Sportwatch maker Suunto revealed in a post on its website that parent company Amer Sports is selling the Suunto brand to Liesheng, a Chinese company whose focus is on the wearable electronics segment. The transaction will close in the first half of 2022, and the new ownership is expected to keep the management and primary operations of Suunto based in Finland, at least for the time being.
“For you as a fan, community member and user of Suunto this change is actually not a change at all. Suunto brand and our products and digital services, watch update frequency, data protection practices, customer support and service — all of these and more continue normally,” said Heikki Norta, CEO and Brand President of Suunto.
Suunto — along with Garmin, Coros and Polar — is one of the major players in the sportwatch market, and while it is the smallest of the bunch, its storied history dates back to the 1930s (by comparison, Liesheng has been around since only 2015). Suunto employs more than 300 people worldwide, and its products are sold in over 100 countries.
It’s believed that Amer Sports is selling Suunto in order to focus on its core outdoor apparel and gear products and brands — including Salomon, Arc’teryx, Peak Performance and Wilson — and the parent company likely didn’t have the technical expertise to properly help Suunto grow. Liesheng has the knowledge of the tech market that could end up being very beneficial for Suunto, if implemented correctly and if the adventure brand doesn’t find its IP and patents cannibalized into lower-end products that Liesheng could put out.
The sale of Suunto isn’t surprising and has been suspected for some time. Reports show that Amer Sports has had sinking profits for years, with its EBIDA margin at -1.1 percent in 2017 and then nosediving to -28.8 percent in 2020. Some of that is surely pandemic-related, but it’s unlikely to explain the full breath of the plunge. What is less clear is exactly where Suunto’s brand performance was in those metrics.
The Vantaa, Finland-based adventure brand has been under the Amer Sports umbrella for 22 years, and Amer Sports itself was sold to China’s Anta Sports in 2019. Suunto’s flagship sportwatch line is the 9 Series, and it has made a play in the smartwatch market with its innovative Suunto 7 watch that functions primarily on Google’s Wear OS platform. The company has also long been respected for its dive computers and D-Series watches, and it produces a popular chest heart-rate monitor.
However, in recent years, as the company has zeroed in on build quality, stylish design, and route planning and accuracy, its devices have been known to have fewer feature sets than other sportwatch makers. There have been some concerns about Suunto’s competitiveness in a market that appears to be turning away from simplicity and foundational functionality and instead opting for things like offline music, color topo maps, contactless payment methods, greater watchface design options, and solar charging in wearable devices.
Suunto users took to social media and the Suunto message boards to speculate on what the changes could mean for the company moving forward. Because Liesheng is known for developing the consumer electronics brand Haylou, which is sold at a relatively low-end price point, some were concerns that the new owners will water down the premium build and GPS core competency of the Suunto brand, while others felt that this partnership could open up more resources and development opportunities for the brand to improve.
The latter is the angle Suunto’s president took by saying: “In the long run, partnering with our new owners will broaden our shoulders in the continued development of new fit-for-purpose products for the outdoor enthusiasts.”
Liesheng obtained the national high-tech enterprise certification in China in 2017, and it has an extensive R&D team in which roughly 60 percent of its employees operate. Liesheng’s annual investment in R&D also far exceeds the industry average.
Other observations from users reflected that because Amer Sports also owns Salomon and Arc’teryx, Suunto often benefited in marketing from its affiliation with those brands and the sponsored athletes they have. For example, many long-time Salomon brand ambassadors have also been Suunto ambassadors (such as trail runners Kílian Jornet, Courtney Dauwalter, François D’haene and Lucy Bartholomew) — or at least have sported Suunto watches by choice. And the sibling brands have helped support the community and culture of Suunto as an adventure-first company.
“As a global consumer-electronics company, Liesheng offers Suunto unique technological advantages in product development, centralized sourcing, and access to wider international markets, especially in Asia. For Liesheng, Suunto offers access to new markets and product categories, in addition to Suunto’s strong brand heritage,” says Ma Hao, Chairman of Liesheng.
The closing of the transaction is subject to authority and other required approvals and fulfillment of certain commercial conditions. The parties have agreed not to disclose the transaction details.