A Superior Treatment Table

Athlegen

Athlegen is a market leader in the design, manufacture, and distribution of massage and treatment equipment. The company’s story begins in the 1980s, when running enthusiast Jeff Toering and triathlete Rick Schmidt took a massage class in Adelaide…

The two friends were serving in the Royal Australian Air Force and were “heavily into sport. We did a massage course because we were always injured,” Mr Schmidt laughs. This seemingly insignificant decision led the young entrepreneurs to risk everything and launch a new business. “We thought the tables [in the class] weren’t very good,” Mr Schmidt recalls. “We thought we could do better. So we built a few and went from there.”

Using the skills that Mr Schmidt had acquired as an instrument and calibration technician in the air force, the ambitious friends began manufacturing a stronger, more durable, and easier to fold portable table. Practitioners appreciated how easy these innovative tables were to use, and the new product quickly gained a following. “Basically, they were easier to set up,” Mr Schmidt explains. They were also available in an electric version. “We took what was traditionally a physiotherapy or chiropractic table and adapted it to the massage market. We were probably the first serious players to hit that natural therapies market with an electric table.”

The team also had impeccable timing. “It was in the late eighties, early nineties when the economy crashed here, so a lot of people got put off from work. People were looking for something to do and massage at that time had become the new thing. People went into it. It was a growth industry. That was just good luck more than anything.”

Athlegen quickly rocketed past its competitors, and today, the company’s massage and treatment equipment is used in 35 countries around the world. Top selling items include a portable massage table and chair range used by massage therapists, as well as an electric motorised product range used by doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage and beauty therapists.

Several key factors have contributed to the company’s continuing success. The first, of course, is quality. “Quality wise, our tables are a cut above the pack,” Mr Schmidt insists. “It’s just the way they are built.” The team manufactures all of its products in its own manufacturing facility in Ballarat, Victoria. Owning and operating a state of the art factory allows Athlegen to not only manufacture products, but to also create and develop them.

The company’s full production capability also gives it the control it needs to ensure that each and every table that it produces will meet the highest standards. Utilising leading edge technology throughout the production process helps to maintain this superior level of quality. For instance, the company was one of the first to replace hand welding with robotic welding to increase precision on the assembly line. The company also uses high quality parts, which naturally help to create a high quality product. For example, Athlegen uses the most powerful motors in the industry, so its electric tables move up and down much faster than the industry standard.

Of course, higher quality does come at a higher price. Lower prices may attract consumers initially, Athlegen Product Manager Guy Princi admits, but these buyers often regret the lower quality that comes with that lower price tag, he adds. As a result, many consumers have come to realise that the extra cost is well worth the return. “They see the value in buying something that is going to last a long time and is a pleasure to use rather than having to replace something every three to four years. It is good value in the long run. They are actually going to save money by buying a quality product, even though it is going to cost a bit more today.”

Athlegen’s ability to customise orders has also contributed to its success. Because the company manufactures its own product, the team is able to create a table specially tailored to meet a customer’s needs. This is in sharp contrast to most of the competition, which imports containers full of identical product. “With many of the imported tables,” Mr Princi explains, “you don’t have the same level of flexibility or choice.” In fact, it is this ability to customise that truly sets the company apart. “Other companies are really only offering one type of solution. That doesn’t really work for our industry.”

Of course, customisation will add to the cost, but the investment is well worth it to most practitioners, Mr Princi says. “Our tables might last 20 years, so in the scheme of things, paying a little more for something [to get it] exactly the way you want it is not a big deal,” he explains. Customising product has also been one of the secrets behind Athlegen’s ability to successfully manufacture in Australia. “Because we are able to offer people a high level of customisation, we are still relevant,” Mr Princi explains.

Providing top notch service has also been foundational to Athlegen’s success. “We service what we sell Australia-wide,” Mr Schmidt reports. “We offer quick response times on service.” Consumers who choose a competing table are unlikely to get this same level of service, Mr Princi adds. “Parts for overseas tables can be hard to source,” he points out. As a result, imported tables can quickly become obsolete. Athlegen, on the other hand, is able to service any of its products. “We still service our tables Australia-wide no matter how old they are. People really appreciate it – and they are really surprised sometimes too.” This commitment to service also drives the team to offer a shortened supply time. In fact, it is Athlegen’s impressive supply time that has won the company many international contracts in the past.

Athlegen has earned an enviable reputation for its quality products and top notch service. “Because we have been a leading brand for such a long time, we have very good reputation within the industry,” Mr Princi points out. As a result, the team does not need to rely heavily on advertising. “Our brand is well recognised for what it has done.” In fact, the company is endorsed by a number of leading industry associations. And, in 2004, Athlegen was inducted into the Victorian Manufacturers Hall of Fame. The company has won numerous awards, including the Ballarat Export Awards, the Victorian Panasonic Australia Business Award, and the Victorian Sport and Recreation Industry Awards. Athlegen was also a finalist for the AusIndustry Sport Business of the Year and the Ballarat Manufacturing Business of the Year.

Perhaps most notably, Athlegen has been supplying Olympic athletes for 20 years. During the Sydney Games, Athlegen supplied 1200 electric and portable massage tables. “We were the official treatment table supplier to the games,” Mr Princi recalls. In all the Olympic Games since, both summer and winter, Athlegen has supplied the tables for the Australian team. “We supply professional tables of a very high quality,” Mr Princi points out. “And obviously, having the athletes on the very best tables is important.” The company also works closely with GreenEDGE Cycling. Athlegen supplies all of the team’s portable tables, which they keep on their tour bus when they travel.

Athlegen is eager to continue supplying superior product. Currently, the team is focused on increasing its presence in the health care industry. The company already produces ultrasound, treatment, podiatry and examination couches, and the team will be concentrating on expanding that range over the next six months. They would also like to concentrate more on suppling treatment tables to specialists within the natural therapy sector, including physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists.

Mr Princi is confident that the company is ripe for growth. “Wages are going up in China now, materials are going up, and that [will result in] higher prices. That makes us more competitive.” This is welcome news for any Australian manufacturer. “I think times are looking good ahead.”

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December 12, 2017, 10:55 PM AEDT

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