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Racing away with success

Fitness company F1 Recreation's revenue has grown by 16 times in nine years.

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Mr Tan says the company is aware that customers are too busy to do research on hundreds of brands and browse through thousands of products so it does the work for them and offers a curated selection which meets their needs.

WALK down East Coast Park any weekend and chances are you will spot someone every 10 metres doing some form of exercise. Whether it is a bunch of teenagers rollerblading or couples jogging, a rising number of Singaporeans have jumped on the fitness bandwagon.

This surge of interest in becoming healthy is one big reason why sports company F1 Recreation Fitness Management has grown by leaps and bounds since it first set up shop in 2007. Back then, the company had just two people sitting in a cramped room of just 200 sq ft. They took just two to three orders a week, hoping for better days ahead.

"When we first started in 2007, we operated out of a 200 square foot room - I wouldn't even call it a warehouse - and had only two to three orders a week," said F1 Recreation chief executive officer Tan Tse Yong.

Since then, its revenues have multiplied 16 times to hit S$10 million last year. It also employs 15 people now and is looking to move to a 20,000 sq ft space next month.

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PRODUCT SELECTION

The immense success of the company also meant that it found itself ranked among the top 1,000 small and medium enterprises in Singapore in terms of sales - an achievement it proudly displays on its website.

F1 has an e-commerce business called Fitlion that focuses on providing health and fitness supplements and foods as well as sports gear and apparel. "We believe that even in fast-paced and time-starved Singapore, it shouldn't be a chore to get convenient access to products and facilities that help us maintain our health and fitness," said Mr Tan.

Its mode of e-commerce is not one modelled after giant online hypermart, Amazon, which provides nearly everything under the sun. Instead F1 chooses to be more deliberate about the types of products it sells.

"Rather than simply offering every brand and product there is in the market and competing on price alone, we are meticulous in our product selection and offer only the best in class in terms of good value-for-money," said Mr Tan.

Its selection of products also cater to the time-starved Singaporean, a factor the company constantly keeps in its sights.

"We are conscious that customers are too busy to do research on hundreds of brands and browse through thousands of products so we do the work for them and offer a curated selection which meets their needs," said Mr Tan, adding that the company guarantees next-day delivery of orders placed.

F1 also has Gymm Boxx under its group, a chain of neighbourhood gyms aimed at the local heartlander looking to build his or her fitness. The company's new expanded premises will house both Fitlion and Gymm Boxx under one roof. Among other things, the new office will have a small gym, a lounge and massage chair to help the team bond and maybe even get fit, said Mr Tan.

Taking on new and bigger premises is a clear sign of confidence and there is no doubt that the company believes the industry will continue to grow. In fact, the magic formula for the company seems to be combining Singaporeans' rush for time with the desire to stay healthy.

"There is definitely a very bright future for our industry. Everyone is more fitness and health conscious but also getting busier," said Mr Tan. The company has an active customer base of 60,000, a goal achieved last year, and is continuing to add some 1,500 customers every month.

F1 is also eyeing expansion in the region. Currently it has a presence in Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan but is now reviewing and consolidating these overseas operations with a view to expand further.

"We are targeting to expand in a structured way into these markets plus other South-east Asian markets such as Vietnam and Thailand," he added.

The company does face challenges in the current environment, listing the lack of manpower as the top concern.

"Rising manpower, rental and transport costs are the biggest challenges. We need to have inventory space, manpower and delivery fleet to ensure that every order is accurately fulfilled and on time, every time," he said.

"It can also be a challenge to hire people, as it is not exactly glamorous to work in a warehouse, but thankfully, we have a very committed team and staff attrition is not major for us," he said.

STAYING AHEAD

The company copes with this by paying close attention to technology and incorporating new automation that can help keep its operations running smoothly. The group has a chief technology officer whose job is to look at new technology and trends to keep the company ahead of its competitors.

Last year, it invested in an automated pick-and-pack warehouse management system, with the help of Spring Singapore, that helped boost productivity tremendously. The new system allows the company to fulfil four times more orders with the same number of staff.

"Innovation and productivity are very important, even more so because we are an online e-store. Customers expect these as a standard," said Mr Tan. And even though the company has soared over the past nine years, he refuses to be swept away by the euphoria of success. Instead, he tells himself every day to keep his ego out of the business.

Said Mr Tan: "My personal mantra is: 'Do things to prepare for the future, not the present. Stay humble and keep improving every single day'."

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