Garmin has partnered with mobile telecom giant MTN to launch a line of fitness watches in Ghana. The GPS navigation and sports tech company will offer its vivoFit3, vivoMove, vivoActive, Fenix3, and vivoSmart activity trackers through select MTN Ghana distribution outlets.
In addition to MTN’s latest smartphone options, fitness conscious Ghanaians can now purchase a Garmin watch and receive a free three-month 900MB data bundle. The entry level price is around $148 for a vivoFit 3.
The Ghana move is part of a push to tap the potential of Africa’s expanding fitness market, according to Walter Mech, Garmin MD for Sub-Saharan Africa. “We’ve had a strong presence with our GPS tools products…but less emphasis on our health and wellness lines, so we started to look around for new countries and distribution models,” he said.
The fit with MTN comes in part through its African distribution network.
“There are limited options for formal retail channels…besides the large telcos,” said Mech. MTN is also interested in harnessing interactive health and athletics platforms in Africa. “Looking at our line they understood…there is both the wellness and the sport element, which captures a wider range for customer activity,” Mech said.
He noted MTN will adopt leaderboards for Ghanaian users to rank and compare themselves with others across fitness activities.
Garmin has an official office in South Africa and a presence in 25 additional African countries through distribution deals. When it comes to wearables, South Africa is Garmin’s largest African market followed by Kenya and Tanzania, according to Mech.
Though reliable projections on the potential of Africa’s tech wearables market are hard to find, Garmin follows a rough formulation for countries based on mobile networks. “We look at the number of subscribers in a country and take 1 percent of that as the top-end, smartphone subscribers and size of the wearables market we think we could penetrate,” he said. For South Africa, Mech estimates that segment amounts to roughly 6 million people.
Mech believes Garmin can succeed in Africa on tech wearables based on demographic trends and an early commitment to the market. “Many of the other brands don’t see the notion that Africa is going to have a much more health conscious population, younger population, and mobile tech gadget oriented population,” he said. “We’ve also seen an emergence of gyms, sports clubs, cycling and running clubs for both men and women.”
This aligns with Africa’s expanding consumer power, another indicator for the potential of tech wearables. Individual spending on the continent topped $1.4 trillion in 2015 and is expected to reach $2 trillion annually by 2025, according to McKinsey’s Global Institute.
For 2017, in addition to Ghana, Garmin expects to pursue significant growth in fitness wearables sales in Kenya. The company will also push into Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation (182 million) and largest economy, drawing lessons from its recent MTN partnership. “We’re learning from this first pilot implementation. The more time we spend on Ghana and see what works and what doesn’t, it becomes easier for us to adopt with telcos in other countries.”
Garmin will also consider more fitness and sports-related sponsorships in Ghana and other African countries to market its wearables. The company sponsored the Nairobi international marathon in October 2016.