From a single yoga studio in Hong Kong with just two teachers in 2002, the Pure Group has today grown to over 20 world-class facilities. Sooni Shroff-Gander speaks to Colin Grant, founder and CEO.
Where did you grow up?
In England, Iran, and Hong Kong. I went to junior school and secondary schools in Hong Kong. Then, I won a tennis scholarship to university in the States and went there for a year before I returned to Hong Kong – where I have been ever since.
You were a pro tennis player. What was that like?
I played tennis all the time from about the age of four years old. I started in England, then Iran, then Hong Kong. It was hard to make friends at school because as soon as the bell rang for the end of the day, I was out of there and down on the tennis courts. I was so young when I played my first tournament in Hong Kong that I didn’t even know what the word “seeded” meant. I asked my father, a keen tennis player himself, and he said it meant “very good”! I reached the finals and then went up through the ranks through the Hong Kong Tennis Association Junior Pro Programme which was very good – still is.
I then represented Hong Kong in the juniors from the age of 11, and then the Davis Cup for about 10 years and travelled Asia, played at Junior Wimbledon, Junior US Open, Junior French Open. Had some reasonable wins and was ranked number one in doubles and within the top five as a junior at various times.
So what happened?
To make it a full time career, 100 per cent of the time, I had to feel I would be in the top 30 in the world, and I just didn’t think I’d get there. My dad always reminds me that Stefan Edberg, with whom I was hitting balls one day, said that I’d reach the top 30 in the world – and that’s from the guy who was ranked number one in the world at the time. He’d just won Wimbledon. But easier said than done! I gave up a few years after that; you have to travel 40 weeks of the year, it’s a huge commitment and it just wasn’t my gig.
None. Absolutely none. I still love tennis. I made some great friendships. I played as much as I wanted to and I got the most out of it. I’m very comfortable with the decision as it was the right one. Tennis played a huge part in my life; it moulded my character and personality. It still does play a huge part of my life. I play every week with Bruce Rockowitz, who’s been playing with me since I was 15 years old. So we go way back and he’s my partner in the Pure Group.
I learned so much from tennis that has made me who I am and my company what it is: a work ethic, passion, doing what I believe in and loving what I do.
What drew you to open a Yoga studio in 2002 – so much ahead of the rest of the pack?
I was on holiday in Whistler with Bruce [Rockowitz] and we couldn’t play golf because it was raining. A friend suggested we try a yoga class and I thought to myself: “I don’t do yoga, I’m a gym guy! I need to bench press my body weight and feel good about it.” But we ended up doing that yoga class and although I had always been so active and always appreciated the benefits of a workout, this was different. I came out of that class and thought, “This is good.” The next day wasn’t raining but I cancelled golf and did another yoga class. It appealed to me emotionally, and when I returned to Hong Kong I missed yoga, both physically and mentally.
How did you come up with the name “Pure”?
We had a list and one of them was PURE. So we picked that and said yep, we can do Pure Yoga, and then we can do Pure Fitness, and then Pure this and that… and okay, we were done.
How was your idea received initially?
People would come up and say to me: “So, you’re opening a yoga studio? But no one here practices yoga”. I’d say: “It’s amazing! Try it!” We were lucky. We got it right and everything just fell into place. People always said, “But it might not work.” I always said, “Yes, it might not, but there’s only one way to find out!”
What makes Pure so successful (you have diversified with nood food, Pure Apparel and Pure Fitness)?
We loved it, we believed in it, and it has never been a job. I’m lucky because I love what I do. To me it’s not a job. The rest is an evolution of the yoga – a natural extension of that is fitness centres, very complementary as it all ties into the lifestyle. The whole idea of “wellness” is so much on everyone’s mind globally and in Asia. It’s not just people staying fit; it’s about diet, it’s meditation, health, it’s all of that. Yoga as a result has become less asanas and more meditation and pranayama and we’re bringing more people to it.
Has the Asian fitness scene reached saturation point yet?
This is just the beginning! In Hong Kong, about 4 per cent of the population have an active gym membership; in the US it’s about 20 per cent; in China it is probably 0.1 per cent and growing. So the potential is huge. This is just the beginning. I feel so lucky to be in something that has a 30 to 40-year horizon.
Why did you choose to open Pure in Taikoo Place?
We opened Pure Yoga at Lincoln House in November 2007. It’s been doing very well and gave us the confidence to open Pure Fitness in Taikoo Place.
Location is everything. We opened Pure Fitness here at PCCW Tower in 2016 and it took us five years to find it. We haven’t yet closed a location because we want to deal with strategic landlords – landlords like Swire Properties, who understand that as a part of this development in Quarry Bay, their office tenants and residents need something like this.
It’s not only a question of rent, it’s a question of stability, understanding our services, a long lease – 10 years or we walk. We’re looking at 30,000 square feet in Hong Kong. It’s not only about the rent. We’ve walked away if it didn’t feel right – you can’t afford to be emotional.
So are you a businessman or a yogi?
Both! I need to be a bit of both. Part of the success lies in my being a bit of both. When you have a business, you can’t just be a yogi; but the flip side is that if I wasn’t a yogi, I wouldn’t make the right decisions for the business. If one day the business is absolutely amazing, I don’t do somersaults; if it is a bit quiet, that’s okay. So – half businessman, half yogi!
Favourite eatery in Hong Kong?
I love Café Grey in the Upper House. The level of service, the food, and the view. They have a fantastic wine list. It’s just fantastic.
With so much going on, how do you relax?
I still do yoga and I prefer it to the gym. For me, it is a physical and emotional experience that is just amazing. I love the hot vinyasa yoga, which clears my head as much as it gets rid of the physical aches and pains.
Social tennis, hikes, golf, three dogs. But now with a newborn and a toddler, things change.
What’s new on the horizon for Pure?
We’re integrating everything online and on an app. Workshops, yoga sessions, wellness, health, fitness, loyalty programmes… there’s so much we can do. We have 16 locations in Hong Kong and we’re continuing to grow. Meditation classes, on the app and in the studios, we’re giving those a bigger push. As the students progress and evolve from the physical, they go from three classes a day – yes, some do! – to the pranayama and breathing side of yoga.
We’ve just launched Small Group Privates in Pure Yoga too, with an extra fee but you can bring your friends and family.
We’ll soon introduce Small Group Training to Pure Fitness in 2017, offering circuit-based training up to 12 people. It’s great for community building.
Do you have any words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs?
If you believe in it and yourself, you’ll get there. We didn’t make money for four years, but I wasn’t worried; I knew we’d do it, I knew we’d get there. You have to believe in yourself. But, like in tennis, if you’re overconfident and cocky, you’ll fail. If you have no confidence, you’ll fail. It’s the same with business.
Photography by Michaela Giles