Written by Harrie Kerkhof, Concept manager interactives
Estimated Reading time 6 min
Seminar 5: Sport Innovation Congress, Cluster Sports & Technology – theme Internationalization
‘The people’s vitality is under pressure.’ Under this theme, Cluster, Sports & Technology organized the 17th Sports Innovation Congress. Unfortunately, because of COVID 19, the congress could not take place live and in person, but digitally in multiple seminars. I was asked to deliver a seminar, in under ten minutes, sharing our experiences concerning internationalization and the role of innovation and technology. A beautiful issue and 100% suitable for Yalp, also a subject that I could talk about for hours. As anyone who knows me could surely testify to my enthusiasm.
‘The people’s vitality is under pressure.’ A statement I totally agree with, and it’s what also drives Yalp every day to offer solutions to get everyone active. To play, to sport and especially to have fun together. Because if it’s FUN, then everything goes automatically!
I often use the picture below in my presentations abroad to explain the background to why Yalp developed the interactives. This picture shows how quickly the world has changed and that innovation plays a significant role in this change. This made us, as a playground equipment manufacturer, look at our own market. Roughly 15 years ago, we noticed that the world around us is changing so fast, but the playground equipment industry appeared virtually unchanged. With so much technology available to us, we wondered, doesn’t our target group, children, youth, elderly, adults, expect a different offer? Can we add value with technology? The number 1 activity for the youth is gaming. What if we could bring the addictive nature of gaming to the playground, but then actively and outdoors? Is this possible with the available technology? How beautiful would that be?
Six waves of innovation
Obesity is preventable
I’m sure we all know about the general health consequences that can result from being overweight. Many studies show this, and in April 2020, this was again confirmed in a publication by the WHO. One important sentence stood out for me in this publication; apart from the facts, background information, and health problems, it says under key facts ‘Obesity is preventable’. As a manufacturer of play and sports equipment, it’s in our genes to contribute to this. We want to know; Are we challenging today’s children and youth sufficiently? Or do they expect us to offer different solutions, more in tune with the spirit of the times? And equally important, do they not expect our customers to invest differently? This brings me to the summary title. I dare say that Yalp has changed an entire market segment based on the belief in play, innovative solutions, and daring to do things differently!
Belief in play, innovative solutions, and daring to do things differently!
In 2007 Yalp launched the first interactive play equipment Yalp Sona Interactive dance and play arch. A high-tech product where the technology is well hidden. An eye-catcher for every playground, or so we thought. But who would have thought that besides the success in playgrounds, the Sona would be placed in care institutions? Ruud Dirksen, the author of several books on Alzheimer’s and Dementia, approached us at the time because he saw the Sona as a device for the elderly. To get them out of social isolation and play outside together with the physiotherapist, memory trainer and become active while being outside. Four key ingredients are the social component, being outside, brain training, and being active to affect this terrible disease positively. I have been closely involved in the ’design for all’ project. We have been working closely with our ambassador Olga Commandeur for years. Innovation has brought us together and produced many great projects.
Innovation and technology add value
After the Sona, Yalp developed four more interactive concepts, all with a different background and story, all positioned differently, from sports to creative hangout, from family fun to learning through play. These innovations did not go unnoticed, and besides, the growth of Yalp brought us extraordinary experiences. Like the Yalp Sutu Interactive ball wall set up in the Fox Sports TV program, prime time, every Saturday for two years. New markets were opened up to us with the Yalp Fono Interactive DJ-booth, with setups in museums or amusement parks. The Yalp Toro Interactive sports arena is part of a larger soccer concept in China. And the Yalp Memo Interactive play pillars contribute daily to many schoolyards around the world, helping children learn playfully, not because they have to, but because it is fun.
Innovation and technology add value. The Sona is almost as necessary to any playground in The Netherlands as a swing is. And it’s not just limited to the hardware. Innovation makes it possible for the interactive products to be dynamic, content changed and even supported by apps to set up competitions and keep track of your scores. Innovation allows us to measure every second of the day; it tells us how much is being played on the interactives and which games are popular and which are not. The latter is also important because it allows us to improve the product by making the games even better. In 2019, we recorded 300,356 hours of play. A little over a quarter of a million in 2020, a hefty drop due to Corona but, on the other hand, we already see an increase this year; fortunately, because we cannot stress the importance of sports and games.
Yalp always dares to do things differently
By investing in innovation, even when everyone said it couldn’t be done. Persistence, perseverance, guts, and following a plan have been crucial in this. Electronics suitable for public outdoor areas, ideal in any climate, warm or far below freezing, rain or snow, that’s not possible. Or is it?
On a business level, it has certainly paid off. Besides the great culture that prevails at Yalp, it has also positioned us in a beautiful blue ocean, and we are less in a ‘fighting market.’ This creates room for further development and expansion. As a result, our exports have taken off and are booming with 930 installations worldwide, in 38 countries, with 46 distributors and 55 employees in the Netherlands. (These numbers are always changing! Just check out our activity map for the most recent numbers)
As a result, since the year 2020, we are entirely part of Lappset Group, a renowned playground equipment manufacturer from Finland, founded in 1970 with 420 employees. But let’s get back to the culture. Always a challenge to preserve, especially with an acquisition. The great thing here is that Lappset Group is happy to adopt a bit of our culture, the entrepreneurial, and build on important core values. On the other hand, we in the Netherlands can learn a lot from the Finns in innovation, logistics, export, production and education, and the Finnish culture, which for many is as warm and welcoming as ours.
Daring to do things differently affects our entire business process. Climbing the Toubkal in Morocco with a staff trip and reaching the top was one of my highlights. We hosted large client groups from abroad in our playful way or won an export award in 2016.
Yalp has hundreds of success stories to share, one even more beautiful and poignant than the other, from close to home or from the US, Asia, or another country in Europe, but only through hard work, enjoying success to also deal with a setback, trial, and error and being allowed to make mistakes. Children learn this through play and sports. Learning to fall and losing is part of it and makes you better. We have the plans ready where we want to be in 5 years; from a vision and a clear mission, the road towards it is mapped out and definitely challenging, especially in this uncertain time where much around us changes … something you might have heard before. 😛