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Stiga are one of the world's top table tennis equipment producers.
Find out more about them in this exclusive interview
By Martin Hughes
Owner and Editor
Stiga are one of the most well known table tennis brands in the world.
They started producing table tennis equipment in Sweden in 1944 and they're still going strong today.
In 2011 I caught up with Mats Bandstigen, President and CEO of Stiga Sports AB, who own the Stiga brand and managed to ask him a few questions about Stiga and their table tennis equipment.
Thanks for sharing your time with me here at All About Table Tennis.com
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about Stiga and give us an insight into the scale of operation of the company?
A. Stiga Table Tennis was founded in 1944 in Sweden and now sells table tennis products to 130 countries around the world and our target is to be the world's leading table tennis brand.
I'm the President and CEO of Stiga Sports AB, and my father was the President before me, so I've been involved with table tennis all my life.
Stiga is 50% owned by my family (the Bandstigen family) and 50% by Escalade Sports who are our partners and distributors in the USA.
Our annual turnover is approximately 30 million Euros (US$43 million) plus approximately 10 million Euros (US$14 million) from licensing income and we have around 70 employees working for Stiga.
Q. What's your perspective on the table tennis market at present and how are Stiga are performing in that market?
A. I think the European market is stable at the moment, or possibly declining a little, but the Asian market and the North American market are both expanding slightly.
The European market has been difficult for the last ten years or so.
However, Stiga have been expanding every year for the last ten years. Our turnover is up and our profits are up, so we're on the right track. Of course we are competitive so we always want to do better.
Q. Please tell us about the table tennis expertise within Stiga and how you develop new Stiga products.
A. All of our Research and Development is carried out in Sweden as we have many people here who are table tennis experts.
I was European Champion in the early 1980s as a cadet and junior in the team event (with Thomas Von Scheele and Goran Wrana). I also won a silver medal in doubles with Thomas Von Scheele and a Bronze medal in singles.
I also played in the World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1985 at a senior level, when I was only 17 years old.
We also have six or seven other employees who played table tennis at a high level.
Additionally, we sponsor the Swedish and Chinese national table tennis teams and we also sponsor Liu Guoliang who is the current Chinese men's national team coach and a former World and Olympic singles and doubles champion himself.
So we're all involved with Research and Development of Stiga products, together with our Sales Managers and Product Managers.
First we look at the market needs and then we sit down in this group and begin to develop new products. But it all depends on the particular products.
For example, Stiga blades are made at our factory in Sweden, so we work a lot with the Production Manager and we do a lot of testing.
Through our sponsorship of the Chinese national men's team and Liu Guoliang they give us very good feedback and advice and they tell us what they need and it starts from there.
In order for us to be the leading manufacturer in the world of table tennis blades, and as we're competing with the Chinese, we need to invest a lot of money in new machinery all the time.
So we need to be very focused in our product development and I believe we are very good at it, as we are table tennis experts.
We produce around 30-40 new products each year and it's expanding all the time as product development is very important to us.
Q. Can you tell us where Stiga table tennis equipment is made?
A. Our world famous table tennis blades, which are used by the Chinese national team, are made in Sweden. We have a sponsorship agreement with the Chinese national team to use Stiga blades.
Stiga table tennis rubbers are made in Japan, whilst ready-made rackets, balls and bags etc are made in China.
Stiga table tennis tables are made in three factories around the world.
For the European market, they're made in Germany, whilst for the Asian market they're made in China and for the North American market they're made in Mexico.
Q. Can you give us an insight into how much Stiga table tennis equipment is produced?
A. Our Mexico factory is the biggest producer of table tennis tables in the world and they make 300,000 Stiga table tennis tables per year.
In China we make around 200,000 table tennis tables per year, and in Germany we also make around 200,000 table tennis tables per year.
In Mexico, all 300,000 are made by just one producer, but in China and Germany they're made by several producers.
We also make around 150,000 - 200,000 Stiga table tennis rubbers, and 150,000 - 200,000 Stiga table tennis blades per year.
Q. Can you give us an insight into how Stiga table tennis equipment is made? Is it all automated or is it hand-made?
A. For Stiga table tennis blades it has become more and more automated in recent years, although there is still an element of hand-crafting involved.
For blades it's about trying to find a balance between speed and control because, whilst it's very easy to make a blade that's fast, you'll then lose the "feel", so it's all about finding the right balance.
For tables and rubbers the process is also becoming more and more automated and we have to invest in new machinery all the time. Because of this automation, we can compete with the Chinese manufacturers.
Q. Is the amount of stiga table tennis equipment you produce throughout the year consistent, or do you have big peaks and troughs of demand?
A. In Europe the table tennis season starts in August/September so there's a peak at that time and again in October/November for the Christmas sales.
But as we sell Stiga table tennis equipment to 130 countries around the world, although there are peaks and troughs in different countries, overall it evens out during the year, although the China market seems to be busy all the time.
Q. Can you tell us about how you sell Stiga equipment? Do you only sell via your dealer network or can customers buy direct from you?
A. This is one area of change for us. In the past we only sold Stiga table tennis equipment via our distributor network around the world, but now it's starting to change.
For example in September 2010 we started our own company in China, Stiga Sports Beijing Ltd, so we don't have a distributor and we sell the equipment ourselves. And we employ 25 staff in China just to do the selling.
This way of selling may be used in other countries in the future too, but we'll look at each country individually to work out the best way forward. We have to keep up with changes in the marketplace.
Q. Can you tell us who Stiga table tennis products are designed for?
A. Our target is to be the world's leading table tennis brand so obviously we are designing our products for the top players, but at the same time we have a wide assortment of products so we can also cater for all the table tennis market.
Q. Can you tell us how the ratings for Control, Speed and Spin for Stiga table tennis rubbers are calculated?
A. These ratings are calculated using a combination of "blind testing" by our best players and by using scientific methods.
However I think that the blind testing is the most important as our top players judgements are better than any scientific method.
Q. How do you promote and advertise Stiga?
A. We attend trade fairs such as ISPO in Germany, which is the biggest in the world, the Sporting Goods Fair in China and we work very closely with our distributors.
We also sponsor several of the top players in the world, including Xu Xin and Guo Yue of China and Feng Tianwei of Singapore who are all current World title winning players.
We are also starting to use the internet more and more. A year ago we employed our own Art Director, so we now have everything in-house and don't work with agencies. We also took on a Web Art Director last year because everything is changing so quickly and we need to make use of Facebook and Twitter etc.
We now have a Facebook page www.facebook.com/stigatabletennis where we post details of new Stiga equipment.
Thank you Mats.
2014 is a special year for STIGA.
This is the year when they celebrate their 70 year anniversary, so they have made the following video...
On 11 May 2015, Stiga announced the following...
It's with great sorrow in our hearts we have to announce that STIGA Sports CEO, Mr Mats Bandstigen suddenly passed away in cardiac arrest on the 8th of May.
Mats was 46 years old. All our thoughts goes to his family.
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