Lankan gymnasium chain sets footprint in India | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Lankan gymnasium chain sets footprint in India

1 March, 2020
Talavou Alailama
Talavou Alailama

Chairman of Power World Gymnasium chain, Talavou Alailama has set up a chain of gyms in New Delhi and Bangalore in India and plans to expand in the future.

Educated at Trinity College and St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, Alailama holds a Masters Degree in Sports Management from a Spanish university and strength training and sports nutrition qualifications from a USA university. He is a South Asian Games medalist and former Sri Lankan record holder in Shot Putt and Discus Throw.

In an interview with Sunday Observer Business, Alailama outlines his road to success.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. You are known as the father of the gym industry in Sri Lanka. What factors made you set up the first commercial gymnasium?

A. In my student days, I spent my holidays in my grandmother’s rubber estate. During this time, I made weight plates with concrete and did exercises such as the bench press, squat and clean and jerk.

With that eagerness and passion for the sport, while doing my undergraduate studies in the USA; I got myself admitted to world class gymnasiums for high standard weight training. In a short time, I realised that I was rapidly building my strength.

I decided to introduce such a high criterion to Sri Lankans, which was unavailable at the time.

In my second year in the University, I decided to start my own gym and name it combining the words ‘power’ and ‘world’.

Q. Do you think that this gym culture should be introduced to Sri Lankan society?

A. Combined with urban patterns of living, Sri Lankans are increasingly moving towards a sedentary lifestyle. It is amazing how many of those who most need exercise choose to ride the escalator when steps are available.

The association between heart disease and other degenerative diseases and a sedentary lifestyle is well known. When such irrefutable evidence confronts us, we need to commit to exercise regularly.

We are designed and built for movement, and even though we, as a society, have been adapting a more inactive lifestyle, it appears that people have not adjusted well to the reduced level of activity.

Regular exercise is necessary and imperative if we are to maintain an optimal level of health, a high level of physical performance and a well-balanced physical appearance.

Q. When you opened your first gym in 1994, we were in the midst of tough economic times. How did you pioneer a new industry as a 24-year-old youngster and succeed?

A. From the inception, Power World Gyms were the first world-class gyms in Sri Lanka; large format and well equipped. It had all the equipment to optimise and meet everyone’s fitness and exercise needs.

The ability to exercise in an organised and systemic manner to achieve one’s optimum fitness goals at an affordable price, was a huge untapped need in Sri Lanka.

When Power World Gyms began to roll-out, thousands began to patronise us. Even after 25 years, it is clear that the gym industry is still expanding, with a larger percentage of young people working out in gyms each year than the year before. Given that the demand for facilities outstripped the availability of gyms, during those early years, even with economic downturn and bomb explosions in and around Colombo at regular intervals, the demand for our gyms never subsided but only increased. This demand kept pushing us to expand our gym network to being the largest network by far from its modest beginnings.

Q. In 2015, after 20 years in business, you entered a new arena. Tell us about it.

A. Seeing the unique gym model that we had created; resilient to any type of economic downturn and able to overcome challenges and yet be profitable, an Indian stock market company invested in us to not only expand our network in Sri Lanka but also in India. This partnership, took the Power World gyms from being a local market leader to being the market leader in Bangalore, Delhi and Pune within two years.

Q. Only a few of Sri Lankan companies have entered the Indian market, but you have established yourself and have become a market leader. How did this take place?

A. In the past decade, we have seen scientists and doctors promoting regular exercises, being imperative to a healthy lifestyle. This has built a large untouched demand for facilities such as ours. Gymnasiums in India were those which targeted the upper end of the market and were poorly equipped and small format for the lower segments. We assessed the gym market correctly, and built large format and well equipped gyms to provide the best service to customers. We offered an affordable price to the middle-income groups in India. The irony is that we are currently much larger in India than Sri Lanka.

Q. Many of our readers may want to know how they too could enter the Indian market and take advantage of its size. What is your advice to them?

A. India has a gigantic market as everyone knows. When searching for a partnership with an India company, I suggest that you secure the services of a Mergers and Acquisition expert from India to negotiate on your behalf. An advisor will also help you find the right match, a partner who is more likely to share your vision and mission for the business and buy into the values you wish to uphold.

At the outset, the Indian investors, are extremely aggressive in their negotiation style, and only a very few of us would match that level of negotiating skills. Having one from India to negotiate on your behalf is a worthwhile investment. Second, we must have a clear scheme for the partnership.

One should not give up ownership or control of the business at any cost. The Indian investor’s nature is to negotiate hard and get the maximum they can, and will push you even beyond what you are willing to let go. If you hold ground, in the place where you are the happiest, the deal will take place even though many a times prior to that it would seem as if the deal would not work out.

Q. What is the next goal for your business and your CSR initiatives?

A. Our goal in the next two years is to be the leader in the Indian gym industry, with the largest chain of gyms and also enter 15 other countries in Asia and Africa. We plan to expand our Sri Lankan operation by setting up 150 state-of-the-art gymnasiums. We also have been engaged in many CSR projects. Power World Gyms have set up gyms for inmates of Welikade, Mahara and Bogambara prisons and plan to donate gyms to all prisons within the next two years. We were also actively engaged in many dengue prevention programs during the past few years. We plan to continue these projects.