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FIELDTESTED | WITH CHRIS LIM, FITNESS ENTREPRENEUR AT SELECTIVE FITNESS

imageThese pants are made for men too. An early brand advocate of ours, Chris Lim is the animated, amiable entrepreneur behind boutique gym Selective Fitness. Wearing the Sideswept Dhoti in Gradiente, he talks to us about the rollercoaster journey so far of riding into unknown territory, and how starting this business became his life’s turning point.

What’s the story behind you and Selective Fitness?

Well, SF actually started with unexpected turns to my own story. I have always wanted to do my own business. I love to be in control of ideas and see things happen. So the first thing I did out of school was to set up a small boutique agency with 3 partners. However, I realize that advertising and design wasn’t my thing – I didn’t really enjoy managing other people’s ideas. I prefer to be involved in the creative process, so this was just not creative enough for me. It was a great learning process but I knew it was time to push myself further.

Then a friend mentioned an opportunity to distribute a brand of stationary bicycles. Without thinking very much, I jumped into it – it seems like I tend to do first, think later! One opportunity always leads to another - windows get bigger and bigger once you take the first one. So eventually we signed for a fitness studio that also acts as a showroom for another product called the Power Bike.

Setting up our studio and shipping in a whole container of bikes, we met our first obstacle. It turned out that the bicycles were all defective. I can’t even tell you what that was like. It was an important lesson learnt, not just for me but particularly for the manufacturer, that you need to get the product right before bringing it to market. Especially after a huge marketing blitz which built up high public expectations, there’s really little room for failure.

To be honest, I haven’t been the most athletic person in school. Fitness was never a big part of my life growing up. The only time I’ve ever won an individual gold medal was in the school’s 50m breast stroke but only because the two faster swimmers got disqualified…! But after becoming a working adult you realize you need to maintain a certain level of fitness. The turning point was when a friend told me he had signed me up for a biathlon and I had to start training for it. Didn’t give me much room for changing my mind.. After that, the habit just stayed with me. We formed a small group called Asian Amateur Athletes, training together a few times a week for triathlons and even got sponsored by Adidas.

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Developing the brand. There are so many fitness studios out in the market that it is difficult to stay competitive. So currently, I’m focused on developing the brand experience. We want people to have an experience here and not just the workout.

In terms of differentiation from other studios, I think the service end makes the difference. We focus on a concept of healthy convenience. Classes end with everyone having a shot of fresh juice, just like what you get in spas. And if customers like it, they can buy the bottle from us. We also offer takeaway dinners of salad or soup after class if customers preorder from us.

I’m keeping my foot on the pedal in the core bread and butter business and allocating most of my energy here to deliver a consistent experience. But at the same time, we are also investing time and space to experiment with other new ideas and avenues. The key is to concentrate on the same target audience.

There’s another challenge with finding someone who can help deliver the same experience and is as passionate as I am about what we do. I keep a lookout for such people and have been fortunate enough to cultivate a passionate group of trainers here, many who started off as clients!

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What’s the hardest thing for people to change?

Seeing so many people coming in to our studio, I think the hardest thing for them is to change their routine, and also their expectations on what is achievable. A lot of people go out too strong at the start, signing up for a lot of things but they eventually fall off because they lack the patience.

A lot of people kind of expect a shortcut to keeping fit and losing weight, probably because of the message the slimming industry is driving at, but it really takes time and patience. If it took you 10 years to become overweight, you can’t expect to lose it all in 1 month! Perhaps you can with an extreme diet but that doesn’t work in the long term. So I see my job here to try to convince people to take things one step at a time and not expect results so quickly.

What continues to drive you everyday?

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There’s no inspirational massive thing that drives me. Just five words - I signed up for this.

I’ve been doing this every day for the last four years. Every morning I’m here at 7am, cleaning toilets, mopping the floor, finish work at 9pm and finally reaching home at 9.30pm. Whenever I feel tired or down I tell myself that this is what I signed up for, so just get it done. There’s no turning back on this. So I’m constantly reminded that I chose this myself.

There is this really strong sense of ownership and responsibility. I remember being late for a workout class once because I overslept and I felt so bad that it was the only time I’d ever been late. Now I have an automatic human clock that jolts me awake even before the alarm rings.

Customer feedback also keeps me going. Getting new customers is great but having old customers renew is even better.

Seeing the business results progress year on year is comforting. I used to wake up in the middle of the night stressing about rent and worrying whether I could do it.  But I realized that I can’t do anything about that - my neighbours [who run a boutique men’s tailoring outfit next door] advised me not to worry so much about the numbers. As long as the product is right and the day to day stuff is done, the rest will take care of itself. I just have to get the process right and the goals will take care of themselves. I used to set monthly sales targets, but there is little use when there’s no precedence as a new company. So I just aim to do better than the previous year. Step by step!

Tell us about your objects of change.

This multipurpose everyday tool was given to me when I graduated from OCS at 21 years old. I tend to throw things away easily, but not this tool. It’s like my personal marker and symbol of a boy becoming a man. So I still keep it and use it now to fix things in the studio.

This Ukulele is a gift from my girlfriend. It’s an outlet for my creativity and self-expression… Kinda like cycling, in that the rhythm quietens the mind to a state of flow and focus. It’s really relaxing, just like how meditation helps you reach the zen mode.

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Let’s end the conversation talking about your dream for SF.

I dream of SF becoming a strong brand that is witty and tongue in cheek but not too serious. It’s a space where people remember the experience and not just the workout.

I would like to see people coming out happy and learning something new about fitness and about themselves, pushing boundaries and doing things they never thought they could be doing. It’s really all about health and fitness in every aspect of life, mind and body.

The turning point in my life is really this business. I’m really challenged to make things work. My business partners have placed their trust in me, so I can’t let them down. I also have my savings invested in this business, all tied down in rent and deposits.

I’ve always been the kind of guy who bashes ahead first. Let’s just try this path, do it and see what happens.

The trouble it gets me into… that’s off the record.

Chris Lim founded the boutique fitness studio Selective Fitness in 2011 and aims to create a wholesome customer experience in the studio. He recently foraged into a healthy food business called Nakd Pantry to create recipes and deliver fresh, and whole foods.

We are inspired by his determination and ‘just do it’ attitude and are proud to have him as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring friends that regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and travels to help us improve durability and design. Chris wears The Sideswept Dhoti in Gradiente, Size 2.

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