Gymshark has not pulled its punches in responding to the pandemic. It has no plans to furlough employees, and any who cannot work from home are paid their salaries in full while being encouraged to volunteer for the NHS. Meanwhile, chefs at its Solihull “refuel” kitchen are making healthy meals for front-line workers across the West Midlands.
The brand is also supporting the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s hospital, is donating £5 for every #NHSsweatyselfie photo taken by its fans, and will raise £175,000 for the NHS trust by the end of April. When Gymshark jested on Instagram that it had changed its name to “Homeshark” to encourage people to stay indoors, it earned one million likes in six days. This was characteristic of the smart and strategic use of social media that has helped the company go, in less than ten years, from sewing fitnesswear in a Birmingham garage to competing with Nike and Adidas for the attention of body-conscious consumers.
Online, more than 120 million fans watch sponsored YouTube and Instagram stars showcase its clothing. During the pandemic, personal trainers struggling to see clients are paid to broadcast live workouts on its social media channels – supporting both trainers’ incomes as well as customers missing their usual gym routines.
Founder Ben Francis, 27, first noticed a gap in the market for gymwear with shape-enhancing, muscle-accentuating contours in 2012. He bought a sewing machine for £200 and his grandmother taught him to use it. A pioneer of a marketing strategy now considered standard practice, he gifted vests, tops and leggings to online influencers – fitness models and bodybuilders – anticipating they would promote the products to their fans. The brand has since gone global under chief executive Steve Hewitt, 46, a former Reebok executive who joined in 2015.
Its apparel is now sold directly to consumers in 180 countries via websites in 13 languages. This online-only model helps it react swiftly to changing tastes in multiple markets, duck the high costs of running physical stores and control margins by eschewing third-party retailers. Crucially, it also puts the company in a strong position to weather the pandemic’s devastating effect on high street retailers. Sales of its home workout gear are up, with only mild disruption to delivery.
Profits rocketed from £1.1m in 2016 to £18.6m in 2019, on sales of £176.2m. Roughly half Gymshark’s revenue is generated in America and it is opening an office in Denver. In November, the company hired advisers to raise external finance to fund expansion, particularly in America and Asia.
Its first foray on to the British high street – a pop-up store in London’s Covent Garden – closed early because of the virus, but Gymshark remains in good shape and is well on its way to becoming a household name.
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