to reach a higher level.
Also, you will not find rows and rows of machines at our box. All exercises are functional and challenging, making it fun. Using whole body movements with intensity and intervals, you burn more calories over time and build your core and other muscles that are not worked when using machines. As a long time machine user, I was skeptical at first but since training in this way, I donated all of my machines in my Sendai gym to our local university.
How qualified are the trainers?
Our trainers are topnotch, every one is a certified CrossFit trainer. Our team spends much of their time learning, improving their skills and creating the best programs for our members. I'm blown away by their passion for what they do.
How has business been since it opened? What percent of customers are Japanese?
HALEO CrossFit Daikanyama is also our HALEO Flagship store, so although it took some months to get CrossFit members, we had customers coming to buy our supplements and learn more about our brands from day one. We also have one of the only protein bars in the country where you can try out a large variety of proteins, amino acids and other ergogenic nutrients, blended as you like.
About 50% of our members are Japanese and the rest are from all over the globe. Our trainers are made up of a similar mix.
Are you planning to open more gyms?
With CrossFit, there is a maximum amount of people you can have in one class before the quality drops. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are almost maxed out and may need to start turning people away. Currently we are scouting future locations throughout Tokyo, Osaka and Sendai.
What is a typical day for you?
I wake up around 7 a.m., drink a BigWhey shake and if I train in the morning (I train either in the morning from 8:30 a.m. or in the evening after work), I will take some HALEO Ignite fat burner. I take my kids to school and then check and get started on my emails. As the day is just winding down in the U.S., sometimes I will chat with our GM in San Diego for 10 minutes. My business day in Japan starts around 10 a.m. and I spend most of my time between Sendai and Tokyo these days. Even though I don't have a typical day anymore because I find myself in different places with different people every day, I do have a few rituals that I follow daily, no matter where I am:
I try and do three things that will bring new business to our company. I always feel I need to sell to earn my salary.
I probably spend 5 hours or more on my computer, doing 50-100 emails per day. I check in with my team who are overseeing daily operations and various projects.
I try and look at what our customers are ordering and what they are saying, what they want, what they don't want and try to personally reply as much as possible. Through our various media outlets, I try to communicate as much as possible with our end users.
- I will train once a day, about 5 times per week, either before or after work. I have found exercise to be my form of meditation. It is the only time in my day that I can focus on one simple thing, such as lifting a weight. No matter how tired I am before I start, it feels great to complete training as the endorphins and hormones produced are critical for a positive mental state.
- If I am at home, I read for at least 30 minutes at night, or until I fall asleep, about business leaders and success stories. If I am away from home, I am usually enjoying great food with colleagues and business partners until late at night.