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Making millions via fitness
November 27, 2004
When Raman Sood started trading in fitness equipment over a decade ago, the industry was still an underdeveloped one in India.
Sood rode the tide and today his company Grand Slam has a turnover of Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million), with a growth of 50 per cent slated for the next year.
No business connection
I'm not from a business family, which is one reason I feel a strong sense of satisfaction about having started and achieved something on my own. My father had a job with the Haryana government. I completed my graduation from Kurukshetra University and then came to Delhi for my MBA.
I got a job with the circulation department of The Times of India. It was a very good job in its way -- in fact, I got promoted three times during my three-year stint -- but I kept asking myself: What next? I wanted the experience of starting a business of my own, of being responsible for myself.
So I took a bit of a risk by leaving the newspaper and getting into the manufacturing business.
With a very small investment -- there was no option, I didn't have a rich businessman father to back me -- I got into the business of manufacturing brass hardware for export; I later switched to brass furniture.
Honestly, it was a major struggle and I never really got off the ground, but even with this failure I gained valuable experience in running a business. That helped me subsequently.
Around 13 years ago, I incorporated Grand Slam, a business for trading and retailing in toys and sports goods. Around this time I also got in touch with someone representing the US-based fitness company Icon, which was looking for someone to distribute its products in India.
I saw promise in the fitness industry, which was so big abroad but had yet to take off in India. I moved the toys and sports goods to another showroom nearby and kept the original showroom exclusively for fitness equipment.
Why is fitness big?
This business has grown on the fitness boom. In recent years, middle- and upper-class lifestyles have changed in small but significant ways; for instance, earlier, one used to walk to the local marketplace, now one drives to the malls.
So people are now feeling the need to set aside a time for dedicated exercising.
Even our role models have become leaner and tougher -- when I was a child, someone like the portly Raj Kapoor could be considered hero material!
And of course, the foreign media has had a huge influence -- without them, our turnover would probably be 50 per cent of what it is.
We have 15 stores across India and are opening another five next month. A further 10 will be added next year; besides the major towns, I am looking at smaller places like Vijayawada as well.
People ask whether such places are ready for sophisticated fitness equipment, but I think of it as a pre-emptive strike. After all, 10 years ago, Delhi was no different.
We have gone from selling one treadmill in three months to selling five motorised treadmills a day.
Around 60 per cent of our clients are walk-in customers, but we also have institutions and gyms approaching us for equipment.
Further, we have done some work with corporate offices to help with their gym installation. We have tie-ups with fitness brands like Johnson and Reebok.
The personal touch
To be honest, I'm not much of a fitness freak myself. I love jogging and occasionally do treadmill and light-weight workouts -- but I'm addicted to eating as well, so it cancels out.
But if it helps, I don't spend too much time just sitting down: I still try to interact with customers as much as possible when I see them looking at the equipment. In fact, sometimes my staff has to tell me to take it easy and leave the explaining to them!
- As told to Jai Arjun Singh