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28592 Leisure Handbook - Colin Grant

People

From Leisure Handbook 2014 issue 1
Colin Grant


The Hong Kong-based seriel entrepreneur talks to Magali Robathan about risk and innovation

Magali Robathan, Leisure Media
Colin Grant started his career as a semi professional tennis player, before launching the Pure Group in 2002
Pure Group is developing into a global business – a new Pure Yoga is opens in Shangai in October 2013
The Pure Group runs yoga retreats in a wide range of exotic locations

When Colin Grant launched his first Pure studio in 2002, the market for yoga in Hong Kong was so small people told him he was crazy. Today the company runs yoga studios, gyms and restaurants in four countries, with plans for more

What is your career background?
I used to be a bit of a tennis player, and that was my main career for a few years [Grant played semi professional tennis, taking part in international tournaments including Junior Wimbledon and the Davis Cup]. I also dabbled in other businesses – I started my first business aged 12 – a racket stringing business, then I was the sole agent for a brand of tennis rackets when I was 14. I started a movie rental business when I was 18, then a coffee business when I was 24. I stopped playing tennis in 1995, looked around for something to do with the next stage in my life, and stumbled across yoga.

How did you enjoy your time as a tennis player?
I thoroughly enjoyed it – I travelled and met a lot of amazing people.

The tennis has had a big influence on how I approach business. In tennis you have to practice hard and work hard, just like in business. Every time you go out on a tennis court you could win or lose, which means that you’re not afraid of losing. If you lose you just practice some more.

Playing tennis gave me the confidence not to be afraid of failing in business. If I’d been scared of failing, I would never have started Pure Yoga. People told me it was a crazy idea and that it would never work.

When and where did you become interested in yoga?
It was on a golf holiday in Whistler, Canada in 2001. One day we couldn’t play golf, so someone suggested a yoga class. The idea of stretching in a room didn’t really appeal to me, but I decided to give it a go. I remember coming out of that class and thinking ‘wow!’ It felt so different to coming out of a gym, not just physically, but emotionally. I thought it was amazing.

I returned to Hong Kong and really missed the yoga. I went back to Whistler in September 2001, did a week’s yoga and decided that I was going to open my own yoga studio. I was on holiday with a friend of mine, Bruce Rockowitz, who also used to be a tennis player and who’d had a lot of success in business [Rockowitz is group president and CEO of global sourcing company Li & Fung]. I talked to him about my idea and he said “let’s do it together”.

We shook hands in September 2001, looked for a site in October, found it in November, got the keys in December, and designed and built and opened our studio in January 2002.

How was your idea received?
Everyone thought we were crazy because back then there were only a handful of yoga studios in Hong Kong, and probably only about 100 to 200 people practicing yoga. People thought there was no market, but I trusted yoga and I went for it.

We spent US$1m, and opened a 6,000sq ft studio. We wanted a large studio so we could teach up to 110 people in one class.

It was a very different way of offering yoga. Up until then yoga studios tended to be owned and run by yoga teachers, who were great at teaching, but didn’t have the money, the business ideas or the connections to do something bigger.

How quickly did business pick up?
Within three months of opening, we’d rented the rest of the floor in the building, taking us up to 10,000sq ft.

The largest studio we’ve opened to date is 35,000sq ft, with 55 showers in the ladies’ changing rooms. That location does about 1,000 students a day.

Can you sum up the offer?
We offer a choice of up to 60 types of yoga taught by passionate teachers in facilities that allow people to work out, to sweat, or to get deep into meditation and different kinds of yoga. It’s not religious and it’s not like a gym – it’s somewhere in the middle; a sanctuary of strength and spirit. We have opened the door to yoga for a lot of people.

We also provide towels and mats, attractive studios, pleasant changing rooms and a nice lounge afterwards. That all creates a better experience.

What were the biggest challenges of the first few years?
Being so busy and trying to manage the quality. We started with three staff and I used to hand out towels at the counter; when you are a small company you don’t have time to step back and focus on quality. You’re so involved in the business on a day-to-day basis. Now it’s different. Today we’ve got 1,200 staff and a great team, so I can step back and focus on other parts of the business.

You also have Pure Fitness, Pure Dining and Pure Retail. How did these evolve?
It was a natural extension to the yoga business. When you have 700 people doing yoga, a lot of them have partners who prefer to go to a gym. We also had people who wanted to do both yoga classes and go to a gym, so it made sense to add fitness facilities.

For many people, working out is a social thing, somewhere they can meet people, which is why we decided to add a restaurant. Our restaurant is not a health farm – you can have champagne, a gin and tonic, a chocolate pudding. It’s a full service restaurant.

People come in, they do some yoga, or a core workout, they can go and relax in our restaurant. It’s all about a balanced lifestyle.

Also we’re trying to build a community, and this ties in with that. We hold a lot of member events, parties and corporate events at the restaurant.

Does the restaurant incorporate the Pure Yoga philosophy in any way?
No, not really. If you walked into the restaurant, you wouldn’t think it was connected to the gym or yoga studio. It’s a place for people to go for a beer or a meal after their classes.

