Gymshark is currently valued at over£1bn and shows no signs of stopping. But what made this start upfrom Birmingham so successful? Well, it’s a truly inspirational storyfor any budding entrepreneurs out there. It all started in late 2011 to early 2012when Ben Francis and Lewis Morgan set up the Gymshark website whilst studyingan ICT course together at college. Surprisingly, the website didn’t featureany clothing and was originally designed to dropship fitness supplements, allowingthe pair to get a feel for business and selling products without taking on thefinancial risk of buying the stock upfront. Infact, Ben contributes much of his success fromstarting a variety of businesses at a young age.
Which ultimately didn't succeed but providedhim with the opportunity to learn from the experience and failures that they presented.Now, it’s important to note that at this time Ben and Lewis were both students who progressedto university after college and also worked part time jobs whilst growing the Gymshark brand.With Lewis being a pot washer and working at Burton’s whilst Ben delivered Pizzas forPizza Hut, even continuing to work there when GymShark started turning overhundreds of thousands of pounds. Essentially, working extremely hardand utilising every spare minute they had around work and study commitments tofulfil orders for the Gymshark business. It was this secure income which Ben refers toas a superpower that allowed him to take risks.
With Gymshark and other business venturesas he had enough money to survive but at the same time he was able to reinvest allof the profits to grow the business further. Anyway, back to the earlydays of the Gymshark website. After dropshipping supplements for ashort while, Ben and Lewis recognised that there was a gap in the market for gym wearfor young people just like themselves that was both functional but also looked very good onpeople who weren’t professional bodybuilders. They were frustrated, they knew the stylethey wanted but couldn’t purchase it in the sizes which would fit them in the UK or for anaffordable price, especially stringer style vests. So, in true entrepreneurial spirit theydecided to try and make it themselves..
However, there was an issue, they didn’t knowhow to sow or print designs onto clothing. But this didn’t stop the pair,Ben’s mum taught them how to sow and they learnt how to screenprint the graphicsfor the gymwear from someone they knew locally. After investing their savings to buy equipmentand materials, Ben and Lewis started producing the first range of Gymshark clothingin the garage at Ben’s parent’s house. They utilised Lewis’ strong following onFacebook which was around 50k at the time alongside their knowledge of Google Searchto drive traffic to the Gymshark website and generate sales in the early days.Then in 2014, all of a sudden the business started to take off after Ben and Lewistook their Gymshark clothing to the Bodypower.
Expo in Birmingham with the aim of promoting thebrand to people directly in their target market. But they didn’t go to the event alone, they tooka couple of famous fitness stars from YouTube and this attracted a lot ofattention to the Gymshark stand. and it was marketing strategies just like thisthat have led many to believe that Gymshark were one of the early pioneers of influencer marketingas they effectively engaged their core demographic of 16 to 25 year olds throughYouTubers including Lex Griffin and Nikki Blackketter amongst many others.Gymshark clearly know and understand the wants and needs of their core demographic and havesucceeded in reaching them by not only developing products to meet their wants and needs but byalso using extremely effective promotional methods.
Via their social media platforms.In addition to this, Gymshark has used the behaviour of their target marketto their advantage through the use of sales. The business typically runs two majorsales each year and the black Friday one is arguably their most effectiveand attractive to their customer base. A great example of this, was through a marketingcampaign named ‘blackout’ which utilised their target markets fear of missing out by runninga weeklong sale starting on Monday at 3pm until the end of a week but they cleverlyused a countdown timer showing how long the sale had left, which influenced buyerbehaviour and increased impulse purchases. These types of sales have led to Gymshark selling90% of their products in just one day in the past..
Going back to the BodyPower Expo in Birmingham,not long after this event, Ben and Lewis decided to take the life changing decision that manyentrepreneurs face at some point by dropping out of the course they were studying and quittingtheir part time jobs to pursue Gymshark full time. This decision coincided with the pair committingto long term contracts for warehouse units to store their stock, which in the space ofmonths went from one unit to three due to huge consumer demand for Gymshark products.Looking back, it’s clear that this was the right decision and the risk paid off.Fast forward a few years and Gymshark had diversified its product portfolioand introduced a range of women’s active wear and experienced rapid growth.But, as with any entrepreneurial journey, it’s.
