SuperPark’s lessons from Suzhou: Patience pays dividends!

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Finnish SuperPark’s sixteenth activity park is now open to large public in mainland China. CEO Juha Tanskanen explains the lessons learned on the road from Sotkamo to Suzhou.

The decision to take SuperPark on the fast track to global growth was made two years ago. SuperPark in Hong Kong is now fully operational, while the activity park in Suzhou was opened to the public on 21st September. The next SuperParks in Asia will open their doors in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and the next SuperPark in China in KunShan in late 2018 or early 2019. SuperPark plans to open 4–5 parks in China and 6–7 elsewhere in Asia in 2019.

“The preparations took about two years, but now we’ve a foothold in China we can probably advance quickly. I’m approached every week with proposals for cooperation. At present, our goal is to establish a few dozen parks there. The county holds tremendous opportunities,” says Juha Tanskanen.

CEO Juha Tanskanen’s first experiences indicate that the SuperPark concept works quite well in China.

SuperParks are indoor activity facilities for dozens of sports and for having fun while getting exercise; but they do not have machines offering joyrides. In SuperParks children, youngsters, adults and families extract the joy themselves – by running, climbing, jumping and throwing. The parks are a place for exercising safely and doing healthy, fun things together.

The SuperPark in Suzhou, a metropolis of over 10 million inhabitants, is a part of the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre – a new leisure centre built at a cost of €800m. The SuperPark will operate next to a stadium accommodating 45,000 visitors. A multipurpose hall, outdoor arenas for ball games, a swimming centre, recreation areas, a shopping mall and many other facilities surround the SuperPark. The leisure conglomeration covers altogether 60 hectares.

“We have an unambiguous order in China. China’s authorities have expressed concern about the physical fitness of the country’s young people, and the goal is to encourage sports and exercise nationwide. First experiences indicate that our concept works and that ‘sparking’ also captures the interest of Chinese youth, even though they’re used to more programmed exercise,” reports Tanskanen.

The SuperPark at Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre is expecting 250,000 visitors a year.

Here are some tips and nuggets of advice from Juha Tanskanen for companies eyeing the Chinese market:

1. Language proficiency the biggest challenge

By far the biggest challenge in starting up a business is the language. English is not much spoken in mainland China, and misunderstandings are easy when you can’t speak directly to your discussion partner. Working with an interpreter, you can never be sure something is said the right way.

2. A governmental player is a different negotiating partner

Suzhou is situated in Jiangsu province. Unlike in Shanghai and Hong Kong, the negotiating partner in all matters concerning the company’s premises and ecosystem in Suzhou is a government agency. Familiar European ways of doing business do not always apply with governmental players, whose priorities may be different. It’s been very beneficial to SuperPark that state-owned investor Tesi has invested in the company.

3. Nothing happens immediately

A Finnish entrepreneur wants to get the ball rolling straightforward, but that is sometimes not how it is done in China. It helps to remember that China has a culture stretching back thousands of years. Especially at first, it is best to start with patience. Matters can drag on and on, and it is difficult to estimate how much time they will take. Once the decisions are made and permissions received, though, you must act quickly to avoid missing the time window, or even the  idea being copied.

4. A strong competitive edge is critical

Chinese negotiators may consider your idea good but wonder why you are needed at all. They sometimes consider themselves to be just as competent as their negotiating partner. To enter the Chinese market, therefore, you need to possess something unique that gives you a distinct competitive advantage. It is of benefit if the product or service is not too simple.

5. Finding the right partner is essential

A local partner is essential in China, and a good partner is one whose goals are in line with yours. The mission of the current SuperPark partner is to start educating China’s children and youngsters more internationally, in harmony with SuperPark’s basic concept. In China, a partner’s real objectives may be revealed to be different to those discussed, resulting in no common agenda. It is advantageous if your cooperation partner has previous connections with Europe.

6. Contract law can be challenging

European contracts must be adapted to local conditions in China. That means perusing them in detail with a commercial lawyer familiar with local practice, because the same expression may mean something different to what is normal in Europe. Money transactions need careful consideration. There are very many practical matters to be handled. Opening a bank account, for example, meant that Tanskanen had to personally visit the bank in each city.

7. Supervision and control especially important

Ensuring visitors’ safety is always important in an activity park, but must be given even more emphasis in China because children and youngsters are not used to exercising freely. More personnel are need for supervision and control than in Finland.

8. Best to know local customs

Attendance evening entertainment events is expected in China. It’s good to know how to address the host and how to propose toasts. Some caution is needed, too, because often a guest can be made drunk in the pursuit of hospitality. Hosts sometimes seem to shout and scream at each other – but don’t worry! They’re not angry, that’s just the way they talk. It’s very loud in some parts of China. Looking someone in the eyes is not as common as in Finland. It’s wise to remember also that China is a huge country. Even in Finland, the south differs from the north. China is so much larger and therefore far more varied. Knowing the customs of one locality doesn’t mean you know the whole of China.

Juha Tanskanen

Who he is: Founder and CEO of SuperPark

Education: Education graduate.

Earlier positions: Founder, owner and Board Chairman of SuperJymy, the association behind Sotkamon Jymy baseball club. Founder, owner and Board Chairman of Millerlean Oy (formerly Pohjolan Mylly) advertising agency. Built the operating models for Vuokatin Matkailukeskus Oy, Oulun Matkailu Oy, GoSaimaa Oy and KuopioTahko Markkinointi Oy as well as the companies for some of these.

SuperPark Oy

Established: In Vuokatti, Sotkamo, Finland, in 2012. Founders: Juha Tanskanen, Taneli Sutinen and Jarmo Heikkinen.

What it does: Owns and operates indoor activity parks in Jyväskylä, Oulu, Turku, Tampere, Espoo, Vantaa and Vuokatti, with parks operating under licence in Kuopio Pitkälahti, Joensuu, Mikkeli, Hyvinkää Sveitsi, Tahko and Kalajoki.

Abroad: SuperPark Uppsala, SuperPark Hong Kong and SuperPark Suzhou. Numerous parks soon to be opened at locations in Europe, Asia and China.

Business concept: Indoor activity parks are unique venues for children, adults and families to be active, get fit and have fun together.

Net sales: Approx. €14 million in 2017.

Personnel: 500 including agency workers.

Owners: Sentica Partners Oy, Tesi, Takoa Invest Oy, Magic Angel Oy, and the company’s management.


Watch also Superpark’s video below.