Big Interview: Garmin on the growing wearables market

Describing itself as an ‘active lifestyle brand’, Garmin is perfectly positioned in the wearables market. Jonathan
speaks to Garmin Europe senior product manager Theo Axford about what the company is doing to capitalise on the growing demand and its mission to help stop childhood obesity

How has the year been for Garmin so far and what new products have you brought to market?

It has been a really great year for Garmin so far. In January we kicked off the year in style, announcing our premium watch range at CES in Las Vegas with the Fenix 5, 5S and 5X. At the show we also launched our new range of together with our new range of PNDs (portable navigation devices – in-car satellite navigation units). Both of those ranges have done incredibly well for us, creating a premium position in our wearables range and giving the consumer something new while simultaneously bringing new features and technology in PND to keep our more mature markets safe behind the wheel. 

Moving through the year into spring we introduced Vivosmart 3 at the entry point for wearables. Despite its lower price it still offers some top functionality in terms of wrist-based heart rate and smart notifications. In May we launched our award-winning Forerunner 935 – the most advanced performance sports wearable for the most demanding of athletes. 

Later in the year we also went on to launch a new range of dashcams, a 360 VR camera, our flagship GPS bike computer in the Edge 1030 together with a new power range in the Vector 3 and 3s. 

As the end of 2017 approaches, we’ve just launched our latest range of wearables: Vivosport, Vivomove HR, VivoActive 3 and of course the Vivofit Jnr2 in partnership with Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm. It’s been a busy – but very successful – year!

From Garmin’s perspective what does the market look like? Where are the key areas for growth?

Garmin’s strength has always been our multi-faceted approach to technology, we simultaneously operate in so many different markets: marine, aviation, sports and fitness, automotive – it’s almost impossible to predict what will happen in any of these markets at any one time. However, the key is to always be ahead of the game, bring innovation and new ideas to the table and as long as you always have the consumer in mind, you’ll stand a good chance of success. 

As a brand firmly in the ‘fitness’ category, what are consumers looking for in wearable products and how do you provide those requirements?

For me it’s very simple. Build products for a purpose and always endeavour to deliver on the fundamentals such as long battery life, sunlight readable displays, water resistance and so on. That combined together with new and innovative functionality is what we do so well and why many others struggle. 

Our ethos is that our products and software eco-system should help our customers to ‘beat yesterday’. Whether that’s achieving a personal best in your routine run around the park, walk more steps than the day before, or completing that gruelling Ironman, most consumers will have something they are looking to achieve in mind when they buy the product. We have a product for everyone, no matter what their goal is.

How do you view the UK’s wearables market in comparison to other regions and countries?

The UK presents a very competitive market and it is somewhat mature in the entry space. There is a lot of choice out there right now for consumers, but it is those brands that have a clear proposition which will invariably stand out in the market. That is an area where Garmin has always been strong.

How much importance do you put on the aesthetics of a product versus its functionality?

For me, it’s more about making products with a purpose and then creating a range that delivers choice. You talk about aesthetic against functionality, but ergonomics are equally as important here too. Our products are built to withstand the most demanding of environments and that means that they have to be light, comfortable and easy to read in all conditions with a great battery life.

But that is not all of course. Consumers also want to wear our products all day and need them to look great too. This is why we also make products like our Fenix, Cronos and Vívomove range with more of a focus on style and aesthetics.

In 2017, the top wearables on the market are primarily sold as fitness devices, with even Apple changing its marketing to brand the watch as a more ‘health conscious’ device. Do you think wearables will always be based around health and wellbeing?

Clearly, there are many different uses associated with wearable devices. As an ageing population that are living much longer, the need monitor and look after our overall health and the role that wearables play in that, will obviously be where we see most of the benefits long-term. 

In the Channel, how open are distributors to the wearables market and the new product types it presents?

The wearables market offers distributors great opportunities to build new relationships with a multitude of new partners. It also offers routes to market and value added propositions. At Garmin we work with some brilliant partners in this space.

What are the unique retail opportunities that wearables present within the tech retail space?

I think the possibilities are endless, but in the ‘here and now’ it’s all about how consumers can use the products we build in everyday scenarios. We’ve just launched our Vivoactive 3 which is our first wearable to include ‘Garmin Pay’ – NFC payments on the wrist. What this enables you to do is leave your wallet at home but still pop into the coffee shop after a workout and grab yourself a latte. 

We believe that it’s technology like this that will deliver a change to the way we live, work and play and Garmin will continue to bring tech like this to consumers.

Talk us through the design and business decisions behind launching the vivofit Jnr range of devices aimed at children along with the licensing opportunities that have come along.

It is hardly a secret that childhood obesity is a growing and very serious problem in the UK. As a parent to three young boys, I personally think it’s very important to get my lot out in the fresh air, getting them active and away from ‘screen tech’. 

As an active lifestyle brand, there is also a great sense of responsibility from Garmin to help give parents something that not only encourages an active lifestyle but also brings the family together through rewards and experiences. As previously mentioned, we have recently partnered with Disney to launch the Vivofit Jnr 2, and we are also entering conversations with other partners to look at ways that we can really help overturn this worrying obesity trend in children.

In what ways do you see the market evolving in 2018?

From our position it looks like it’s going to be another brilliant year. We will continue to bring new products and technologies to the consumer that are built for purpose and help them to ‘beat yesterday’. 

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