Immersive, gamified cycling; sleep as the next wellbeing trend; and the launch of an in-club boutique concept. The founder and CEO of Asia’s Pure Group talks to Kate Cracknell
How would you describe The Pure Group?
The Pure Group is a premium lifestyle brand whose vision is to inspire and help people to lead healthier, happier lives.
Our health club brand is Pure Fitness: large, premium clubs with a full offering across the board of programming, facilities and member experience. We’re very happy with the big box model. People aren’t one-dimensional, and the size of our facilities gives us the space we need to meet all expectations when it comes to wellbeing. It allows us to create a true 360° offering and gives us the flexibility to innovate and adapt to new trends.
It was eight years ago, for example, that we first introduced a large, turfed functional training area into one of our Pure Fitness clubs in Singapore; five years ago that we brought gymnastics to the gym floor in Hong Kong; 10 years ago that we started incorporating large lounge areas to promote a sense of community. We’re constantly looking to break down barriers, innovate, try new things. We try to look ahead and anticipate customer needs.
And Pure Fitness is just one part of our Group. Meanwhile, Pure Yoga – which, as a standalone offering, was in itself quite innovative when we first launched in Hong Kong in 2002 – offers every style of yoga, as well as meditation.
We have in-house nutritionists in Hong Kong and are expanding the team in Singapore and Shanghai too; alongside our healthy-eating nood food brand, this is an area we will continue to develop and grow. For example, we’re currently looking at options for home delivery of meals, in combination with personal training.
We’ve also brought in a sleep specialist recently and are already looking to recruit a second. Sleep is critical to wellbeing, but today sleep is where nutrition was 10 years ago: in a few years’ time, the invaluable contribution it makes to our health won’t even be questioned, but at the moment people are only just starting to really pay attention to it. I’m very excited about this field – it’s going to be a big one for us.
In fact, our sleep specialist and our nutritionists are already looking to work together to develop programmes which, combined with special yoga classes and personal training, will offer members a holistic package to improve the quality of their sleep.
Across our Group, then, we aim to have all the elements in place to help people live healthier, happier lives, delivering it all at a premium level and with great customer service.
How have you kept your cycling offering competitive as the boutiques have emerged?
Around 26 per cent of our gym members take part in group exercise. Of those, around 20 per cent do group cycling, so it’s an important element of what we offer.
Back in 2015, we launched the world’s first 270° Les Mills TRIP studio – the immersive cycling experience [read more here] – at one of our clubs in Hong Kong. That’s done incredibly well, to the point that we now put it in wherever we have the opportunity: we’ve already done similar installations in Singapore, as well as two clubs in Shanghai.
In fact, we’re still the only operator in the world to have 270° screens – there are four in the world and we have all of them. But I absolutely believe it’s worth the investment: with the screen all around you, you’re totally immersed in the experience. People love it: most of our TRIP classes have waitlists and it’s attracting even those who wouldn’t normally be drawn to cycling. We also offer it as part of the membership – there’s no extra charge for TRIP classes.
We’re experimenting with cycling studio design at our new club in Singapore too, with a tiered atrium-style layout, best-in-class sound system and far more scope to add interesting lighting effects. We then have the option to replicate and retrofit this into our other cycling studios.
Another new initiative is a collaboration with Technogym at our newest club, One Taikoo Place in Hong Kong, which opened in August of this year. Every one of our clubs has a different feel, a different personality, and at One Taikoo Place we’ve brought gamification to the gym floor. We’ve created a gym floor zone – equipped with Skillbikes, Skillmills and Skillrows – where we run competitive virtual triathlons: cycling, running and rowing. It’s created a real buzz, with some great member feedback already.
we have to act small, human-sized, ensuring that every member is looked after
How important is technology to delivering the experience members want nowadays?
It’s one aspect, certainly, but not the only one. At The Pure Group, we talk about being hi-tech and hi-touch: personal interaction is key, especially at the premium end of the market.
In the case of indoor cycling specifically, you have to bear in mind that – while innovations such as the TRIP bring new people to the discipline, and while great lighting for example will engage people – there are some hardcore cyclists who just want to get on a bike and go… and it will be these people who will still be with you in 10 years’ time. The trick is to cater for both groups without being gimmicky or short term, understanding that what really keeps people coming is the quality of the instructor. You need instructors who love what they do.
