These titanium products are gaining popularity, thanks to word-of-mouth advertising, and celebrity endorsements
Phiten Hawaii started out six years ago selling products off a small table at Shirokiya in Ala Moana Center. It’s since grown into a $150,000-per-month business, fueled by demand for its line of titanium products. Now located on the ground floor of the Pacific Guardian Tower, Phiten Hawaii has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
“It’s neat how they’ve grown from a little table, it’s just a huge turnaround,” says Channing Yoshizawa, manager of the lifestyle department at Shirokiya. Yoshizawa has seen Phiten’s area in the store grow from a single six-foot-long table to a couple of tables, and finally to it’s own large corner of the department in the section that features interactive demonstrations of various health and wellness merchandise.
Phiten offers a wide array of products, ranging from necklaces and bracelets to clothing and customized jewelry. Each of its products contains a water-soluble form of titanium, which is inserted into the products through a special washing procedure called “Phild-processing.” These items are supposed to improve blood circulation as the titanium, which has been given an electrical charge, stabilizes the body’s electrical current. As Phiten Hawaii’s general manager Paul Vaughn explains, the process is similar to adjusting a problem with cable television reception: If the picture is fuzzy, the problem can be fixed by stabilizing the cable in the back of the TV so that the picture becomes clear again.
“Your body is flowing with an electrical current, or energy,” Vaughn adds. “A lot of times, when an injury occurs, the injured area is a disturbance [to the current’s flow], so the product, when applied, helps the blood circulate quickly, and relieves pain.”
Vaughn and his sales associates utilize a before-and-after experiment to help customers test out Phiten’s various products. The demonstrations involve the customer describing his or her ailment and location of the problem, and then performing a motion that causes pain. Then, the product is applied and, when the customer repeats the same motion, they should notice less pain and increased range of motion.
“You can tell people [about the products], but they don’t know how special it is until they actually use it,” Vaughn says.
When this technology originated in Japan nearly 20 years ago, the products were only available to the wealthy. However, over the past 10 years, Phiten has reached the general public through word-of-mouth marketing and hands-on demonstrations. Japan-based Phiten Co. Ltd. now operates 150 corporate stores worldwide including 143 in Japan, three in the U.S. (Hawaii, Washington and California); two in Korea and one each in Taiwan and England. Vaughn says Hawaii is the best performing U.S.-based store. In 2005, Phiten Hawaii accounted for 45 percent ($1.35 million) of Phiten USA’s $3 million in sales.
The Warrior Connection
Here in Hawaii, Phiten has teamed up with local college athletic programs to help advertise its products. In a straight-trade deal, the University of Hawaii-Manoa receives products from Phiten—everything from necklaces to titanium-infused tape and therapy lotion—in exchange for signage at the schools’ athletic venues. The most prominent of which are the two 30-foot-tall banners that adorn both foul poles at UH’s Les Murakami Stadium.
“It’s been a fantastic relationship,” says UH associate athletics director John McNamara of the Phiten deal. “They’ve been not only a great medical partner, but also a great marketing partner. Our sports medicine staff feels strongly that Phiten products benefit our student athletes.”
While the athletic trainers could not go on record, because the state prohibits them from endorsing specific products, Phiten has generally been well-received. The product’s heat properties are commended for helping athletes better adjust to cold climates encountered when teams travel on road trips to places like Idaho, where temperatures can fall below 30 degrees during the winter. Phiten is also seen as a preventative measure for fighting the nagging muscle aches and pains from which athletes commonly suffer when coming off a long period of rest—such as summer vacation—and jump back into a rigorous practice and conditioning schedule.
McNamara says that the trade deal is rare, since it was the UH sports medicine staff that approached the marketing department regarding the acquisition of the Phiten products.
“It definitely helps, because it totally branded our name,” Vaughn says of the partnership. “When it comes to UH sports, people recognize Phiten.”
Gaining Credibility through Endorsements
Phiten has also seen an increase in popularity thanks to celebrity endorsements. Randy Johnson, of the New York Yankees, professional golfer Ernie Els, the New York Jets and USA volleyball are some of the marquee sports figures and organizations that pitch the products.
Major League Baseball players have shown the biggest interest in Phiten’s performance, enhancing capabilities among professional athletes, as over 300 players have been seen wearing the Phiten gear. The Boston Red Sox even sell Phiten products on their team Web site in response to the popularity generated when all the team’s stars wore the products during their 2004 World Series Championship run.
Former UH starting pitcher Steven Wright is pleased with the way Phiten helps his muscles recover quickly after a long pitching performance.
“The way Phiten works, it increases the blood flow and helps you bounce back [from soreness] the next day,” says Wright. “It helps break down the lactic acid [that builds up after fatigue] in muscles. Wearing it over and over, you don’t know how it’s working, but the way your body feels, you know it’s working.”
Wright was named to the National Baseball Foundation, Baseball America and Louisville Slugger All-America teams, and earned Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year honors after this past season at UH. The Moreno Valley, Calif., native finished his junior year with an 11-2 record, and became Hawaii’s first 10-game winner since 1996.
Wright was drafted and signed by the Cleveland Indians organization in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft earlier this year. He is currently pitching for the Mahoning Valley [Ohio] Scrappers, the Indian’s short-season minor league team, and wants to get more Phiten products for himself and his teammates.
Expanding to Tap into Growing Market
According to Vaughn, the next step in Phiten’s expansion is to reach deeper into the sports market by targeting different types of athletes including runners, golfers and tennis players. While the products are already available at local retailers such as Times Supermarkets, Daiei, Longs Drug Stores, Marukai, Shirokiya and KTA Supermarkets on the Big Island, specialty stores, such as athletic pro shops, are next on the list.
“We’re trying to brand Phiten Hawaii with limited-edition products which are unique to Hawaii [based on color scheme and design],” Vaughn says. The products feature images of Diamond Head and various floral patterns designed to attract the eyes and dollars of tourists and locals alike.