This month Sports Trade Talk speaks to Martin Newton, sales & marketing manager of Aqua Sphere UK, which recently reported an impressive 33 per cent year-on-year sales increase, to find out about its history, its philosophy and plans for the future.
According to government figures, over 16million people swim, with about five million of these widely accepted to be regular fitness swimmers. Add to this the high number of people who use swimming to warm down after gym work and the increasing number of triathletes (10,000 and rising) who are using the pool to build their stamina, as well as the rising number of outdoor swimmers, and you have a very healthy level of participation.
Tell us about Aqua Sphere’s heritage
The brand is owned by Aqua Lung International, the world’s largest diving company and brand of choice for many recreational scuba divers, international military commands and governments. The company was co-founded by captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famous ocean diver who invented the Aqualung with Emile Gagnan in 1943 – effectively opening the doors to ocean exploration and paving the way for modern scuba diving technology.
Interestingly, Cousteau served as chairman on the board of directors for many years before his death in 1997. Today his spirit of adventure and innovation is still evident in all 12 of the company’s global divisions and the group now boasts a significant family of products, which represent the very best in diving, snorkelling and swimming equipment.
With design and innovation at its core, Aqua Sphere was launched in the mid-1990s as a division of Aqua Lung. The brand was created to supply a new generation of aquatic eye protection – something which would enhance the experience of every swimmer, whether a dedicated pro athlete or recreational swimmer, and enabling them to feel safe and comfortable in the water. As a result, Aqua Sphere was the first to market with several key technologies such as curved lenses and side adjust buckles, and created the category of swim masks.
Stand-out products include the Seal, the original swim mask featuring 180° vision, and the Kaiman, the first panoramic curved lens goggle. Highly regarded for its pioneering 180-degree wide-angle vision, the company has won several awards for its curved lens technology, and today the Vista and Kayenne goggle set the benchmark for longlasting comfort.
The brand has systematically developed its product portfolio over the years and now includes performance swimwear, aqua gym equipment and a whole host of swimming accessories in its repertoire – but all with quality and innovation at their heart.
Keen to leverage only the highest quality relationships, Aqua Sphere is also now a partner with Ironman, the pinnacle brand in global triathlon, and has created a superb line of performance triathlon wetsuits, extending its profile still further in this sport.
Interestingly for the UK team, our parent company has this year given us full responsibility for the Aqua Lung range of products across the UK and Ireland, effectively handing us control of the world’s premium scuba and snorkel brand. This is testimony to Aqua Sphere UK’s efficiency and market capability, and we now have a fantastic range of world class swim, tri, scuba and snorkelling products, which we believe is unparalleled in these markets. We can’t wait to get started.
Quality and innovation are clearly important brand values. Can you quantify that?
All Aqua Sphere eyewear products are made exclusively at our facility in Genoa, Italy in a plant where, for more than 40 years, some of the most sophisticated and advanced underwater diving masks in the world have been developed. We pride ourselves on being a manufacturer, not just a design company using outside suppliers. This allows us to internally create true innovations and to control the difficult processes critical to their exceptional fit and performance.
We believe in what we do and we do it to the highest standards. Our design philosophy is to bring new solutions, allowing the dedicated or casual swimmer to feel comfortable and completely at home in the water. We don’t copy. We are visibly different. Competitors have tried to copy our eyewear, but our patents and attention to detail keep us in the forefront of design. Similarly, our swimwear, aqua gym kit and triathlon wetsuits are produced to the highest standards and materials, and boast a range of features that enhance the water-based experience for all our customers.
Our products are also competitively priced in the market and our margins are healthy. We are flexible in offering smaller retailers the opportunity to take low-risk quantities of stock and we help them build their swim sales via one-to-one advice from our 10 regional managers. We are approachable, knowledgeable and here for the long term. Combine this with the fact the brand has won some significant accolades and sponsorship deals and continually generates superb media coverage and celebrity interest, and you have a powerful brand proposition.
There’s no doubt Aqua Sphere is best known for its goggles and masks. But what about your other products? You appear to be diversifying further each year?
We are proud to have a very strong product collection for the swimmer and triathlete. Our Ironman wetsuits are doing really well and benefiting from superb brand exposure at the UK’s biggest mass participation event – The Great Swim series – of which Aqua Sphere is the official swim partner. We now also offer a wide range of swimwear styles all year round to meet the needs of fitness swimmers, plus the wider audience of leisure swimmers, integrating attractive design and detailing, alongside technical styling and new fabric innovations.
With key items always in stock and even the smallest order turned around quickly, retailers know that Aqua Sphere understands their customers and is here to help with all requirements. Swimwear is constantly innovating, so there is always something new to bring to the table and a new discussion point. For example, Aqua Sphere is about to launch a Body Control System line that represents yet another innovation and is designed to give every woman a flattering yet comfortable silhouette using a strategic combination of AquaXcell and AquaXcell+ fabrics to enhance shape and provide support to specific body areas.
In addition, we have introduced a strong range of ergonomically designed aqua gym training kit – in fact, everything required for a full body workout in water. We are set to unveil new Ergo Flex hand paddles later this year, which use clever interconnected ‘exo-skeleton’ components to provide a contoured fit for enhanced hand positioning, enhancing flexibility and feel for the water. Also, new Zip II Fins facilitate the most efficient full leg workout available, helping to build stronger muscles in a shorter time frame.
So in summary, as swimming, triathlon and snorkelling are increasing in participation, retailers could well benefit from taking a fresh look at their product offering and talking to a company that can offer them great products, at a good price, which work for their customer base. Once people try our products they are hooked, purely because of our technical innovation and product quality.
Looking at the wider picture, this year we launched a global charity – called Swim Challenge (www.swimchallenge.org) – and it’s really heartening to see people from all over the world logging their swim hours on the site. These projects highlight that there is a real interest and love for swimming and retailers can certainly capitalise on that. With the support of a large international company behind us and world renowned Aqua Lung snorkelling products now in our portfolio, the future looks bright for Aqua Sphere UK and we fully intend to continue to build a reputation for excellence.
Aqua Sphere: 01254 692200. www.aquasphereswim.co.uk. firstname.lastname@example.org