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Doing some heavy lifting

SINGAPORE — In 2006, fitness equipment company Dynaforce was facing a crisis. After switching from distributing various American and Taiwanese brands to becoming the sole distributor for high-end Italian brand Technogym, a group of employees left to set up a rival outfit.

Ms Sun was tasked with reviving Dynaforce after a group of employees left to set up a rival outfit. Photo: Dynaforce

Ms Sun was tasked with reviving Dynaforce after a group of employees left to set up a rival outfit. Photo: Dynaforce

SINGAPORE — In 2006, fitness equipment company Dynaforce was facing a crisis. After switching from distributing various American and Taiwanese brands to becoming the sole distributor for high-end Italian brand Technogym, a group of employees left to set up a rival outfit.

To deal with the situation, the company’s founder and Chairman Jimmie Lee asked his wife Annie Sun, who was working for the company as a gym designer, to take up the reins as Chief Executive.

“These were the people we had trusted and were the core group in the company. When they left en masse, it created a huge void that needed to be filled quickly. My husband asked me to take over the role of CEO to turn around the company,” said Shanghai-born Ms Sun, 44.

“The market was rife with rumours that our company would have to throw in the towel within six months, since all the key staff had left,” she added.

With her experience in wellness — she had helped launch spas and fitness clubs for Crown Casino in Melbourne as well as the W Hotel in Seoul — rather than fitness equipment, she had to learn the ropes quickly. Coupled with the added responsibilities of running an entire company — from overseeing sales, accounting and human resource issues — the task of reviving the company required some heavy lifting.

Her first key task was to build a new team and establish her credibility within the organisation. “Here was a lady who had little or no exposure to the main players in the business of distributing fitness equipment. But I am a fast learner,” she said.

She started by interviewing each of her remaining employees to determine if they could be counted on to stay to help rebuild the firm. To her relief, many of them were more than up to the task. Some even surprised her with how they blossomed in the face of crisis.

“We had an accounting clerk who was not computer literate. She was the only one left in our accounting department. Before the crisis, when we asked her to learn how to use a computer, she said she would rather quit. But after the crisis, she took it upon herself to master the computer and is now head of our accounting department,” recalled Ms Sun.

Even as the rebuilding process was going on, the company expanded its operations to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, as its distribution deal with Technogym gave it a larger territory beyond just Singapore. Ms Sun focused on Singapore, while her husband built the foreign operations.

Meanwhile, early worries that she would not be able to relate to the predominantly-male clientele proved to be unfounded.

“Before, when we were selling mass-market fitness equipment, the buyers were mainly trainers and bodybuilders. I would have had a tougher time relating to them. But with the exclusive designer fitness equipment from Technogym, the buyers were more high-net-worth individuals, hotel owners and property developers,” she explained.

She was most at ease with these groups of customers and was able to develop a network of clients in this region. Sales have more than doubled to S$15 million this year from S$6 million in 2006.

“The business of selling fitness equipment is dominated by men. So, I found it a nice challenge to break into this rather tightly-knit community.

“I believe that men and women are both blessed with wisdom when it comes to doing business, but women are more discerning. We have that extra sense to tell right from wrong. Some call it the sixth sense, I call it the gift of discernment.”

Apart from hotels, high-end residences and fitness clubs, she has also introduced Dynaforce’s fitness solutions to community centres and government agencies. For instance, she worked with the National Healthcare Group to install Singapore’s first gym in a polyclinic at Woodlands and was also involved in setting up the first Active Ageing gym in Punggol South in collaboration with NTUC Eldercare.

In 2010, Ms Sun chose to expand into the spa business to diversify away from fitness equipment. The company started distributing a high-tech spa system from Italy known as Starpool.

The system does away with masseuses and therapists and allows users to move between steam room, sauna, relaxation rooms and other spa facilities at their own leisure. Ms Sun estimates that with this new offering, the company’s revenue will top S$20 million in the next few years as it expands to more countries in Asia.

“It may not replace the traditional spa, but it can definitely complement it,” she said.

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