At the end of 2017, Gymshark officially became the fastest-growing company in the U.K and what’s more amazing is that it was founded by a 19-year-old named Ben Francis in 2012. While most people know Gymshark as an athletic clothing brand similar to Nike or Adidas, some people see it as a family, a family of like-minded people who share one goal: to improve their body and their mind. To these people, Gymshark represents a supportive community that they can feel a part of, a culture that promotes dedication, discipline and hard work, and most importantly a brand that truly inspires them to achieve their goals and dreams.
Behind every great company, there is a special story. So what is the Gymshark story?
At the time that Gymshark was created, its creator Ben Francis was only 19 years old who lived his life going to University, delivering pizzas after classes and going to the gym in his spare time. While he was definitely busy already, he wanted something more fulfilling, he wanted to start his own business. Francis had a natural passion for creating his own businesses where he taught himself how to code and make websites at a young age. His first one was a website that sold car license plates where he and his friend would buy license plates and sell them at a higher price. Once the first iPhone came out, he immediately learned how to develop iPhone apps and created 4 apps, 2 of which were fitness apps that got relatively high traction in the U.K.
After several more projects that were quite successful but nowhere near the level that Francis was striving for, the next website he created was the Gymshark website and this one definitely struck gold. When Gymshark first started, they actually didn’t even sell clothes but they focused on selling nutritional supplements which are a big part of fitness. During this phase, he couldn’t afford to buy stock and instead used its website and a drop-shipping method from third party retailers to gain some revenue. However, this was a relatively financially unsuccessful project as he got his first sale only after 2 months of starting but it was in this experience that he learned the importance of having a solid back end which allows the front end and the creative part of the company to shine.
After making some money through this method, Francis finally had enough money to stock other company’s clothing on their website. When they explored this approach, Francis found a huge gap in the athletic clothing market which were clothes that were designed to truly show off the athletes’ body but clothes that were fashionable so that they could also be worn outside of the gym on a night out or when meeting with friends. While this seems like a really creative idea, for Francis it was purely logical in that he wanted to create clothes that he and a few of his friends wanted to wear themselves.
There is a very important message in the way Ben Francis started Gymshark in that he was being completely authentic to what he loved and cared about. This authenticity regardless of whether people notice or not comes through in the way that they create their product, deliver their product and their customer service experience. Because Francis truly loves what he’s doing and is not solely doing it for the money but more for his fulfillment and passion, he is able to tackle various problems through different angles that separates him from most people starting companies. There is a pattern with this and the entrepreneurs that are typically the most successful that cut through the most, don’t try to replicate what’s already been done but do something based on how they feel.
From there, Francis gathered a few of his friends and personally created the designs, printing the T-shirts, sowing the T-shirts which he learned from his grandmother. At this stage of Gymshark, they were only taking customized orders, taking hours to make one clothing item. This stage of Gymshark lasted about a year and involved long hours and constant work but Francis says “ It was always nonstop but it never really felt like work because we were always just creating what we love”.
So how did Gymshark go from this small scale company who were taking in custom orders because they couldn’t afford stock to become U.K’s fastest-growing company?
In 2012, there were not a lot of bodybuilding/fitness events like there are now, and one of the big events was the BodyPower Expo, where a lot of the top bodybuilders, athletic companies, supplement companies would come to show off their new products to the thousands of people interested in the fitness lifestyle. When Gymshark was just starting out, Ben Francis being an avid gym-goer himself actually went to the BodyPower Expo and immediately realized there was something missing and had the idea that Gymshark had to come to this Expo next year(2013) no matter the cost and no matter the circumstance.
At the beginning of 2013, Francis stuck to his commitment and almost spent all his savings in order to get a coveted spot at the BodyPower Expo. At the BodyPower Expo, they were able to showcase their Luxe tracksuit which the whole Gymshark team had worked on really hard for months. This plan worked perfectly and at the event, they were able to build their brand through talking with other famous fitness icons as well as convert many fitness enthusiasts into their fans.
