Gymshark, a UK sportswear brand, is the brainchild of 28 year old Ben Francis and his company is now valued over a billion pounds. It all started in 2012 when Ben was a full-time student by day, and a pizza delivery man by night. In the mornings he would attend Aston University and then start working at Pizza Hut from 5pm till 10pm. He would answer emails [about Gymshark) in between pizza deliveries. He would then go home, sort out the website, and design new products.
After two exhausting years of having to juggle all of his responsibilities, Gymshark hit an impressive annual revenue of £250 000. As a result, Ben decided to quit both university and the world of pizzas to focus full-time on his company. Fast-forward to today and Gymshark expects the annual turnover to reach a hundred million pounds.
Ben was interested in the fitness industry and the idea for Gymshark followed an online retail business aimed at fitness fanatics that originally sold health supplements. When Ben realised that the profit margins from selling the supplements were too low, he dived into the area of clothing. He remembers looking around not seeing any gym clothes that he would like to wear and as a result he spotted the gap in the market and decided to create gym clothes that teenagers would like to wear. The idea was to create body builder vests that fitted slim teenagers, because most on the market were designed for older men who already accumulated muscle mass.
Enlisting the help of his brother and a group of friends he bought his first sewing machine and screen printer and started creating gym vests and t-shirts in his parents’ garage. His nan made curtains, so she taught him how to sew. Initially there was no real plan on how to expand the business, it was more based on simply creating the gym clothes that Ben and his friends would like to wear. There was also no considered approach regarding pricing. It was literally Ben asking himself how much he would honestly be prepared to pay for the item personally and that will become the established price.
Fast forward seven years later and Gymshark now has more than 1.6 million customers and 499 employees at its Solihull headquarters in the West Midlands.
So how did Gymshark grow this quickly?
Ben and his friends being only 19 years of age when they first got Gymshark up and running makes them quite social media savvy and they came up with a brilliant idea to send free clothing to top “influencers”, prominent body-builders and other fitness fanatics such as Lex Griffin and Nikki Blackletter. The hope was that these “influencers” would talk positively about their products to their followers on YouTube, Instagram etc. and the idea worked better than Gymshark could have ever imagined. As a result, sales soon skyrocketed.
At the same time Gymshark worked hard to ensure their own social media accounts were as interesting and visual as possible. Today it has 5.4 million followers on Instagram and almost 2 million followers on Facebook. Gymshark has more recently also capitalised on holding events around the world, inviting fans of the brand to meet some its influencers. Hundreds of people typically attend.
Last year US private equity firm General Atlantic took a 21% share in the clothing business. This allowed Gymshark to expand internationally, especially in the US, where it has most of its customers. The Covid-19 pandemic also helped to propel Gymshark forward due to so many more people buying online and getting involved in fitness at home.
Gymshark is now valued at more than a billion pounds.