Pure Grit

A rainy-day interlude led Colin Grant to start the Pure Group, a phenomenally successful fitness and yoga chain in Asia

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It pays to have a hobby. And for Colin Grant, doing what he loves has also turned out to be rather profitable. Starting with two teachers and a studio in Central, his fitness and yoga chain now has outlets in Shanghai, Singapore, Taiwan and New York.

“We didn’t start with 27 locations. We started with one. It was a pipe dream after taking a yoga class. The success is not my doing. It’s the yoga, and the fact that people want to stay healthy,” the co- founder and chief executive of The Pure Group said.

Grant is opening next month another 10,000-square-foot yoga studio on the ground floor of Pacific Place on premises that Burberry used to occupy. Three additional venues have also been planned to open next year in Causeway Bay, Singapore and Beijing.

The studio in Admiralty will offer yoga and meditation classes, designed for office workers. Retail stores will be included, selling cold-pressed juice, salad, smoothies, as well as athleisure wear from the group’s spin-off Nood Food and Pure Apparel label.

“What we are trying to do is to build a lifestyle awareness. People don’t just come and practise yoga. They can come an hour before their class, or stay after their practice, to meet friends and socialize,” Grant said, describing his ideas.

Grant, a tennis whiz kid, founded The Pure Group in 2002 with Bruce Rockowitz, chief executive of Li & Fung’s Global Brands Group. The pair have a long-standing friendship, dating back when Rockowitz was the teenaged Grant’s tennis coach.

Grant moved to Hong Kong when he was 11 as his father was posted to work for the MTR. The teenager was a top seed, representing Hong Kong in many international tournaments, including the Davis Cup.

He displayed an entrepreneurial spirit even when he was young. At 12, he started his first company in racket stringing. Before Pure, his most successful was video rental shop Movieland, which he started at 18. His store at the Aberdeen Marina Club is still operating today.

In 2001, a golf trip to Canada led Grant and Rockowitz to establish Pure.

“Bruce and I were exercise nuts. We could not play golf because it was raining. So someone suggested that we did a yoga class with Patrick Creelman. It was totally different from weightlifting. It felt good. The next day I practised yoga again instead of golfing,” Grant recalled. “When I came back after the holiday, my body and mind actually missed yoga. I quickly returned to Canada for another week and took more classes.”

After that week, Grant and Rockowitz decided to open their own yoga studio. It took them only five months to open their first outlet at the Centrium.

“We were the first tenant in that office building. We got there before Gilbert [Yeung, Dragon-i founder],” Grant joked.

In hindsight, the opening was incredibly risky. An investment of US$1 million (HK$7.8 million) went into the project. The pair set up a venue equipped with locker and shower facilities that no yogi would think were needed. Advertisements that featured Almen Wong Pui-ha, former model and now yoga instructor, were everywhere.

And in the days when only a few would go to the gym, let alone to yoga class, Pure’s monthly membership was HK$800, double what California Fitness charged.

“At the time, there were only three or four yoga studios in Hong Kong. Their combined area was probably about 2,000 square feet. We opened a 6,500-square-foot studio. We did not even know that it was the largest in the world,” Grant said.

Even Grant agrees that his success was an outsider getting lucky.

“I wasn’t afraid of failing because every time I went on a tennis court when I was six, seven years old, I knew that I was going to win or lose. Losing didn’t scare me. It motivated me. If I lost, I would analyze why I lost. I would go and practise and try to win,” he said.

Today, the company is phenomenally successful. In Asia, it employs 1,600 staff, and 20,000 people attend its fitness and yoga classes every day.

In Hong Kong, the studio in Langham Place is the busiest, with 1,400 check-ins every day.¬†Encompassing a floor area of 35,000 square feet, it’s also one of the world’s largest yoga studios.

“People who want to lead a healthy life will pay a premium for quality services. But to stay competitive, we are constantly evolving, and offering new offerings. The fitness industry is not a sprint. It’s a marathon,” he said.

The article first appeared in the Standard on July 21, 2017.