This was Gymshark’s breakthrough and after the event, Francis immediately posted the new products and the Luxe tracksuit on their online webpage and within 30 minutes they had sold out all their stock and made more sales than they have ever had in the entire Gymshark history. Ben Francis specifically recalls sitting in front of his computer that night thinking “ Wow I have made something incredible.”
Fast forward 5 years, Gymshark has made over 100 million pounds in sales, dominated social media across all major platforms, and is a brand recognized by almost everyone internationally. Becoming a Gymshark athlete seems to be a dream for many young teenagers interested in the fitness lifestyle due to the prestige and the positive message associated with the brand.
I just mentioned the term Gymshark athlete. A Gymshark Athlete is a fitness influencer that becomes a brand ambassador for Gymshark by supporting and promoting the Gymshark brand to their own communities. This partnership between Gymshark and fitness influencers is now known as a form of influencer marketing but back in 2012 when Gymshark started this it was relatively unknown. To Francis and the Gymshark team, this idea just came naturally as they were genuine fans of big fitness YouTubers at the time such as Lex Griffin, and Scott Herman and wanted them to try their clothing. In exchange for giving them free clothes, these fitness influencers agreed to wear and promote Gymshark gear in their YouTube videos or Instagram posts. This partnership between Gymshark and Lex Griffin who became the first Gymshark athlete started their social media expansion and dominance. Since then, Gymshark has turned many well-known fitness influencers such as David Laid, Nicki Blackketter, and Steve Cook into their brand ambassadors driving engagement from all their communities. This talk about Gymshark athletes leads to maybe the most important thing about Gymshark: THE BRAND.
Gymshark : The meaning behind the company
What is Branding? Well everyone uses this word and it might sound like some old business word but essentially it means: What do people think about or associate with when they think about a certain company or a person. The key to branding is to give people a reason to remember the company and to do this you have to figure out what makes you stand out and really focus on that thing.
For example, are you a tech company led by a genius CEO who made a device that combined phone, text, games, music, and camera.- Apple
Are you a creative company that creates animated movies known for their characters such as Lion King and Mickey Mouse- Disney
Are you a company that creates fast-food restaurants that arguably has the best french fries in the world- Mc Donalds
Are you a company that popularized esports and gaming and made the #1 most popular video game in the world- Riot games
Yeah, you’re probably asking yourself, okay these companies are so memorable because they’re so good or even the best at what they do. But what if the company’s just starting out, how do they create a brand that’s memorable.
Well, this is not directly related to company branding specifically, but a big trick for being memorable is something that Tim Ferriss mentions in his book called “ Tools of Titans” which is a great book and I would recommend it to everyone. Tim Ferriss says that a lot of successful people are in the top one percent of at least two things.
I think this trick can apply to companies as well and being uniquely good at two things would definitely make your company memorable.
Relating this to Gymshark, when people think about Gymshark the first things that pop in their head might be their comfortable clothing line, but more importantly, they would associate the brand with a supportive culture and a family of people, and creators that want to improve their body and mind.
A Supportive Culture- The Gymshark family
When you purchase a product off of Gymshark’s website for the first time, they immediately send you a note saying the usual “Thank you for purchasing from Gymshark…” but at the end, they say “ Welcome to the Gymshark family”. And with Gymshark it really feels like you have joined a family- a group of like-minded people that are striving towards the same goals.
Gymshark constantly emphasizes that everyone that supports the Gymshark company and vision is part of the family and like an actual family, the Gymshark team truly cares about its customers. This was one of their strongest values even when they were just starting out that they would try to truly connect with their audience in a personal way. This goes all the way back to 2012, when they were just starting their clothing line and they were competing against famous athletic wear companies such as Nike, UnderArmour, LuluLemon who were already established as corporate giants in the athletic wear industry. And besides them there were a thousand other companies trying to start their own athletic fashion brand as well. So what made Gymshark stand out and breakthrough?
