The news that Amer Sports will divest Suunto, selling it to Chinese electronics company Lieshen Technology, has struck a nerve – and wasn’t unexpected.
From my experience in China, I’d suggest that it’s a reason to hope.
Amer Sports Divestments and Focus
Amer Sports already sold both Precor (which produces fitness equipment) and Mavic (cycling equipment) in order to focus on its core business with brands such as Salomon, Arc’teryx, and Peak Performance.
Amer still also owns brands / companies making skis and baseball bats, by the way. Their focus seems to increasingly go to footwear and outdoors equipment, however.
Suunto, in particular, seems to have been a bit of a problem for the group; things seem to have been looking better recently, but Suunto had been a drag on the performance, apparently.
Strangely, that happened even as the supposed focus of Amer, for a while, was also on consumer electronics, but it didn’t look like they wanted to invest quite enough – perhaps, of course, because divestment plans were already in the works.
Amer Sports itself isn’t independent anymore, but in Chinese hands; a group led by Anta Sports, one of China’s biggest brands in sports clothing, acquired Amer Sports in 2019.
Maybe this made it easier to divest further, and to another Chinese company, but I’d rather suggest taking it as a sign of good business practice.
And I think that it will be good for Suunto.
Reasons to Hope
Of course, as always, when something involves Chinese companies, there are immediately detractors and critics who see China and everything Chinese as somehow inherently bad.
There are things to criticize, of course. The link between the state and business is strong, for example; the market is only as free as the government wants it to be, and it doesn’t want it particularly free.
However, both government and business are, in my experience (of years working in China) more and more concerned about intellectual property, brands, and quality.
(And no, not even the Chinese government cares about your fitness data and outdoors pursuits.)
Even just typing “Chinese quality” feels odd, but it’s a situation similar to the scene in “Back to the Future” when “Doc” pulls out the electronics part and proclaims “I’ve found the problem! This says ‘Made in Japan’!” and Marty tells him that all good electronics come from Japan.
Liesheng Technology with their brand Haylou are not a particularly high-quality company or brand, but some of their products apparently are the same you might know re-branded as Xiaomi products.
Even those aren’t always the best, but they are getting there – and what one can also see is that they aren’t afraid to try out a range of products, and iterate.
Even in apparel – think Arc’teryx, think Veilance, even (if you know that) – the problem that Chinese manufacture has recently been having was that they had become too experienced and too expensive for production other than that where high quality is demanded.
If you want an example of where Chinese tech has been going, think DJI drones. And cameras. And gimbals.
Or, to stick to sports tech…
Quality and Development: Think COROS
If you want to consider what could be possible for Suunto, think COROS: I never thought that any newcomer in the world of GPS sports watches would stand a chance.
The first COROS Pace, their first watch, was nice but not all that exciting.
The outdoor adventure VERTIX made DC Rainmaker mainly say that it looked like a Garmin fenix clone.
By now, they have a VERTIX 2, they were able to port a map function to the Vertix (which they previously themselves thought would not be possible), they have their EvoLab and web training hub…
Their development, as a company headquartered in California with deep links into (and of course, production in) China has been tremendously fast and good.
There have been some hiccups such as imperfect translations, but there are enough such small niggles from the big players, as well.
Pair the power – financial as well as in terms of developers – that a Chinese company can throw behind a brand with the recent trend that Chinese companies want to own well-known international brands and see them succeed, and I have hopes for Suunto.
Suunto has remained, in my opinion, great when it comes to design language and making outdoors watches that take their users seriously (as people who know what they are doing and don’t need constant hand-holding).
Suunto has also continued to dare try peculiar things – see the WearOS sports smartwatch of theirs, the Suunto 7.
(And Chinese companies still work with WearOS, even if Google is company persona non grata in China, so that’s not dead, necessarily.)
Suunto has, however, been missing more people, especially developers, more financial support(?) – and that’s what a Chinese owner can deliver.
Most likely, as has been announced, a Chinese owner will be less likely than another to interfere too strongly with the brand, as long as things continue well.
Think of Volvo.
Do you notice their Chinese ownership, except in Volvo doing better than before?
So, let’s see what comes with Suunto. The brand already stuck to its roots and remained “Suunto” in Chinese rather than use some (often, not-good) transliteration or pseudo-translation.