Pure entrepreneur

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2007, 12:00am

Former Davis Cup tennis pro Colin Grant hung up his racquet to get in on the multimillion-dollar yoga industry

Colin Grant has always been a winner. Whether it's on the tennis court or in business, the former Hong Kong Davis Cup player just keeps on serving aces.

As a young tennis player, he made a name for himself, winning numerous local titles and becoming a household name as one of the most successful players to emerge from a generation of local tennis stars.

He has beaten fellow professionals, and outsmarted and outwitted his peers. He even gained the rare distinction of winning three local tennis titles in the same year - a great achievement for a player who became an integral member of the Hong Kong Davis Cup squad.

While many of his peers continued playing tennis or ventured into coaching, Mr Grant knew that the demands of being a professional player were huge, and that being a pro on tour wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He also knew there were other opportunities - and he had other ideas.

No longer wanting to play full-time, he left the gruelling training schedules and fitness regimes and put all his energy into his businesses.

He has always been an entrepreneur, and he knew one day that he would make it in the world of business.

But he wouldn't have dreamed that his success would one day take him to the top of the corporate ladder as chief executive of Pure Group, which runs Pure Yoga, one of the most successful chains of yoga studios in the region.

Perhaps his discipline as a tennis player helped him in the cutthroat fitness business, knowing that hard work and success usually went hand in hand.

'It certainly helped. I started playing tennis very early when I was six years old, and I practised every day. It was demanding, and you had to be very disciplined,' said the 41 year old.

'Sometimes you may want to skip training for a day or so, but if you want to become a professional, you have to work very hard. As an ex-professional tennis player, I learned how to persist and strive to pursue my goal.

'I enjoyed playing a lot, and I just thought coaching isn't really for me.'

At a young age, he took on a new role - this time as an entrepreneur, willing to take risks. He began in 1985 by setting up the successful Movieland chain of video stores, which unlike other chains has survived, despite rampant movie piracy. Later, he started Mr. Bean Coffee, but it was six years ago when he really hit it big thanks to a golfing trip.

'We started Pure Yoga in January, 2002. The story of its beginnings was entirely unexpected. In 2001, I tried my first yoga class while I was on a golf holiday with friends in Canada. We decided to go for a class because it was raining and we couldn't play golf on the day.

'It was so different from going for a run in the gym because yoga is more than just a workout. I felt so relaxed after class, and I kind of became hooked,' he said.

'When I came back from the trip, I was so keen to start my yoga practice, but there were only a few small studios in Hong Kong with small classrooms, no showers, yoga mats or towels provided.

'So I started talking to some friends and looking for sites that would allow a fully equipped studio where people could come for class, then take a shower with towels and yoga mats provided. That's how our first yoga studio was born.'

Even though he started a new business, capitalising on the yoga craze that was sweeping the world - and Hong Kong - he still had to get ahead of the competition to be successful. But having experienced setting up his own business and using his intuition and business savvy, the former Hong Kong No 1 tennis player has managed to stay ahead in a multimillion-dollar industry that is gathering pace.

'It is extremely competitive,' he said. 'As you know, there are some large fitness chains operating in Hong Kong, and we constantly strive to lead the industry rather than following it.

'Examples of this include bringing a boxing ring and hypoxic chamber into our two IFC locations, and fitting all cardio equipment with individual entertainment systems that our clients can watch complimentary DVDs on as they work out.

'We also take a lot of pride in our staff - our Group X instructors and personal trainers are always up to date on the latest industry research and technology in order to provide our clients with the most accurate and relevant information.

'Our clientele covers a broad spectrum of people from all industries, mostly professionals, but I believe all sharing the common desire to benefit from both mental and physical well being,' he said.

Mr Grant said he believed that yoga was here to stay, and that interest in it would not fade as fitness enthusiasts continued to discover new physical activities, which during the past 10 years have included martial arts, Pilates, kickboxing and step aerobics, among others.

'I don't think yoga is a fad. It has been around for 5,000 years, and it is really becoming a lifestyle, and also a lifelong practice. I know many people who have thought about becoming a teacher because the practice inspires them so much.'

Right now, he is enjoying the success of his latest business venture so much, that he is thinking of developing his empire even further.

'We are expanding our yoga and fitness business in Hong Kong, and throughout the region. That's why we are constantly looking for sites in potential markets.

'We have four studios in Hong Kong, one in Taipei and one in Singapore. But we are opening a second studio in Singapore soon, and are planning a fifth in Hong Kong. For fitness, we operate three locations in Hong Kong,' he said.

Running his business keeps him on his toes - much more so than as a professional tennis player. And the Briton likes to keep abreast of the latest yoga trends.

Learning as much as you can about yoga definitely helps in the business - even if you're a practising yoga enthusiast.

'I established Asia Yoga Conference Limited and we organised a four-day yoga conference recently. With the response we got, it was clear there is a huge demand for yoga and how serious people are about deepening their understanding and practice,' he said.

He knows that Hong Kong people have become more and more health conscious, especially since Sars, and that the fitness business has become much more prevalent since the handover in 1997.

'Successful entrepreneurs know the importance of good people. They manage their staff effectively by identifying strengths and providing a platform on which weaknesses can be improved so as to build a strong team.

'Team spirit is also crucial as you need different people handling different tasks. To motivate people, you have to show them there is a career path for them to move upwards. Lastly, don't be afraid of failure because you will always learn from making mistakes.'

Asked what kind of advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs who might want to join the business and open their own fitness/yoga centre, he said: 'You have to be passionate about and believe in what you do, whether it's starting a business or changing careers.

'Be passionate about what you do. Believe in yourself and go with your instinct. Take your career as part of your life, just like I practise yoga regularly,' he said.

1984 Top 10 in junior singles and doubles in Hong Kong. He was also ranked number one in senior singles and doubles the same year

1985 Played his first Davis Cup match for Hong Kong against China

1985 Opened the successful Movieland video stores and became managing director

1988 Attended Auburn University, Alabama on a tennis scholarship

1991 Opened another business venture with Mr. Bean Coffee

1994 Played his last year as a pro and ranked No1 in senior singles and doubles in Hong Kong

1994 Played his last Davis Cup match for HK against Indonesia

2002 Founded Pure Yoga and opened first studio (The Centrium) and second studio (Soundwill Plaza) in the same year

2003 Opened Pure Fitness at Kinwick Centre, Hong Kong

2004 Opened Pure Fitness and RED Bar + Restaurant at Two IFC, Hong Kong

2005 Opened Pure Yoga at the Peninsula Office Tower, Hong Kong

2006 Opened Pure Yoga at Pure Tower, Taipei and Langham Place Tower, Hong Kong

2007 Opened Pure Fitness at Langham Place Office Tower, Hong Kong