Hotseat
Colin Grant

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 had 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 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 yoga 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 necessarily 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 had rented the rest of the floor, 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 does about 1,000 students a day.

Can you sum up the Pure Yoga 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 for the next 12 months?
We are opening a studio in Shanghai this year – we’ve signed that deal and that will open in 2013. We recently announced that we are opening 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 around the middle of the year.
That’s enough for now. Slow and steady wins the race.

What have been your highest and lowest points since launching Pure Yoga?
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 in the world?
The Masai Mara in Kenya.

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

Pure Yoga
The Pure Group has grown
The Pure Group runs yoga retreats in a wide range of exotic locations
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Leisure Management
2013 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Colin Grant

Hotseat

Colin Grant


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

Colin Grant started his career as a semi professional tennis player, before launching the Pure Group in 2002
Pure Yoga
The Pure Group has grown
The Pure Group runs yoga retreats in a wide range of exotic locations

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 had 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 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 yoga 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 necessarily 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 had rented the rest of the floor, 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 does about 1,000 students a day.

Can you sum up the Pure Yoga 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 for the next 12 months?
We are opening a studio in Shanghai this year – we’ve signed that deal and that will open in 2013. We recently announced that we are opening 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 around the middle of the year.
That’s enough for now. Slow and steady wins the race.

What have been your highest and lowest points since launching Pure Yoga?
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 in the world?
The Masai Mara in Kenya.

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


Originally published in Leisure Management 2013 issue 1

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