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How does Gymshark’s 29-year-old founder feel about the fitness apparel firm moving offline and into the West End? “Buzzing,” Ben Francis tells CityA.M.
Gymshark reeled in record profits during the pandemic, as stuck at home Brits took to Joe Wicks workouts and online shopping with abandon.
With that now in the rear-view mirror, Francis is focussed on opening the doors of Gymshark’s first store on Regent St this weekend.
Francis co-founded the brand as a teenager in 2012, hand sewing products from his parents’ garage in Solihull. Now, an address “on the most iconic street in Europe, is absolutely amazing,” he says.
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Making the move offline was “really, really difficult,” Francis admits, with a lot of lessons learnt since deciding to take on the 18,000 sq ft space around a year ago.
From a new team to the movement of stock, physical retail has been “a completely different ball game” for the brand.
“Gymshark has been built very much like a Formula One car, so it is very very good at going round the track, but you wouldn’t take a Formula One car off road,” he explains.
A decision to hang the Gymshark hat up on Regent St came after the brand was scouting for a new office in London. However, it was the nearby former J-Crew site that wowed Francis, after his team flagged the space in a text.
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The woman's belongings were stolen including her bank cards and phone despite the locker being padlocked Charlotte, who did not want her full name to be published, arrived back from her session to find her locker empty, despite having padlocked it. Two other gym-goers had their lockers raided, she said. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 and as reported on BBC News, Charlotte said: "I was completely stuck, I just froze.
Before that, Gymshark had felt a store was three to five years away but “in typical Gymshark fashion” the brand thought, “let’s give it a go,” Francis says.
The ease of an Amazon order has forced retailers to use their imaginations to entice shoppers back to high streets in recent years, and the Gymshark store is no different.
Tasked with meeting the three pillars of “retail, community and lifting,” team Gymshark’s final product includes a workout studio, Joe and the Juice bar and space for seminars and talks.
In fact, the brand’s success over the past decade is partially down to being “able to offer more than purely product,” Francis says.
Londoners can learn to squat or deadlift at the store “in the same way Apple will teach you how to use iMovie up the street at their Genius bar,” chief brand officer Noel Mack adds.
Breaking down barriers around weight-lifting, particularly for women, is another weapon in Gymshark’s arsenal of being more than a T-shirt seller for consumers. “We want to show people, from a mental health perspective, how amazing this can be for all the things you want to achieve,” Mack says.
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So, will Gymshark become the Jamie Oliver of the gym? “Don’t quote me on that,” Mack says.
Offering in-store shoppers a “really unique and special” experience was an immediate requirement when the store’s blueprint was coming together, Francis says. “We knew we needed more than just retail.”
The CEO, who has a net stake of 70 per cent in Gymshark, is on a mission to overcome ‘gymtimidation’ and offer shoppers an educational experience after fitness “totally changed my life,” as a teenager.
While the brand is not currently planning for a Gymshark store on every high street, Francis’ “absolute dream” would be that, providing the London flagship goes down well, more physical stores open.
Putting down roots in the West End in 2022 is not necessarily for the faint hearted, even without a looming recession. Gymshark’s neighbouring Oxford St has beeng, with footfall for the shopping heartland still below pre-pandemic comparatives.
Even so, Francis is glowing with praise about his firm’s new digs. “I don’t even think somewhere as beautiful as this needs a Gymshark to revive it, I think it will look after itself,” he says.
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Despite the gloomy economic environment, the brand is unrelenting in its ambition of building a “100 year brand.” “You have to continue to invest in your brand through the good times and through the bad,” Francis says.
Francis is ranked 226nda far cry from his university days, when he could only afford to buy Topman’s 2 for £20 T-shirts.
Still, affordability for consumers is at the heart of Gymshark’s growth, even despite the cost of seemingly everything rising, he says.
Last October, there was a flurry of speculation over the possibility of the brand making a blockbuster public float, after it received a £1bn valuation.
Back then, City sources had told Sky News the company had been “aggressively” pitched to by investment banks. They said an initial public offering of its shares would most likely be in London.
But now, an IPO couldn’t be further from Francis’ mind, it seems. “We’re not looking at that right now.” he tells CityA.M. “We’ve got more than enough on our plate at the moment.”
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