Named Britain’s fastest-growing company by the Sunday Times Fast Track in 2016, Gymshark is an inspiring story of how a 19-year-old college student became founder and CEO of a million dollar clothing brand.
It wasn’t a stroke of luck that Ben Francis could grow such a big eCommerce empire in just a couple of years. He has always been an entrepreneur at heart, creating websites, a fitness-focused social network and some iPhone apps while still a teenager.
Also a fitness fanatic, Francis used to struggle to find the right pieces of fitness apparels he wanted to wear to the gym when he was hawking for some online. That’s when he discovered that gym clothing could actually sell very well, and the idea of Gymshark was born.
Francis saved every penny of wages and tips from delivering pizza night over night so he could build as much inventory as possible. In early 2012, he officially launched Gymshark with the help of his high-school friends, making his wildest dream come true from the basement of his mother’s home in the UK.
How Gymshark disrupts the gym apparels market
People think of gym clothing as clothes normally reserved for a rave. For some, it’s neon green shirts, tie-dye leggings, and orange headbands. For others, it’s ratty old high-school shirts with the sleeves roughly cut with scissors.
Francis doesn’t want to wear either eye-popping coloured or big baggy styled clothing that bodybuilders wear. Instead, he said, “It was handmade, fitted clothing that younger people wanted to wear to the gym.” So in short, Francis invented Gymshark from his own pain that had no solutions at the time.
Millennials are young people willing to invest in fitness clothing. They want to wear both aesthetically and practically designed clothes not only in the gym, but also on the street. Gymshark saw this market niche unmet by current industry behemoths like Under Armour or Nike. Thus, the brand fills this market gap by providing another good (which later turned out to be incredibly great) option of good-looking yet very practical gymwear.
It’s worth noting that Francis and his friends started out with zero funding and they couldn’t afford huge inventory on their own. In a couple of months, they boostrapped their dream business by dropshipping supplements, while designing and customizing their own fitness wear with a sewing machine, a screen printer, and their bare hands.
At that time, clothes designed by Gymshark were something different from what’s available in the market: they’re longer, stretcher, and more fit. They’re also much more affordable for the millennials. Francis and his partners worked non-stop days and nights to design and customize clothes with their own logo, and ship orders to the hand of their customers, all by themselves.
At the end of 2012, they started to design a game changer product, which took the brand off with a blow.
The core value that embraces Gymshark’s success
“This growth comes from a devotion to producing innovative, effective performance wear and an ever-expanding social presence, and above all a commitment to the Gymshark vision:
Before there is an action, there is an idea.
We exist to create the tools that help people unlock their full, incredible potential and put their ideas into action.
Be all that you imagined you could be. Be a visionary.” – Gymshark.
Francis and his team started out with the mindset of changing the world, and they adhere to this core in every move they make to drive growth for their brainchild.
Throughout this article, you will see how Gymshark always strives to lead the game as a visionary and help their customers unleash their power with actions.
3 building blocks that form Gymshark’s marketing recipe
Gymshark doesn’t run marketing strategies separately, but incorporates everything into consistent campaigns, right in the first place. Before deep diving into how they do it, let’s uncover 3 building blocks that the brand relies on in almost all campaigns they run.
1. Make the most out of Social Media
Born in the age of social media, Gymshark didn’t take the conventional routes to increase sales, such as email marketing, promotions (though they still occasionally treat their beloved customers with sweet deals on sale crazes like Black Friday), or third-party resellers… Instead, they decided from their early day that social media plays a pivotal role.
Francis and his team understood that leveraging social media would be the shortest way to reach their millennial customers. They land their campaigns on big social platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Later on, we will see how they use social platforms as the bridge to connect with customers and make them become their life-long fans.
As of now, social media is still their most effective channel to drive sales and undoubtedly continues to be their main marketing arena in the future.
2. Leverage the power of Influencers
Influencer marketing is no longer a new thing today. 6 years ago when Francis started Gymshark, however, he already found the first influencers – some iconic bodybuilders – to spread the word about this products. “No one else was doing this”, said Francis, “but at that time it just came totally natural to us, as we’re just fans of the guys I guess.”
Francis himself was obssessed with Youtube videos by famous bodybuilders, and he decided to send the guys his Gymshark products to ask for their feedback. It turned out to be not only the “coolest thing we’ve ever done”, said Francis, but also one of the most critical move that shot Gymshark into huge growth.
