Gymshark Swimming Into Unchartered Waters

ATHLETIC PREDATOR: In less than nine years, the U.K.-based Gymshark has come on strong, and now the brand is approaching what many of its competitors have been grappling with for years — the endless endurance test of staying relevant.

After lining up investment from General Atlantic last summer, the company was valued at $1.3 billion and continues to be taking market share in the already crowded athleticwear and athleisure markets. That ascent happened relatively quickly, considering that the company was started in 2012 by a then-19-year-old college student in the U.K. Founder Ben Francis started out selling supplements before switching over to apparel, namely hand-making and hand-sewing basics; he would personally haul the orders to the local post office to ship them out.

Gymshark tanks, leggings and T-shirts are favorites with the college crowd. Understanding how to use influencers to fuel sales, the fitness apparel and accessories d-to-c brand claims to have millions of highly engaged social media followers and customers in 131 countries. Trending is among the categories on the Gymshark site that is designed to try to sway online shoppers. As a result of last year’s “NHSSweatySelfie” campaign, the company donated more than $244,400 to the Birmingham Women’s & Children’s Hospital Charity, thanks to help of personal trainers and other workout enthusiasts.

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As part of last summer’s deal, General Atlantic took a 21 percent in Gymshark. A 15-minute YouTube video about how the company has grown at that rate had been viewed 1.2 million times as of Monday morning. Francis notes how the old playbook model for success involved creating the most product that you can to put in as many stores as you can to please as many people as you can. While that was good for fast growth, it resulted in “big, clunky businesses that didn’t understand the consumer and had no control over the consumer experience and their data,” he said, adding that Gymshark wants to grow according to its values and where the market and the future of brands are going.

North America is the primary focus for Gymshark, which was founded in Birmingham in the U.K. Expansion plans include opening a Denver office and distribution centers in Ohio and California. Europe is another targeted area, according to Francis’ video. Francis’ approach is an unusual one, having started his business while attending college classes during the day, then doing personal training for five hours and sewing clothes and building up the Gymshark company afterward. But he brought in executive reinforcement years ago.

Whether Francis’ up-by-your-bootstraps strategy will last remains to be seen. The young executive had the wherewithal to bring in Paul Richardson as executive vice chairman. Richardson is also director of the Claude Group, one of Gymshark’s main shareholders. In addition, Steve Hewitt serves as chief executive officer.

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