Not been all plain sailing and there have beenbumps in the road and major decisions to make. For example, the pair decidedit would be a good business move to only use Gymshark.com moving forward.However, they then found out that they would need to purchase this domain which wouldcost them thousands of pounds at the time. And as with all partnerships, there comes a time when people don'tfully agree and this was one of them. The pair did not fully agree on thedecision to invest thousands of pounds into the Gymshark.com domain at first.But, Ben managed to convince Lewis about the benefits of doing so andthe pair made the investment..
Then Ben and Lewis found outthat one of the suppliers they had previously used had actually registeredthe Gymshark trademark behind their back. The pair were obviously not happy about thisbut had no option other than to bite the bullet and pay to purchase the Gymsharktrademark back from the supplier. Around 2015, Ben and Lewis facedanother tough business decision as the pair realised that the original logo whichwas predominantly a bodybuilding shark tensing would make it difficult to enter new markets,attract a wider audience, and compete with the likes of Adidas and Nike in the future.Knowing they needed to change it to a more sleek, commercial, and mainstream logo to grow the brandbut also understanding the risk of changing a logo.
Which the brand was so well known andrecognised for carried a huge risk. So, they initially had a few designs madeto test the waters and eventually took the decision to change the logo, but to limit therisk, they ran with both logos for a while until their core audience and current consumerswere used to the design of the new logo. Gymshark as a business was then faced withmajor change in the years which followed. Firstly, in 2016, co-founder Lewis Morganannounced that he was officially leaving the business in a working capacity but he decided toremain as a shareholder for several years after. Then, in 2017, Ben Francis took the hugedecision to step down as Gymshark’s CEO to allow Steve Hewitt to take over the reinsas Ben believed Steve was the best person.
To take the brand forward and provide thefoundations for the business to grow even quicker. Since then, the business has gone from strengthto strength and went on to experience rapid international expansion, with the businessnow operating in 131 countries worldwide. This resulted in Gymshark’s profits rocketingfrom £1.1 million in 2016 to £18.6 million in 2019 with around half of Gymshark’srevenue being generated in America. Fast forward to 2020 and General Atlanticapproached Gymshark which resulted in them purchasing a 21% stake in the business,valuing it at more than £1billion at the time. So, to put this into context, Gymshark hasgone from a couple of classmates who started drop shipping fitness supplements online toa business which is classified as a unicorn.
In less than a decade, turning over £400million in the 2021 financial year alone. Now, back in the hotspot as CEO, Ben is determinedto keep growing Gymshark with his sights set on the business becoming a global powerhousechallenging the likes of Adidas and Nike with their clothing being worn across the world.But, he aims to do this in the most sustainable way having committed to use 100% recyclablepackaging, removing all hang tags from Gymshark products and using 100% recyclablepolyester by 2025 in all clothing products. Following his return to the CEO hotspot, BenFrancis made a major announcement towards the end of 2021, letting the world knowthat Gymshark would open its first permanent bricks and mortar store on London’sfamous Regent Street in the summer of 2022..
This news comes as thousands of retail stores arebeing shut across the UK as customers shop online more for convenience and other external factorssuch as the Covid-19 pandemic reduced sales for many high street retailers, but Gymshark seesthis as an opportunity to explore the benefits of multichannel shopping for themselves.So that’s it, the story of Gymshark so far and how it has risen from a smallstartup by classmates in college to a global brand valued at more than £1 billion.Who knows what the future holds for this unicorn brand, but one thing is for sure, it will bean exciting journey which will inspire lots of people in their business ventures.If you’ve found the video useful, don’t forget to hit the like button and subscribeto Two Teachers’ YouTube to learn more about.
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