We do bring in technology where we feel it will enhance the member experience. We launched our Innovation Lab a couple of years ago, where we test new products in our clubs. It gives our members a chance to try out the latest innovations, provides great feedback for the supplier, and allows us to trial the latest products before we commit.
We’ve also built our own software – it’s been a three-year project – which we’re calling Pure 360. It’s our own club management system that’s integrated with both a member app and a staff app. This will further enhance in-club interaction as well as providing personalised support out of the club. If you book a yoga class in the club, for example, mypureyoga.com – our online virtual class platform, which will also be integrated into Pure 360 – will
recommend complementary, online classes run by the same instructor.
But equally, there’s some evidence of tech fatigue nowadays: many people like to come to the gym to escape their screens for a while. So, what matters are our staff: 90 per cent of our staff are customer-facing and they’re there to provide the personal contact – across the 25,000 visits to our clubs every day – that will keep bringing those members back.
They also lie at the heart of our community, which even outside of our clubs goes far beyond the online realm. We run events, we organise wellness retreats, we form tribes – Latino Familia, the Handstand Clan and so on – who are all united by a particular interest.
in selected locations in-club boutiques will offer Hiit, cardio, functional and boxing
The way I always explain it, our size can be an advantage and a disadvantage. The key is to not act big. We have to act small, human-sized, ensuring that every member is looked after so well they feel like they’re the only person in the club.
To what extent have you embraced the
at-home fitness market?
We obviously have mypureyoga.com, and our app will allow us to provide members with at-home workouts and support. But, while we have of course noted the growth of Peloton and the at-home market generally, at this stage we aren’t venturing into our own hardware. It’s still very early days in this field, and hard to know who’s really doing it well.
We also have more than enough to keep us busy in our existing business. We only have 36 clubs – of which 34 are operated by us – so there’s plenty more growth opportunity for our club model.
While we would never open new locations for the sake of it – they will always have to be great locations and a great space, allowing us to create a fantastic club – I expect to open a dozen more clubs in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing over the next 12 to 18 months. We’re certainly finding that landlords are now actively looking to bring wellbeing brands into their developments above, for example, the big retail brands.
Any other new innovations at The Pure Group?
We’re seeing a trend towards the creation of boutique studios inside big box gyms, and we’re currently exploring options to develop something similar for our own clubs. We’ll be looking to launch this new concept in selected locations in Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai.
These in-club boutiques will offer a mix of disciplines – HIIT, cardio, functional, boxing – with a range of programmes on offer. These will be both adaptations of our own small group training concepts, as well as hand-picked pre-choreographed sessions.
Would you consider opening standalone
We’ve considered it for a long time, contemplating what we might do that would complement our big boxes, but in the end you can’t be all things to all men.
There’s also the question of where we are in the boutique lifecycle. I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess, but if even the big brands like Flywheel are closing sites… perhaps we’re better off staying focused on our big box model. While I don’t like to play it safe, and will always experiment with new ideas, I certainly don’t feel compelled to jump in and do something just because
everyone else is.
It’s also the case that you get a much better deal on a lease if you want 30,000sq ft versus 4,000sq ft. That makes the small box model a particularly hard one to crack, especially in Asia where rents are already among the highest in the world. Even our Pure Yoga locations – although they have the feel, the energy and the community of boutiques – measure 15,000–20,000sq ft.
What do you believe is the future of
It will certainly continue to be a big part of the gym experience, but I do believe – all innovation aside – that what will ultimately keep drawing people back won’t be lighting or sound systems or décor. It will be better and better instructors.
People will all but ignore the surroundings if they have an instructor they really connect with. That isn’t unique to cycling of course, but it is something to keep in mind, and the reason why staff training is always at the top of our investment priorities.
About the pure group
Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Hong Kong, The Pure Group is Asia’s leading premium lifestyle brand that includes Pure Yoga, MyPureYoga.com, Pure Fitness, Pure Nutrition, Pure Apparel and nood food. Pure Group has locations in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and New York – the latter a licence agreement with Equinox.
As at August 2019, the Group catered for over 80,000 customers across 36 sites. Most are either Pure Yoga or Pure Fitness, but one site – Hong Kong’s The Pulse – offers both Pure Fitness and Pure Yoga in one location.
The Group’s 22 Pure Yoga clubs are located in Hong Kong (12), Singapore (four), Shanghai (three), New York (two) and Beijing (one). Meanwhile, of the 15 Pure Fitness locations, 10 are in Hong Kong, with three in Singapore and two in Shanghai.