Gymshark: How a 19-year-old built a $1b company in 8 years
Ben Francis, the founder of Gymshark, transformed his dropshipping startup into a billion-dollar company in 8 years. The key factors behind Gymshark's success include data-driven insights about their customers, influencer marketing on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, a consistent content strategy on YouTube, tapping into their fitness community, and making strategic hires to guide the company's growth. Gymshark's customer-centric approach and agile marketing have driven their rapid success in the fitness apparel industry.
In 2012, 19-year-old Ben Francis teamed up with schoolmate Lewis Morgan to start a dropshipping company selling fitness supplements. Soon, Francis realized that profit margins and growth potential were both low, so he switched to apparels. In the early stages, he made garments by hand in his mom’s garage with a sewing machine and screen printer, while working as a pizza delivery driver.
Eight years later, the company was valued at $1.45 billion.
How did Francis build Gymshark into a billion-dollar company in 8 years? This is what we learned from his story:
Collect and analyze data on your customers so you can understand their needs.
Gymshark is sold exclusively through their online store, with a stand-alone app in the works. “We thought the future of brands was a community-focused, direct-to-consumer model,” says Francis. “The old model led to slow, cumbersome brands that don’t truly understand their consumers, because you’ll always have the layer of retailer between.” Their website began life on Shopify, but moved to Magento, which unfortunately crashed for 8 hours during a Black Friday sale. Since then, Gymshark has been firmly loyal to Shopify Plus.
Much of their success lies in the fact that they accurately understand “gym culture”. Gymshark knew that their customers wanted gym staples that are functional, flattering, and affordable. They created products to cater specifically to their customers’ tastes.
According to Executive Chairman Paul Richardson, himself a serial entrepreneur, Gymshark invests a huge amount of effort and resources into constantly tracking their customers’ ever-changing tastes. They have a data team of around 40 people, to understand their customers so well that they can predict what the customer wants.
As an example, they would combine purchasing data with Instagram views and their fitness app usage info to build a picture of their target customer. The information may tell them that the target customer likes black tracksuit bottoms, black vests with large branding, loves doing deadlifts on Thursdays and Fridays, and likes to work chest muscles on Mondays. This allows them to advertise deadlifting accessories such as chalk, straps, and lifting shoes at the right time.
Build a strong online profile for your business by partnering with online personalities.
The company relies heavily on influencer marketing to promote the Gymshark brand name.
Gymshark’s early influencer strategy focused on Instagram, where they grew from £0 to £100M in 7 years with Instagram influencers. They also partnered with famous YouTubers like Lex Griffin and Nikki Blackketter. More recently, they have shifted focus to TikTok, where they currently have over 3.4 million followers and 52.2 million likes, by posting videos of short dance routines and fitness challenges using branded hashtags.
Francis is an influencer himself, leveraging on YouTube videos to build his personal brand as an entrepreneur, while also offering a behind the scenes look into his journey of growing the business. Three months ago he announced that another mega influencer in the entrepreneurial space, Gary Vaynerchuk, would be joining the team as an advisory board member. A cleverly done partnership to raise Gymshark’s profile not just in fashion and fitness, but also in business.
Unsurprisingly, most of Gymshark’s traffic today comes from searches and directly keying in the site URL. (Source: Similarweb)
Automate your Shopify reports.
Create a schedule to post valuable, quality content consistently.
Gymshark has developed a killer content strategy, consistently producing high quality videos they know people love. Their YouTube channel has 333,000 subscribers, with an impressive video output of one video every two to three days.
While some of the content focuses on gym tips and tricks, as well as helpful exercise videos to provide value, many of their videos are also influencer videos or TikTok compilations showing a slice of life in the gym. They also post the occasional scripted reality show style challenge video, or marketing campaign videos, with high production values.
Most of Gymshark’s traffic currently comes from YouTube. (Source: Similarweb)
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Tap into a community you know well.
Both co-founders were avid lifters in their teens, and knew how to tap into their community. In the early stages, Francis took a huge risk paying for a booth at fitness and bodybuilding event Bodypower, setting the company back £300k. At the event, the team promoted their new product—the Luxe tracksuit. After the event, they launched the product and saw their revenue shoot up to £30,000 in 30 minutes.
What he did that worked:
Placed his bets on a community he personally had a deep understanding of.
Used a combination of product scarcity, influencers, and the community to drive organic exposure and growth for the brand.
Today, Gymshark’s campaigns still feature a strong community angle. They built their ads and campaigns around movements like #UnitedWeSweat (on Facebook and YouTube) and #gymshark66 (on TikTok). (Source: Meta)
Hire (and learn from) the best.
Gymshark’s first company Director was discovered by the co-founders, appropriately, at the gym. In 2013, in between deadlifts, Paul Richardson was offering Francis and Morgan business advice, and they poached him for a position in the company. He would later become Chief Strategy Officer and guide the growth of one of the UK’s biggest business success stories.
When Gymshark was looking to scale in 2017, Francis actually stepped down as CEO to become the brand manager, allowing Reebok alumnus Steve Hewitt to lead instead. For four years, Francis learnt under Hewitt, before he reclaimed the title of CEO in 2021.
Francis’ dedication to making decisions that were best for the business reflects a strong commitment to building the company in the most productive way possible.