Well, the companies that were dominating the athletic wear market in the past such as Nike and Adidas blew up in the retail area where they made as much product as possible to target as many people as possible and to put it in front of as many people as possible whether it was their own stores or other stores. However, Gymshark focused on a very specific niche of fitness enthusiasts and the creators being into the gym as well solely focused on what kind of clothes people like them would want to wear.
Going back to the point about Gymshark truly caring about their customers and treating them like family, Gymshark actually brings the company to the customers themselves by hosting various events in cities across the world so people from all over the world who support the company would have a chance to actually meet some of the athletes and the creators. This is a really powerful marketing technique because in this world that is becoming more and more online-focused, there is something special and sincere about a company that is willing to travel to meet their fans and spend time with each and every one of them. While these events are a great chance for Gymshark to physically interact with the fans that support them, it is also an opportunity to spread awareness to people in the city that the event is taking place in.
In these events, fans are able to meet the athletes themselves, ask them any questions about fitness and in the end, just have a very fun but inspiring experience. In one of Gymshark’s videos titled “ Gymshark World Tour: UK& Ireland” which documents their experience at these live events, they have an interview with one of the fans which shows what it means to be part of the Gymshark family.
“What I found incredible was that my friend was meant to come with me but he canceled last minute, and I’m here alone and before I even came to the event, someone asked me “ Are you part of the Gymshark family?, not “ Do you support Gymshark” but “ Are you part of the Gymshark family?” and coming to this, this is what it genuinely feels like. I can literally go up to someone and ask them “Hey how is it, are you meeting the athletes you wanted to meet, and you see the inspiration in their eyes and you could just tell how much this means to them. You could really tell how this is really a family and that there is a culture around Gymshark, it’s a vision and it’s really far more than a clothing company. You can see it in people’s eyes when they’re connecting with other like-minded people, it’s such a great atmosphere to be in and you just feel a sense of accomplishment, motivation, and inspiration.”
Gymshark is an example of a company that prioritizes fan interaction and building a strong relationship with their followers through their events as well as their social media community groups. While this is definitely a big commitment for any company, it shows loyalty, dedication, and gratitude to your existing customers, and will likely cause a lot of them to think really highly of the company hence turning them to loyal customers. Loyal customers bring in a huge amount of revenue due to the fact that they will continue to spend money on your company’s products without defecting to a competitor. They will also buy whatever new product the company releases due to their high image and also share the company with their friends bring in new customers who have already formed a positive association with the company.
Culture and like-mindedness
Everything about the company represents transformation and the idea fitness can transform your life completely. This is seen through telling the stories of their successful athletes who have a very inspirational story where they were able to overcome immense hardships. While there may be a common belief that regular gym-goers are narcissists that look at themselves in the mirror all day, the Gymshark athletes constantly emphasize how their journey into fitness started not over their self absorbance but more because of their self-hatred and the idea of wanting to improve themselves.
This inspiring culture is defined by Gymshark’s slogan “ Be a visionary”. What does that mean? Well, it’s all about being a person that transforms the world, breaks norms, and most importantly inspires others to learn more, dream more, and do more.
This idea is clearly reflected in how Gymshark actually chooses their so-called “athletes”.
If Gymshark’s sole goal in hiring influencers was to grow their following as much as possible, they would simply find the fitness influencers with the biggest followings. However, that’s not the case. In fact, Gymshark has a complex, multi-step process of hiring their athletes which could take months from initially contacting the person to getting to know them, to actually meeting them. Therefore this allows the company to truly understand if the person matches their values and has the same passion not only towards fitness but towards helping others, inspiring other people and to achieve a vision that is bigger than themselves.
While this method might not initially attract the most amount of followers, the fact that a company is being so genuine to their vision will have a huge impact on its followers and will increase their brand value over the long term. Gymshark is able to send these messages through their series “ My Vision” which tells the stories of their athletes’ lives and their vision for what they want to accomplish which truly inspires the viewers.