Wonder Woman

Neike van Aspert has sunk everything into Power-Plate Middle East — the company she set up to sell the latest exercise craze in Dubai and the rest of the region. The former Emirates trolley-dolly tells Alicia Buller why she’s confident the new venture will be a success.

  • E-Mail
By  Alicia Buller Published  March 5, 2006

|~|Powerplate-200.jpg|~|COMMITED: Aspert and her husband sold their house to provide financing for their exercise equipment venture.|~|Neike van Aspert has sunk everything into Power-Plate Middle East — the company she set up to sell the latest exercise craze in Dubai and the rest of the region. The former Emirates trolley-dolly tells Alicia Buller why she’s confident the new venture will be a success. Despite the wannabe fitness fanatic’s best intentions, most exercise junkets end up with the rest: lonely, behind the sofa, with only pizza cartons for company. Every year another sports fad rears its head. Ashtanga yoga, bouncy aerobic balls, abdominal rollers; they all promise the world — in the form of Madonna’s biceps, Kylie’s waist and Diaz’s legs — but, in the end, they leave mere mortals disappointed. Exercise takes a lot of work, no matter what souped-up packaging you try to put it in. So it was with a heavy heart then that Arabian Business met Nelke van Aspert, CEO of Power-Plate Middle East. The company's new contraption has been taking the UK by storm recently —regularly receiving top marks from reviews in the health sections of British broadsheet newspapers, as well as elsewhere in Europe. The machine is said to dramatically reduce time spent exercising by propping up regular sessions with additional vibrations, meaning a 10-minute Power-Plate session is approximately equal to a regular 90-minute aerobic session. Aspert — known for her business-savvy eye — quickly snapped up the Power-Plate franchise for the Middle East region and Pakistan, but not before selling everything she owned to plough investment into her new venture. After a few minutes of talking to her, this comes as no surprise. She’s a woman who likes to live on the edge. “I’ve always been a businesswoman. Even as a kid I was looking for the next enterprise scheme,” she says nonchalantly. “I used to sell fireworks when I was young because my pocket money was nowhere near enough.” When asked whether her parents were aware of her pyrogenic activities, she drags on her cigarette with admirable flourish: “No, they didn’t need to know.” Thankfully, the 41-year-old emerged unscathed from her early business dabblings, going on to run a successful model agency and restaurant in her native Netherlands — all while being a single mum. She says it was the ultimate training for running a business. “It teaches you to be strong, as well as creative with money. Looking after a family is underestimated, it is all about multi-tasking and is very hard work. I think the term ‘housewife’ should be changed to ‘house manager’, she muses, adding that this is how she terms herself when asked. However, surely, life must now be somewhat easier for Aspert, with her team of four home-helpers and a personal driver? “Yes, I need them so I can concentrate on my business,” she says. Sitting with Aspert is a joy, if only to be enraptured by her world of contradictions. She’s business-savvy: “While in the Netherlands, I researched all the possible businesses I could start in Dubai, I presented my husband with evidence of why and how they would succeed.” She’s shy: “If you’d asked me to meet you on mutual territory, I be scared to walk in if you weren’t there first.” She’s fatalistic: “I’m doing the second round,” she says of her latest marriage. She’s spirited: “When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.” But, most of all, she is proud: “Dubai is very much about appearance, you’re either a nobody or a somebody. And there’s no way I’m going be a nobody.” And — as if in one last testament to her contrariness — a thick whirl of Marlboro Red cigarette smoke surrounds her as she says that using Power-Plate three times a week makes her “feel amazingly fit.” Aspert is very striking, which might explain why she also did a stint as cabin crew for Emirates Airlines in her earlier years. “That’s what started my love affair with Dubai, I quite fancied living out the fantasy of 1001 Arabian nights,” she jokes. But, on a more a serious note — this is, too, what first acquainted her with the city where she hopes to do a lot of business. Power-Plate set up shop in the Middle East, based in Jebel Ali, Dubai, in late 2004. But Aspert admits that the first year was difficult: “Initially, we lost some US$75,000 due to bad payers, this taught me not to so readily trust some buyers,” she says. However, things have picked up since. Aspert says Power-Plate Middle East has now sold around 250 machines, with the ‘Pro’ product retailing at around US$12,000 and the ‘home’ version at US$4000. While one of her first customers was the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, Aspert adds that the business has also done well in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and, perhaps surprisingly, considering the country’s current political turmoil, Iraq. Aspert and her husband, the managing director of Power-Plate Middle East, sold their house and Dutch business to start the venture, investing a combined capital of around US$275,000. The pair also invested more cash in the rights for two more businesses in the region, Miffy toys — the manufacturer of Hello Kitty products — and Click toys, a Lego-type product. Still, Aspert’s hopes lie mostly with the launch of Power-Plate — as such, she is set to launch a brand-new gym in the Jumeirah area of Dubai within the next few weeks, featuring only Power-Plate machines. So what is it that makes Aspert so confident of her firm’s success in the region? She says the ‘convenience’ factor will be a winner in Dubai, for example. “You can squeeze an exercise session into 10 minutes, which means you can use your time wisely, doing things that you really enjoy — like seeing friends,” says the CEO. “Today’s demanding age means that we both have to look good and work hard — Power-Plate helps with both of these. We naturally have vibrations in the body, only the machine speeds them up, meaning that you expend more energy. “Even just a small session helps to get oxygen going and, therefore, reduces stress levels.” Aspert is concerned that while exercise is of so much value, it is increasingly being thrown to the wayside in lieu of long working hours. “I view Power-Point as a tool for solving health issues in the region, rather than beauty issues. [Here] people eat too many carbohydrates — this, in turn, converts to sugar and causes obesity and diabetes. However, increased media coverage in the region is helping to increase awareness of health issues and this helps the case for Power-Plate,” she says. Aspert knows all about the strains of a demanding career — she is a self-confessed workaholic, often with her nose to the grindstone from 8am to 1am, seven days a week. But as long as she’s got Power-Plate, she’s happy: “It relieves my anxiety,” she says. Presumably, it also relieves the calories from “mayonnaise and chips”, her favourite dish, as Aspert seems very much on fighting form. “Power-Plate is great for me as I only like passive sport — it’s best when it’s on TV. So I use the massage and step facilities,” she says. And, as befits the bright CEO, she shows off her own customised Power-Plate model, painted with a special stop-traffic-yellow finish. As she lunges down into squat position, she says: “Dubai is great for business — it’s like a pilot market for the whole of the Middle East — if it works in Dubai then you can get a handle on how to roll out the products to other local countries.” She pauses. “And you know what? Across the region I want people to eat, drink… and Power-Plate.”||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code