3. Build a Community that has profound impacts
There have always been many good gymwear lines then and now, but Gymshark goes beyond the quality of their products to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Gymshark is able to build a family of Gymshark athletes and a massive community of people who share common values. This is the biggest thing that makes Gymshark stand completely out from other brands, not merely as a fashion line, but also as an impactful community that spreads meaningful values, inspirations, and changes all over the world.
Put everything together
Now that we understand the three marketing cornerstones Gymshark’s success is built on, it’s interesting to learn how they put them all together to widespread their reputation and skyrocket their sales in such a short time.
As told earlier in the story about Francis sending his designed gears to famous bodybuilders in exchange for their feedback, the products got appeared in some of their workout videos that exposed Gymshark line to the very first customers. These bodybuilders later on became the first Gymshark athletes.
Remember the game changer product that they designed at the end of 2012? That was a fit tracksuit (which had a superior design and used 4-way stretch fabric for refined agility and enhanced performance) which Francis and the team themselves loved so much that they just went with it even though producing a large number of this design cost everything they had at the time. They invited a number of big names in the bodybuilding community, who agreed to wear Gymshark tracksuit, to an exhibition.
This is where Gymshark first got physically present to the people they would later on influence and build a community for. They were fluid with orders after the exhibition. At this point, influencer marketing once again proved to be a killing sales driver for Gymshark.
The team expanded this strategy on social media by sponsoring 18 top global YouTubers, Instagrammers and bloggers whose combined followers amounted to 20 million. Gymshark accompanied them to big fitness exhibitions and tradeshows around the world to get exposed to as large audience as possible. This also helped them break into the lucrative US market and other overseas markets (today they’re selling to 131 countries), which now accounts for three fourths of the total sales.
Nowadays, to reach an even wider global audience, Gymshark invites hundreds of social fitness influencers, big or small, from all over the world, to become their ambassadors.
These fitness icons will get free Gymshark products, and promote the brand on all their social accounts. They also get a commission fee for any item their followers purchase (tracked via a unique referral link), which is a huge motivation for influencers to actively promote Gymshark products.
A closer look at this business strategy reveals that though it is simple, it actually makes a lot of sense. By sending freebies to ambassadors, Gymshark gets its products advertised to thousands or even millions of loyal followers of the ambassadors. Whenever the brand launches a new product or runs a promotion, it is advertised by all ambassadors on all channels simultaneously. This is a ingenious way to create amplifying social proof that gets everyone crazy and rush into buying for the fear of mising out.
Gymshark calls this the family of Gymshark atheletes, who are the role models in a massive community of Gymshark fans they’re ambitiously building.
To this point, we’re amazed how influencer marketing and social media combined have incredibly worked for Gymshark. What makes the brand truly inspiring and impactful, though, is the huge community of fans and loyal customers it’s building over time.
Gymsharks currently owns 3 big Instagram accounts with enormous numbers of followers: the Gymshark with 2 million, the Gymsharkwomen with 1.1 million, and the Gymsharktrain with 2 million. These are the arenas through which the brand delivers true values to their fans: training videos, workout inspirations, and above all a community of like-minded people that they feel belong to.
There is no doubt that social media has been an effective channel to build and influence the community, but the team is not limited to it. Gymshark sends its ambassadors to world tours it organizes, so they can interact face-to-face with their fans. Wearing Gymshark outfits to these events, they do not try to make a hard sell, but rather engage with their followers.
“It’s a customer experience second to none,” says Daniel Knight, Gymshark’s brand manager. “It bridges the gap between the digital and physical worlds and creates emotional customer experiences that can’t be had online alone.”
Now that the business is growing so fast, Gymshark only develops its own technical fabrics, and most of its manufactoring is outsourced to China. The average lead time of an item from design to market is within 3 months, some even 6 weeks. This is the agility in production that helps the brand surmount its big competitors, who cannot react to fashion trends so quickly.
From 0 to £360,000 in the first year, what Francis and his high-school friends did was already much of a surprise, but growing to £41M in sales in 2017 alone is an unimaginably huge leap. Francis and his Gymshark have been a great inspiration for a lot of people, especially those who aspire to start something of their own.
Having an ambition to grow revenue to £300M in the next 3 years, Francis still has a long way ahead to reach his goal. Still, young 25-year-old entrepreneur has proved to the world that nothing is impossible, and his amazing story could be anyone else’s next story.