You linked up with Equinox to launch Pure Yoga in New York in 2008. How did this partnership come about?
About five years ago the Equinox management team came here and looked at our studios. They loved the yoga – it was something they wanted to get into, and they could see we were years ahead of what they wanted to do. They expressed an interest in doing something with us in North America.

From our point of view, our focus is on Asia; we have enough to do here. We thought that we weren’t going to open in North America for many years, if at all, so it made sense to team up with Equinox. They’re great operators, they run amazing clubs and they know what they’re doing. They have two studios, and are looking to grow and expand as well. It was great for our brand. They do all the heavy lifting so it’s not a distraction for us.

How do you find your yoga instructors?
When we first opened it was very difficult recruiting teachers – we were trying to persuade people to come over from America and other parts of the world. Now we run our own teacher training programme, so we can cherry pick the best students from that programme.

We have really put an emphasis on creating an environment where teachers can be constantly challenged and can grow. We have a comprehensive internal assessment and continuing education programme, we have monthly studio meetings and we have a scholarship programme where teachers can take two months off to learn yoga in the US or India, and we’ll subsidise that. Because we have such a good programme there’s quite a lot of interest in any positions we have, and we have a very good retention rate among our teachers.

Can you describe the design of your studios?
Design is a big focus – it has to complement and enhance the experience. The fitness and yoga studios offer quite a different experience – for the yoga studios we use a warmer colour palette and the music is softer, while the fitness centres are brighter, the temperature is cooler and the music is louder. The fitness and yoga offers are completely separate, with separate entrances and changing rooms.

We do a lot of the design in-house, and we also bring in exterior designers from time to time.

When did you start offering Pure Retreats?
Around six or seven years ago. We have done Pure Retreats in Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippines, Bali, China, Taiwan, Bhutan and New Zealand. Next year we’re doing Namibia. We have a community of students in Hong Kong who come to the studio on a regular basis, and this is an opportunity to take that experience to some exotic or amazing place. It’s good for our teachers as well – they come and teach around 15 classes a week, which is a manageable schedule, then they do retreats around the world, they can do workshops, teacher training, we bring in guest teachers they can learn from. It helps with teacher retention as well as member retention.

What are your plans going forward?
We’re opening a studio in Shanghai this October (2013) and a second yoga studio and another fitness centre in central Hong Kong. We’re also looking at other sites in Singapore and Taiwan, and we’re launching a yoga clothing line. That’s enough for now. Slow and steady wins the race.

What have been your highest and lowest points since launching?
Opening the first studio was both the highest and the lowest point. Having only taken five yoga classes, I opened a 6,000sq ft yoga studio.

I spent a couple of months building the studio, and was so happy when it opened, but then it was so busy that I couldn’t get everybody into a class.

How do you relax?
I like to walk the dogs and I play tennis with friends. I chill out at home and relax. When I do practice yoga, as much as I enjoy the yoga, I’m looking around and thinking ‘that wall could do with a touch up’. It’s hard to totally relax.

Where is your favourite place?
The Masai Mara in Kenya.

What’s your philosophy?
Live every day as though it was your last, because one day it will be.

PURE GROUP TIMELINE

From a single yoga studio in Hong Kong with just two teachers, the Pure Group has grown to 20 facilities across four countries

January 2002
Pure Yoga at The Centrium, Central, Hong Kong

August 2002
Pure Yoga at Soundwill Plaza, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

December 2003
Pure Fitness at Kinwick Centre, SoHo, Hong Kong

August 2004
Pure Fitness at ifc Mall, Central, Hong Kong

September 2004
RED Bar + Restaurant at ifc Mall, Central, Hong Kong

March 2005
Pure Yoga at The Peninsula Office Tower, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

November 2005
Pure Yoga at Ngee Ann City, Orchard Road, Singapore

April 2006
Pure Yoga at Pure Tower, Taipei, Taiwan

August 2006
Pure Yoga at Langham Place Office Tower, Mong Kok, Hong Kong

May 2007
Pure Fitness at Langham Place Office Tower, Mong Kok, Hong Kong

September 2007
Pure Yoga at Chevron House, Singapore

November 2007
Pure Yoga at TaiKoo Place, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong

June 2008
Pure Yoga in New York, a joint venture with Equinox

July 2009
Pure Bar + Restaurant at Kinwick Centre, SoHo, Hong Kong

December 2009
Pure Yoga second location in New York, a joint venture with Equinox

August 2010
Pure Fitness at Knightsbridge, Orchard Road, Singapore

September 2010
Pure Fitness at Fairmont House, Admiralty, Hong Kong

November 2010
Pure Urban – Pure Yoga second location at Urban One, Taipei

February 2012
Pure Fitness at Asia Square, Marina View, Singapore

September 2012
Pure Fitness at Lee Theatre Plaza, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong



From Leisure Management Issue 1 2013, p24

Originally published in Leisure Handbook magazine 2014 issue 1

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