How Ben Francis Built Gymshark At 19 – A $1.5 Billion Brand

Ben Francis is the Founder and ambitious entrepreneur behind the leading UK fitness brand, Gymshark. Ben founded Gymshark when he was 19 out of his bedroom in his parent’s house, while still a student at Aston University. In addition to his full-time commitment to his studies, Ben juggled working as a pizza delivery man to fund his Gymshark venture. Now the fitness apparel and accessories brand is one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.K.

Ben francis
How He Got Started

When Ben was still a young teenager, he created an online store to sell car license plates. He developed two iPhone fitness tracking apps, and then made around £8,000 from one of which. He also worked as a pizza delivery man at Pizza Hut.

In 2012, his idea of Gymshark was born. At that time, he was just a full-time, 19-year-old student. At first, Francis focused on only health supplements. 

Since he started with zero funding, he had to dropship the products from other retailers. “You have to be creative with the front end and back end of your business when starting”, he said.

Not long after that, he realized the profit margins of this business were too low and had no potential in the future. So, he decided to switch to clothing. Francis admitted he didn’t have any immediate grand business plan. He just thought “it was more a case of ‘I really want to wear this,’ so I made it,”. He also had no idea how to price items. “It was literally a case of what would we want to pay for something… There was no considered approach. We were like, ‘we would pay £20.”

Why Gymshark Is So Big

Ben has always believed in customer satisfaction, in fact something interesting happened in 2015. 

Gymshark suffered a website outage on Black Friday, resulting in customers not being able to get their deals. Whilst this might have broken many companies, Gymshark’s founder ( Ben Francis ) personally hand-wrote 2500 apology letters to customers, including discounts, who weren’t able to purchase during the crash.

This singular act has endeared a lot of loyal customers to them. 

Gymshark is not just a company, its a Lifestyle and a Community

Worth Reading: How Codecademy Moved from Bankruptcy to Building a $50m+ Revenue Business.
Gymshark’s Major Marketing Strategy
Building an influencer community:

Gymshark was the earliest adopter of the influencer marketing model, partnering with YouTubers including Lex Griffin and Nikki Blackketter. Now, the brand markets products through its community of Instagram influencers and YouTubers and sponsors a range of athletes, each of whom operates at the top of their game.

The athletes include Irish professional boxer Katie Taylor and Ross Edgley, who in 2018 became the first person to swim (1780 miles) all the way around Great Britain. Francis said, “From the point of view of the athletes we work with, we want to create a real, strong team that speaks to our values. And we work with them for a long, sustained period of time.” The lessons: Don’t think of influencer marketing as a quick smash and grab, think of it as building relationships with people over a long period of time, for the benefit of both of your brands. The goal isn’t shallow and fleeting promotion. 

Be prepared to invest in the process and communicate what you’re looking for long-term.

Do the research and keep standards insanely high.

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