This fitness clothing brand has come a long way since it was founded in 2012 by Ben Francis, 26, in his parents’ garage in Birmingham. It attracted 10-hour queues when it opened a pop-up store in Los Angeles last year, and now has more than 1.2m customers. Its range of “conditioning” apparel has gone global under the stewardship of chief executive Steve Hewitt, 45, a former Reebok executive who joined Gymshark in 2015. Last year, exports reached £81m — more than three quarters of total sales of £103.2m and up from £7.5m two years earlier.
Gymshark was initially envisaged as a website selling health supplements, but low profit margins and a gap in the market for bodybuilding apparel saw Francis, a weightlifter with an entrepreneurial drive, turn to clothing. He bought a sewing machine for £200 and, with his grandmother’s help, began to make gymwear.
Growing up in the era of social media, Francis identified a marketing opportunity now considered almost standard practice at many new businesses. He initially gifted clothing to key social media personalities, such as well-known bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts, in the hope they would promote the products to their followers.
The brand has continued to sponsor popular YouTubers, Instagrammers and bloggers, such as US fitness model Nikki Blackketter and bodybuilder Steve Cook, who form part of the “Gymshark family” boasting a combined social media following of more than 80m. Today, the brand’s own social media presence also has an impressive 8.9m followers.
Gymshark’s media savvy even extends to its huge logo in the courtyard of its new Solihull headquarters, where it moved in April, which is designed to be seen on Google Earth. It houses 260 staff, whose average age is just 26.
The company’s 13 multilingual websites sell directly to customers in 178 countries. As well as moving to larger offices, the company has invested in technology and recruited data engineers to support product fulfilment. It is rolling out further online stores, with the aim of providing a local brand experience on a global scale.
Debt-free and profitable, Gymshark is growing at a rate that continues to far outpace the market for fitness clothing in general. It expects that total sales will rise to £175m this year, up more than fourfold from £40.5m two years ago.
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