Benjamin Li
Apr 8, 2014

Passion, attitude, teamwork and honesty keep Pure International balanced

ASIA-PACIFIC - Fitness and exercise have always been a part of Colin Grant’s life. Growing up in Hong Kong, he played semi-professional tennis, representing the city for 10 years. Now, as CEO of Pure International, he says working in yoga and fitness keeps him sane and happy in an age of multitasking and information overload.

Colin Grant
Colin Grant

Grant says one of his biggest challenges is managing his schedule. A typical day might begin with a sales meeting, then one about the opening of a new premises, then another around a topic like clothing design.

Why is Pure Yoga still growing as a regional player while so many smaller competitors have fallen by the wayside? Part of the answer lies in diversification. Grant has expanded the business from yoga and fitness to organic health food and apparel. He believes a brand should have a consistent personality, and Pure has what he calls the “Pure path”, based on the core values of passion, attitude, teamwork and honesty.

Pure has six yoga and five fitness centres in Hong Kong, as well as locations in Singapore, Taiwan and Shanghai. Grant says simply that he is in the business of making people “feel happier; feel better about themselves”.

To that end, the brand has expanded into healthy food and drink. In Hong Kong, Pure now operates an 8,000-sq-foot production kitchen in the industrial district of Chai Wan, where it produces fresh juice, sandwiches, salads and wraps to be delivered to its studios and fitness centres twice a day.

Grant notes that healthy eating is an important part of a yoga enthusiast’s lifestyle. He sees the ‘super food’ concept as a growth area in Hong Kong and predicts it will develop over the next six months.

“When we first set up Pure Yoga 12 years ago, there were only three or four studios; yoga was not on the map," he recalls. "After we opened, within a year or two, there were hundreds of studios. But lots of them closed down.”

What is behind Pure’s survival? It does have the advantage of deep pockets. Grant’s partner is Bruce Rockowitz, a business tycoon who recently married Taiwanese celebrity Coco Lee.

But Grant says the company focuses on offering great yoga at a fair price. “We charge two or three times more than our competitors,” he says frankly. “That is what it costs to run a business. The rent is expensive in Hong Kong, and the payroll is not cheap either. If you want good staff, you have to pay for it. You can charge what you charge if you deliver a good experience.”

He added that Pure does not do deals or negotiate the membership fees with sales reps. “That gives us the price integrity that leads to brand loyalty and brand trust,” he says.

Having 50,000 members in the region speaks for the company's success. Grant believes that the best marketing comes from Pure’s members, and the brand relies heavily on word-of-mouth.

He uses the word “honesty” a number of times. “I always tell myself that If you have to be tricky, sneaky or aggressive to get somebody to buy a membership, obviously you are in the wrong business," he says. "You don’t go to Louis Vuitton and say ‘I like that bag but I want 30 per cent off’. I am not comparing us to them, I am just saying companies have brand recognition, integrity and a price and should stick to it.”

Essentially, Grant believes a business should sell itself if it is to be sustainable. Competitors have trouble, he says, when they try to make as much money as possible without taking a long-term view.

On the marketing front, Pure is active in above-the-line advertising, billboards and magazines and most of the big social-media and online platforms, but Grant hesitates to use TV. TV is expensive and may not reach the right people, he says, whereas a strategically placed billboard can reach 60,000 or 70,000 people a day in an area with three clubs within walking distance.

Pure’s target audience is very wide, from teenagers to 60- or 70-year-olds. While Pure’s fitness membership is a 50-50 split between male and female, women still make up the bulk (75 per cent) of its yoga customers. But he says the ranks of male yoga practitioners are increasing.

Grant is not aiming for world domination. He is content with growing the business in Asia in moderation. “I just want to do a few things really well,” he says. “It is not the question of being the biggest, but being the best.”

Ironically, he opened Pure because of his passion for yoga (see sidedbar below). Now that he’s running it, however, he has little time to practice. But he dismisses the suggestion that yoga might just be a passing trend in the cities where Pure operates, quipping that Yoga has been around 5000 years, so he'd be very unlucky indeed to only last 12.

An accidental career path 

Grant’s connection with yoga was literally accidental. In the summer of 2001 when on a golfing holiday in Canada with Rockowitz, someone suggested taking a yoga class on a rainy day. “I thought it was a crazy idea. I was a guy, I went to the gym a lot, I was fit, I play tennis and golf; I wanted something challenging, and it did not appeal!” Grant said.

In the end they joined a hot yoga class (practicing yoga in a heated room of 38 to 40 degrees centigrade).  Grant clearly remembers the feeling after the class. “It was more than a physical exercise, it was emotional. I felt mentally stronger and reconnected my body and mind.”

After practicing for 12 years, Grant says yoga has done many many things for him. After a tough day, he says, “I do a class, I come out, and I can see things clearer. I can find a solution and I am able to manage better under pressure.”

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