8 Apr 2020 - 3 minutes
Gymshark: A local success story
Gymshark hero

From the days of the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham and its surrounding suburbs have been a hotbed for businesses which have gone on to enjoy enormous success.

We’ve previously compiled a list of businesses you might not know were from the city, and now we’ve decided to take a look at what looks like the next big thing – Gymshark.

From pizzas to gym equipment…

Gymshark has become one of the UK’s largest gym and sportswear brands in what feels like the blink of an eye. The company’s founder, Ben Francis, started Gymshark in 2012 whilst also being a full-time student at Aston University and holding down a part-time job at Pizza Hut in the evenings.

It is tough to work out how Francis found the time to also run a new business, but somehow he did. In between lectures and shifts, he gathered his brother and group of friends, bought a screenprinter and a sewing machine, and began making clothing in his parents’ garage. Thought he had no experience, Francis cites the help of his grandmother – who made a living sewing curtains – as a key influence during this period.

"I'd wake up and go to Aston University [in Birmingham], then finish uni early afternoon, and work at Pizza Hut from 5pm till 10pm," he told the BBC.

"I could answer emails [about Gymshark] in between deliveries. Then I'd go home and sort out the website, and design new products."

Two years of this hectic schedule saw Gymshark’s turnover increase to £250,000 a year, and Francis decided to work for his business full-time, dropping out of university and leaving Pizza Hut behind. That proved to be a wise move, with the company now enjoying annual turnovers in the hundreds of millions of pounds and having customers in 130 countries around the world.

Gymshark main

What was the secret?

Put very simply, Gymshark made perfect use of social media to stand out from the competition and jump to the front of the queue.

Influencer marketing can be pretty laughable when done wrong, but any budding marketers looking for a better example should check out Gymshark.

Francis and his team came up with an idea that is common practice now, but revolutionary at the time. They searched Instagram for popular fitness trainers and personalities, and sent them boxes of free Gymshark gear in exchange for promotion.

They simultaneously made sure that their own social channels were bright, engaging and interesting. The combination of the two saw sales skyrocket as Gymshark became the coolest new kid on the fitness block.

"The influencers give shoppers a reason to buy into Gymshark over other brands, because they feel a personal connection," according the Emily Sutherland from trade magazine Drapers.

Sutherland adds that because Gymshark is an online-only and direct-to-consumer brand, it is "able to remain nimble, react quickly to market changes, and isn't weighed down by expensive store costs".

Skilful use of influencer marketing – not to mention an extremely strong brand and great product – have turned Gymshark into an operation with hundreds of staff and millions of customers. Not bad for a business begun in a Birmingham university hall of residence. Most pleasingly, they are still in the area today, working out of a headquarters in Solihull.

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