Ex-Lodgian Sean Wong opened Gym Box in 2013, and since then the health and fitness center has gained a distinctive reputation for itself in Kuching. This culminated this year in an exciting partnership with prominent fitness brand Under Armour. In this third Spotlight feature, we speak to Sean about the logistics of setting up your own business and being a brand ambassador.
Sean’s interest in fitness flowed naturally from his competitiveness in sports; at a young age, he had already started researching ways to stay ahead of the game. This eventually led to the realization that the concept of fitness was not so simple, but had “a real depth, structure and science behind it, whether it be for performance, vanity or to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
After Form 2 at Lodge, Sean moved to Melbourne to complete high school before entering Monash University to undertake a degree in Commerce and Business, specialising in Finance/Economics. During his time in Melbourne, he joined a gym which offered a diverse range of classes and kept things interesting. When he returned to Kuching, Sean realised the local fitness scene still lacked this variety: “The public was ready for so much more than what was being offered. A major reason why gym goers stop exercising is due to boredom, whether because of repeating the same program over and over again or a lack of someone to exercise with them.” Taking advantage of this gap in the market, Sean decided to open Gym Box, which boasts state-of-the-art fitness facilities and a wide array of exercise classes taught by professional trainers.
In the three years since it opened, Gym Box has been growing steadily in popularity and recognition. The gym made the Best 10 for Leisure & Entertainment Space at the 21st Asia Pacific Interior Design Awards (2013). More recently, Gym Box was officially recognised as a gym partner by prestigious fitness brand Under Armour. The brand was expanding into South East Asia, and had heard of both Gym Box and Sean through some magazine interviews and photo shoots. After making a survey trip to Kuching, Under Armour decided it wanted to establish a presence there, which to Sean is a source of both personal and allegiant pride: “To bring in a big brand like Under Armour to sponsor a gym in Kuching, not just in West Malaysia, is a big win for Sarawakians!”
Sean is gratified to be appointed an Under Armour brand ambassador himself:
As a gym partner and ambassador, you’re expected to attend certain events, whether in KL or Kuching, curate workouts for [the brand’s] road shows and assist them in garnering exposure through print or social media. It’s always a humbling experience to be recognised for something you are passionate about. To be sponsored is a dream come true as an athlete and a sports fan. To be part of a brand that is challenging the big houses like Nike and Adidas, and has athletes such as Michael Phelps, Stephen Curry, Jordan Speith, Andy Murray, The Rock and Gisele Bundchen on their roster, is an honour.
Sean has revelled in his experiences in opening his own business. While a degree in Finance and Economics has given him a theoretical understanding of how the economy works, and for tackling budgeting and financial loans, the soft skills he gained are equally, if not more important: the ability to solve problems, approach them from different angles, and to rationalise or make informed decisions.
As with all things, opening your own business is certainly not without its challenges. Most start-ups begin with tighter budgetary requirements and a small team. 100% invested as you are, this means that you might have to cover every role, from CEO to janitor! But for Sean, this has been balanced out by the perks of
having the flexibility of when and where you work as well as being able to build something that is your own, [and] being able to develop and transform an idea which nobody else believed in or thought of into something tangible and real. The bumps and hurdles make every small success you encounter that much more fulfilling and rewarding.
Sean also says that Lodge played some part in preparing him for his career, albeit “in the weirdest way possible.”
As cliché as it seemed at the time, the [school] motto Learn, Persevere and Succeed kept me going to some degree during the whole process as a 23-year-old trying to navigate the business arena for the first time.
Indeed, this maxim of continually learning and persevering can be applied to Sean’s new foray into the F&B industry, an area he is also passionate about; later this year, Sean will be opening eatery Kulture. He quotes Winston Churchill, who said “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Sean’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is that:
There are many things that can go wrong in your business regardless of how well you’re doing; embrace your mistakes, innovate to keep current, and keep having short-term emotional memory of failure! Learn. Persevere. Succeed.
Written by Jane Leong
Photos courtesy of Sean Wong, Gym Box FB and ninien.net