Thirty-one years ago, when then 34-year-old Peter Lo (羅崑泉) accepted his first order to produce barbells for US-based client Ivanko, he could have hardly thought that it would later pave the way for a world-class fitness equipment empire.
It was a US$400 order for 400 pieces of barbells, and the company demanded Lo charge only NT$15 (US$0.50) per kilogram, half of the price in the US.
The order did not come very easily.
He and his wife had handwritten letters to more than 1,000 US companies, inviting them to work together in any form of business.
Lo, who was born to a poor farming family and sold fluorescent lamps on the side of the street in earlier days, had no idea what a barbell was, but he jumped at the chance because it was his first business opportunity in six months after quitting his two-year job with customs.
"I didn't have anything at that time but a body full of energy, which was my biggest capital," said Lo during a media tour on Aug. 22.
In that year, Lo established Johnson Metal Industry (
The company's name was later changed to Johnson Health Tech Co (JHT,
The partnership with Ivanko made JHT the world's largest barbell original equipment manufacturer in three years.
The early days of JHT were not a bed of roses. Lo only had his wife and a partner on board and started everything from scratch, but the desire to leave behind his cash-strapped plight saw him gradually expand the business.
He began recruiting research and development (R&D) staff in 1980 to design cardiovascular fitness products for leading brands such as Ross, Universal, Tunturi and Schwinn.
After carrying out original design manufacturing for another 15 years, Lo realized that the time was ripe to venture into the own-brand business to take the company, of which he is chairman, onto the world stage.
This ambition gave birth to the company's first brand, Vision Fitness, in 1996, with North America the first target market for fitness equipment.
Three years after that, the brand Horizon Fitness was launched for the home user market, and "Matrix Fitness" followed two years after that for the commercial market, including fitness companies, clubs, hotels and corporations.
With a solid foundation in North America, JHT planned to replicate its success in Taiwan in 2003 by opening retail stores to sell Johnson-branded equipment.
The company was listed in Taiwan the same year.
"North America is the largest fitness market; it adopted the fitness concept very early. The Asian markets, especially China and Southeast Asia, have been gaining momentum in recent years," Lo said.
The global fitness equipment industry is valued at US$6 billion a year, with North America accounting for US$4 billion of that figure and growing at 4 percent a year, according to William Poon (潘炳志), JHT's sales and marketing manager.
Other regions, including Asia, are expected to grow at 7 percent a year, he said.
With aggressive expansion, JHT has become the world's No. 5 fitness equipment firm, behind major US rivals Icon Health & Fitness Inc, Nautilus Inc, Life Fitness and Precor Inc.
Over the past five years, JHT has been seeing in excess of 30 percent revenue growth annually. It has become an empire of 21 global subsidiaries, two factories and more than 6,500 staff.