Pizza delivery boy to £100m sportswear brand owner in six years

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Gymshark is a £100 million sportswear brand today. The journey for this British brand has started a mere six years ago from a garage when a fitness freak 19-year-old pizza delivery boy started his gym clothes fabrication business in 2012. That was the beginning of the United Kingdom-based fitness apparel and accessories brand, manufacturer and online retailer supported by over 7 million highly-engaged social media followers and customers in 131 countries.

Ben Francis, then a 19-year-old student who delivered pizzas, had launched the brand in association with a group of his school friends. Even the keen gym goer Birmingham boy would have never expected his business to become a £100 million empire in a mere six years.

The idea of fitness wear and sportswear production struck as he himself struggled to find the right-fit gym clothes, states a BBC report on the brand GymShark. “I remember looking around, and I couldn’t find any clothing I wanted to wear,” he told BBC. “So I said, ‘let’s make it ourselves.'”

Before the health supplement sales, a teenaged Ben had also set up a website that sold car licence plates. He then built and launched two iPhone fitness tracking apps, one of which earned him around £8,000.

The entrepreneur in Ben always dreamt bigger. For stepping into the apparel business he bought a sewing machine, a screen printing unit and learnt sewing from his grandmother. That was the first workforce and work unit for GymShark. “My nan made curtains, so she taught me how to sew,” he says. “I remember thinking we had 10 orders to do, and to make 12-15 products it would take most of the day. But it was so much fun learning.”

While venturing into the business he did not compromise with his studies. He continued his full time court at Aston University and would work every night as a pizza delivery driver.

“I’d wake up and go to Aston University (Birmingham), then finish university early afternoon, and work at Pizza Hut from 5pm till 10pm. I could answer emails (about his business)  in between deliveries. Then I’d go home and sort out the website, and design new products,” Ben has told BBC.

Ben followed this exhausting schedule for two years until the budding business had revenues of £250,000 a year. That was the time when the young entrepreneur decided to focus full time on his dream venture.

His strategy to use social media influencers to promote the brand’s products to their millions of followers paid off. Gymshark would send free clothing to key “influencers”, prominent body-builders and other fitness fanatics – such as Lex Griffin and Nikki Blackketter. The idea was that such stars would talk positively about the products to their followers on YouTube and Instagram.

The idea worked better than expectations and sales started skyrocketing. In the meantime, Gymshark also worked consistently to strengthen own social media accounts.

Then came the stage of strengthening the brand with more professional support. In 2015, Ben roped in sportswear industry veteran Steve Hewitt as managing director in 2015. Hewitt, who now also holds a substantial stake in the business, last year was elevated as the Chief Executive

Now, Gymshark is a brand with 1.2 million customers and 215 employees at its Solihull headquarters.

For further growth, Gymshark has plans to expand its overseas sales. Already 40% of its sales come from the USA. There are plans to have 25 international country-specific online stores by 2020. There are 11 at present.


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