As with most business owners, Jon Reichlin is passionate about his company. And as a hardcore endurance athlete who recently completed the legendary Escape From Alcatraz triathlon, he is equally passionate about his sport (“It involved swimming across the San Francisco Bay which is a very cold place, but my heart was going so fast I didn’t feel the cold!” he recounts.).

By blending the two disciplines, Reichlin finds himself part of a select group of triathletes who not only manage to run a company, but also literally run (and bike and swim) on a fairly regular basis. Reichlin is the proud owner of the Nathan Human Propulsion Laboratories, a subsidiary of the Penguin Brands, Inc. and the industry leader in hydration, reflective, and multisport gear and accessories, which caters to elite athletes, first-time runners, 5K walkers, Ironman competitors, and basically just about anyone interested in trying their hand at the sport.

Developed for Athletes by Athletes

While most companies’ new products are conceptualized in the boardroom, Nathan’s production development labs are the very terrain top-level athletes constantly strive to conquer. “Our laboratory is really a group of ultra-runners who go and run hundred-mile 24- to 36-hour races,” shares Reichlin, himself among Nathan’s group of running scientists. “We do our best product research scaling the Tetons, crossing the Grand Canyon or clinging to a sub-6 minute pace 20 miles into a marathon, because what needs to be improved upon often comes clear only under extreme conditions.”

The result is a wide range of accessories across a number of product categories, from hydration belts and reflective products, to bladder packs and mp3 arm bands, all of which have enabled the company to grow dramatically every year. “When I bought Nathan’s reflector vest business, our then two largest customers announced they were no longer buying products from us,” recounts Reichlin. “But after that initial challenge, it really became a labor of love. We’ve since doubled our business, we grow it 40 to 50 percent a year, and the challenges now is more on growth pains.”

A Vibrant Running Community

It would be irrational to undermine the record growth of running communities around the world. “In the United States alone, the growth over the last six years has been dramatic and it’s primarily driven by women.

The men’s running business is growing at 5 to 6 percent, and the women’s running business is growing at 65 percent. In large part, that is driven by the proliferation of charitable races,” discloses Reichlin.

In the country, Reichlin attributes the growth to practicality. “I think running in this economy is so vibrant because all you really have to do is buy a pair of sneakers and go for a run,” he says. “Nathan has had a significant presence in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. And when we saw how much the Philippines is also into running, we decided to partner with a local distributor to further expand our reach.”

Nathan products are made available Tin the country through the Primer Group of Companies. “We’ve been in and out of the Philippines a few times because we haven’t found the right partner until now,” shares Megan Russell, Penguin Brands’ current vice president of sales and marketing. “The Primer Group has a good balance between owning their own retail store, understanding retail, and also having a very vibrant distribution business with very strong brands.”

“Our shoe care brand Penguin and our apparel and hydration brand Nathan is where we’re at today in the Philippine market,” says Reichlin. “But in time, we are thinking of bringing our other brands to the local market as well.”

Published in the January 3, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.