Weighing Up the Options

Local Producers Competing in Fitness Industry

The demand for locally produced fitness equipment has been increasing of late, predominantly due to its affordability. Other benefits also include the ease at which repair work can be sought. There are, however, quality issues when compared to imported items. Such problems include the lack of accuracy in the weight of the products, leaving users liable to injury, reports JEMAL ABDU, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Yitayew Seifu was supervising the exercising youths in his gym – Smart Gym, on Tito Street, Kazanchis – when Fortune visited on September 16, 2014. All the materials in the gym, except for the running machine, which was out of order, and the exercise bike, are locally produced.

“I chose them because they are affordable and simple to have repaired when they break,” said Yitayew.

There were five young people in the gym, lifting weights and warming up.

“They are good in terms of strength and structure, and comfortable other than the handles, which are not laminated,” said one of those exercising. “Now it has become more common to see local materials in small gyms.”

As the demand for local products has grown over time, producers are flourishing across the city; some of them in groups, some independently.

Ibrahim, Negash & Friends Gym Equipment Production started producing gym materials a year and a half ago at their workshop on Churchill Road, behind Lycee Gebre Mariam School. Ibrahim Ahmed was carrying the parts of the multi-gym into the small container shop as the rain was about to come on Tuesday, September 16, 2014, . Their products include benches, multi-gyms and cable cross machines.

“Most of the time, we make the materials by order,” said Ibrahim. “Most of the clients we work with are youth centres.”

Using scrap metal  and bearings retrieved from cars, they make flat benches, as well as inclined benches, which can be used for weightlifting and sit-ups. All the benches are  1.2m long, and are sold for 2,200Br. The cost of making them, according to Ibrahim, is 1,700 Br. They sell the multi-gym for 10,000Br, claiming that they spend 7,000Br making it.

Hayatu Fedlu, a sports material producer in Merkato, was sitting by the roadside at Chid Tera, waiting for potential buyers while chewing khat.

“I make these products myself, and I have many customers for my dumbbells and bar bells,” he said.

He has dumbbells and bar bells at weights ranging from eight kilograms to 50kg, with prices of 200 Br and 700 Br, respectively. His benches, which look very much the same as the ones Ibrahim and his friends make, sell for a much lower price of 400 to 600 Br.

“The market for the products I supply varies from time to time and I can’t tell when exactly the peak time will be,” Hayatu points out. “I may sell three dumbbells today and then none the following day.”

Hayatu doesn’t only produce dumbbells and bar bells, but also pulleys. He sells these for 7,500 to 8,000 Br.

There are also other kinds of dumbbells wholly made by melting lead. In a shop where sports materials are sold at piazza, a shopkeeper says that the weights come from Merkato and are sold for 80 Br a kilo.

Wasihun Abdela is a gym manager at the Doro Manekia Youth Centre. He has purchased all of his materials from local producers and speaks about the quality issues. The major difference between the two, for him, is only price.

“I have visited many shops that sell the imported materials. The multi-gym that I wanted was 70,000 Br, but I bought a locally produced one for just 8,500 Br,” said Wasihun. “It is simple for the machinery to be fixed when out of order, as they are locally produced.”

Yitayew from Smart Gym also agrees with this idea, as he currently has a running machine that is out of order.

“Finding a person to repair the machine is a major problem when using imported machines,” he says.

Nasir Shifa, manager at Nas Fitness in Piazza, uses both imported and locally produced equipment. He bought his multi-gym three years ago for 31,000 Br, but another bought from the local producers just a year later cost him only 9,000 Br – both are still operational.

“There should be careful measurements when preparing these machines; otherwise they could cause permanent problems for those that use them,” he says, raising the example of some of his customers, who use any weight they can find in the house and start exercising, exposing themselves to physical harm.

Imported equipment have numbers indicating the weight of each product, while none of the local ones have any of that. The only thing the people preparing these weights do to balance their products is measure the weight and length of the materials used in their preparation. But this is even avoided by some, like Hayatu.

“I use parts from vehicles that are the same size and put them side by side. Then I fix the parts on a rod of metal, which ranges from 20 to 120cm,” said Hayatu, not denying the possible damage to those that use his equipment.

The same is true with Ibrahim’s materials, but he does measure the parts with a beam balance.

Some of the buyers take their own precautions.

“Before I bought the materials in my gym, I inspected the materials used to prepare the weights and measured them separately,” Wasihun said. “I made the workers assemble them using my method.”

Even though he had taken this measure on the weights, he does not have any means to check the force exerted by the machinery. Therefore, he buys them simply by looking at the structure of the machines.

“We do not have any mechanism of checking, but we still do not have measurement problems,” says Ibrahim, not denying that relying only on balances is not hugely effective.

As cheap as they are, most of the locally made products are very basic and not measured properly, as well as being uncomfortable to handle. One  of the young people working out at Smart Gym had no doubt about his preference for imported materials.

“I prefer the imported machines because they are comfortable, especially the handles,” he said. “The locally produced ones make screeching sounds when pulled, which is not the case with the imported ones as their chains run on rubber rather than bare bearings.”

Although these issues are observed in the business, the demand from gyms to buy the local products is growing because of their affordability.

“A year ago, my market was limited to the request of needy customers,” said Ibrahim. “But now I have sold three multi-gyms with other full gym equipment, like twist, benches and cable cross, within three months.”

He sees his products growing in quality through time and the market growing likewise.


Published on September 21, 2014 [ Vol 15 ,No 751]



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