gymshark

Inside the billion-pound rise of Gymshark

The Midlands-based gym attire company has just received a valuation of £1 billion. At just 28 years old, its co-founder Ben Francis has come a long way from his pizza delivery days…

On 17 August 2020, a tweet was sent from the Gymshark account to Pizza Hut. While unusual for the fitness brand, at first glance, the question was simple enough:

“hey @pizzahutdeliver u up? how’d you feel about @BenFrancis1992 delivering one last pizza? you know for old times sake” [sic].

To the outsider, it’s nothing more than an attempt at a humorous online exchange, an example of the social media nous the British brand is so good at. Dig a little deeper, though, and the tweet becomes a victorious statement of celebration from the brand. Eight years ago, you see, its founder, majority shareholder and chief marketing officer Ben Francis was earning £5 per hour delivering pizzas for his local Pizza Hut.

This week, the company he founded, Gymshark, was valued at over £1 billion ($1.3 billion) by US private equity firm General Atlantic, which has just agreed to purchase a 21% share in the clothing business. Retaining a 70% share, this puts Francis’ stake at £700m – or 140 million hours’ (5.83 million days) worth of pizza delivery.

As far as businesses started in your parents’ garage at the age of 19 go, it’s difficult to find a comparable success story. But just why did Gymshark succeed where so many teenage dreams failed?

gymshark ben francis

“I absolutely love it here… I’m super proud of the West Midlands in particular and I think it’s great that we can create incredible brands,” Francis said in a recent interview with Sky News. “I think we need to do a better job of marketing that and shouting about it a bit more.”

Born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, in 1992, Francis took inspiration from the nearby MG Rover factory, and began a number of businesses during his teenage years. His first was a company that sold car license plates online. Later, like most teenagers, he became interested in fitness and started attending the gym.

“The structure, consistency and work ethic I found in the gym, I realised, could be applied to different areas of my life and it would work,” he later wrote on his blog, benfrancis.com. This inspiration later led to him founding a pair of fitness apps, Fat Loss Abs Guide and iPhysique.

In 2010 Francis went to study international business and management at Aston University. But, a few years into his degree, he grew frustrated that he couldn’t find gym apparel that appealed to him, and realised that there was a business opportunity there. While working for Pizza Hut by night, the 19-year-old Francis founded Gymshark in 2012 along with business parter Lewis Morgan.

Enlisting his brother and a drove of mates, Francis and Morgan initially sold fitness supplements before making the lateral move into fitness attire in 2013. Francis purchased a sewing machine and a screen printer with £1,000 of savings. Having learned to sew from his mother, he set out to produce quality gym vests and T-shirts. According to a later interview with Medium, it took him six weeks to make his first sale.

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