In 2016, it was named as the fastest growing retailer in the UK, going on to generate sales of over £100m in 2018. Last year, founder Ben Francis was also named in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, acknowledgement of the brand’s impressive rise in the fitness and apparel industry.

So, how has Gymshark gone from a small online retailer to a full-on global brand? Here’s more on Gymshark’s success and the lessons we can learn from it.

Ecommerce Best Practice Guide

Target a niche market

Gymshark began in 2012 when founder Ben Francis (then 19-years old) spotted a gap in the sportswear market. This was namely a lack of affordable and desirable workout gear for young gym-goers.

At the time, brands were either selling baggy body-building gear targeted towards older consumers, or high-end and expensive fitness clothes that were designed to be purely functional rather than fashionable.

At the same time, health and fitness accounts were a growing trend on social media, generating a massive following from young audiences also interested in the subject matter. Gymshark started with the aim of creating fitness gear for this market – one that appears just as concerned with looking good at the gym as on a night out.

With its focused targeting and niche products, Gymshark has managed to disrupt a wider industry made up of established brands such as Nike and Adidas. It has also managed to maintain its cult-like status by refusing to sell through third-party retailers such as ASOS or JD Sports.

Turn influencers into brand ambassadors

Starting with a small number of items for sale online, Gymshark turned to social media in order to raise awareness and target consumers. In order to do this, the brand contacted a number of fitness influencers (including high-profile body-builders like Lex Griffin and Nikki Blackketter), sending them free Gymshark apparel in the hope that they would wear and promote the products on their respective social media channels.

How newly-minted unicorn Gymshark adapted to a global pandemic

This strategy proved to be effective, with the influencers’ involvement immediately having a big affect on sales. From this, Gymshark decided to sponsor 18 influencers, who had a combined following of over 20 million people in markets including the US.

This strategy eventually turned many influencers into brand ambassadors (now referred to as ‘Gymshark athletes’), creating natural advocacy and genuine affinity for the clothes.

Fuse online and offline

While it started as an ecommerce-only brand, Gymshark has also found ways to connect the online and offline worlds. One strategic focus has been to foster a sense of community, and to instil the feeling that the brand is about more than just the products it sells.

It has mainly achieved this through its Gymshark meet-ups and ‘expos’ – events where fans are able to meet their favourite fitness influencers. The brand has expanded this concept to an ‘expo world tour’, taking its events to locations in Germany, America, and Australia – all documented on social channels, creating influencer-style ‘vlogs’ on YouTube.

Interestingly, Gymshark’s huge growth eventually meant that these events became impossible to run, with the sheer number of fans resulting in chaotic queues and long waiting times.

Recognising that it had outgrown the scale of its expos, however, Gymshark started to create pop-up stores instead, where it now holds ticketed events featuring select athletes.

This strategy has allowed the brand to continue running community-focused events on a bigger scale, whilst also adding an exclusive element to incentivise paying customers.

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Posted by Gymshark on Monday, 25 February 2019

Involve customers in the story

Another way Gymshark fosters its online community is through user generated content.

The brand often creates work-out videos on its YouTube channel for audiences to replicate or follow. In turn, it will post user-generated content from those that do, which in turn helps to motivate others.

This brings a more relatable aspect to the brand, welcoming in people who might otherwise be put off by unattainable and flawless imagery on its social media channels and website.

Gymshark consistently asks for feedback from its community, particularly on Twitter where it conducts polls about favourite products and workouts. Again, this makes its audience feel valued, and continues the cycle of advocacy.

Be strategic about sales

Black Friday is a staple event in the retail calendar, and yet many consumers appear to be increasingly cynical about it. In a recent survey by Salmon, 53% of respondents said they have become sceptical about whether deals are genuine and actually represent real savings.

Gymshark is not a retailer that prioritises sales or deals, instead focusing on consistently affordable prices (compared to competitor brands). It does however participate in two sales-focused days every year – its birthday and Black Friday.

Interestingly, the brand has not always been able to deliver, with the brand’s site going down for eight hours on Black Friday 2017 due to the weight of demand. Gymshark was quick to rectify the wrong-doing, however, offering further discounts to those who complained about the site’s crash. It also learnt from its mistakes, eventually re-platforming its site in order to meet demand and scale up. 

Gymshark capitalised on Black Friday as a marketing opportunity by working with the Facebook Creative Group to create an impactful and innovative campaign. This involved turning all its imagery black, which creates a stark contrast against its typically light and over-exposed style.

Gymshark | Blackout

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Posted by Gymshark on Thursday, 16 November 2017

It wasn’t just the creative itself that succeeded, but also the brand’s clever targeting tactics.

Shopify states that Sheryl Sandberg, CCO of Facebook, cited the brand as an example of best practice for advertising on Facebook. She reportedly quoted the fact that, by targeting lookalikes of people that had previously purchased, as well as those that had browsed but not bought, Gymshark saw a 9.3 times return on investment for the period. 

In conclusion…

Gymshark is a shining example of how to pitch and market a brand to a specific audience, capitalising on clever social media and community-focused campaigns. 

With global sales of activewear predicted to reach $567 billion by 2024 – there’s no reason why it cannot continue to compete with the big guns of the fitness retail industry.