Osim’s Massage Chairs Link IPhones to Woo Buyers: Southeast Asia

Osim International CEO Ron Sim
Ron Sim, chairman and chief executive officer of Osim International Ltd. Source: Osim International Ltd. via Bloomberg

Osim International Ltd., Asia’s biggest maker of massage chairs, is turning to Apple Inc.’s iPhone to help boost sales to younger buyers.

The app will allow users of its latest uDivine App chairs, costing S$5,588 ($4,484) each, to download new massage programs that cater to individual needs, Ron Sim, chief executive officer of the Singapore-based company, said in an interview. More massage sequences, such as those for tennis or golf players, may be rolled out and downloaded to existing chairs, he said.

“That means the programs in the future will be infinite,” Sim, 53, said yesterday in Singapore. “This business is about well-being and we need to continue to innovate products to innovate demand.”

Osim, whose products range from massage chairs and neck pillows to health supplements and teas in 26 countries, is banking on new technologies to boost sales in the key markets of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. The iPhone strategy is crucial as Osim expands sales of its mainstay massage chairs to customers in their 20s and 30s, Sim said.

The iPhone feature, which connects wirelessly to the chair through Bluetooth, also works on the iPad. A similar product may eventually be added for phones using other mobile technologies such as Android, said Sim, who founded the company more than three decades ago.

“It’s part of their constant drive to innovate products,” said James Koh, a Singapore-based analyst at Maybank Kim Eng Holdings, who rates the stock outperform. “For people who have not bought a uDivine chair, that is possibly a very good reason to buy one now.”

Buy Rating

All nine analysts who track Osim recommend buying the stock, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Osim rose 0.8 percent to S$1.26 at the close in Singapore, the highest in almost three months. The shares have gained 9.1 percent this year, lagging behind the 15 percent advance for Singapore’s benchmark Straits Times Index.

Osim’s massage chairs, which start at S$2,000, make up 50 percent of its sales and that proportion may rise to 60 percent in three to five years, said Sim, who was named Best CEO for the mid-cap category at the Singapore Corporate Awards last month. To tap younger buyers, Osim is also offering installment plans.

“A two-hour spa session costs more than an installment,” Sim said. “A chair is 24-7.”

Osim last week reported second-quarter profit climbed 20 percent to S$22.5 million, while sales increased 12 percent to S$155 million.

Innovating Products

“Eventually the strategy for them is to slowly phase out the older chairs,” said Brandon Ng, a Singapore-based analyst at UOB Kay Hian, who has a buy rating. “This is just another strategy for them to introduce new products,” and the higher price will improve the company’s margins, he said.

The company is expanding as its biggest markets face slowing growth. China’s manufacturing teetered on the edge of contraction in July while Singapore’s economy unexpectedly shrank last quarter, adding to signs of a deepening slowdown in Asian growth as Europe’s debt crisis curbs demand for the region’s goods.

Osim operates GNC Holdings Inc. stores in Asia-Pacific markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Australia, and also has a stake in TWG Tea Co., a Singapore-based high-end tea retailer. The company, which owns the Brookstone Inc. retail chain in the U.S., expects Asia to drive its growth. Osim expects to list Merrimack, New Hampshire-based Brookstone within three years, Sim said.

Possible Acquisitions

With S$196 million in cash and no debt, Osim is also seeking acquisitions that can expand its lifestyle and well-being business and in which it can gain control, the CEO said.

“As long as the market is uncertain, we have a better bargaining power,” he said. Osim isn’t planning to seek financing for acquisitions because “we are looking for companies with growth potential,” Sim said.

The outlook for sales remains positive because of a low penetration rate for massage chairs in its key markets, said Sim, who has seven of these products at home, including four in his karaoke room.

About 5 percent of households in Singapore and Hong Kong own massage chairs, he said, compared with 30 percent in Japan. Osim, which has the biggest market share in the two cities, expects the penetration rate for these markets to reach the level in Japan within 10 years, he said.

In China, less than 1 percent of the households in the cities it operates in own massage chairs, he said.

“That’s where the real growth is,” Sim said. “There’s still a lot of upside.”

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