Fit for a career? An interview with #Gymshark's Ben Francis
"It's less about selling the clothes and more about selling the mindset"
Ben Francis was just 19 when he set up Gymshark in 2012. A gym devotee, he has already grown his fitness clothing brand into a business with a multimillion-pound turnover, thanks to social media.
Gymshark reported revenues of £12.8m last year. This rapid expansion has earned the company first place in the latest Sunday Times 100 list of Britain’s fastest-growing private companies.
“I grew up with Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat,” said Francis, 24, who co-founded Gymshark with school-friend. “It is the best way to connect with like-minded people.”
Gymshark has since developed @gymsharkwomen. The brand has 1.6m fans on Instagram and 1.2m on Facebook, and counting. The company also sponsors YouTubers and bloggers with a combined social media following of 20m - driving customers to its website — the only place where its fitness clothes can be bought.
Ben sees Gymshark more as a movement than a business. Last year he and his team travelled to America, Germany, Australia, Canada and Ireland, as well as around Britain, to meet fans and help with workouts. He refused to sell products face to face during the “world tour”.
“Gymshark is a new breed of company. It’s less about selling the clothes and more about selling the mindset,” said Francis. “I would rather die happy in 10 years knowing that I’ve affected people’s lives rather than having £1m in the bank or having a Lamborghini.”
He got into lifting weights while still at secondary school and then moved on to Aston University, in Birmingham, but dropped out in the second year to focus on Gymshark. “It was out of frustration and wanting to make things,” he said. “Before university I was building iPhone apps and websites for gym-goers.”
The website initially sold food supplements until he bought a £200 sewing machine to make gym clothes himself. He did everything from packing to marketing. Then profits began to trickle in, said Francis, who now has 80 staff members.
Ben Said: “We’re a company that people know — people celebrate Gymshark’s birthday in July.”
Ben’s advice for budding entrepreneurs is to be passionate about your idea: “A lot of people are forcing themselves to do something they do not enjoy — work out what you love and build your business around it.”