The 26-year-old who started a £100million sportswear business Gymshark while studying at university

BEN Francis was just a 19-year-old student who delivered pizzas when he started making gym clothes in his parents’ garage in 2012 – the start of sportswear giant Gymshark.

The 26-year-old from Birmingham could never have dreamed that six years later, his business is about to turnover £100million.

Ben Francis is the founder of Gymshark, which is due to turnover £100million by the end of this year
Ben Francis is the founder of Gymshark, which is due to turnover £100million by the end of this year

Keen gym goer Ben started Gymshark – which sells fitness clothing and accessories online only – because he wanted to find a way of making money in the fitness industry, according to the BBC.

He first started selling health supplements, but couldn’t make much profit on them.

When he couldn’t find fitted gym clothes that he wanted to wear, he decided to try making clothes instead.

He learned how to sew from his grandmother, and would make about 10 products a day by hand after buying a sewing machine and a screen printer.

Ben lives with his fitness model girlfriend Robin Gallant
Ben lives with his fitness model girlfriend Robin Gallant

Ben and his girlfriend Robin Gallant, who is a Gymshark brand ambassador
Ben and his girlfriend Robin Gallant, who is a Gymshark brand ambassador

The entrepreneur, who lives with his Canadian fitness model girlfriend Robin Gallant, did all this while studying at Aston University full-time and working every night as a pizza delivery driver.

He told the BBC: “I’d wake up and go to Aston University [Birmingham], then finish uni 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.”

He kept up this exhausting regime for two years until the budding business had revenues of £250,000 a year.

Ben – who also ran two small businesses as a teenager including a fitness tracking app – decided to drop out of university, and focus on Gymshark full time.

Now the business has 1.2 million customers and 215 employees at its Solihull headquarters, according to the BBC.

The key to Gymshark’s success was using social media influencers to promote the brand’s products to their millions of followers.

Timeline of how Gymshark became a £100million business

IT’S been six years since Gymshark started from Ben Francis’ parents’ house. Here’s how it’s grown:

  • 2012 – Ben Francis starts selling health supplements online. Gymshark is born. Profit margins were too low – so he decided to start making and selling fitted gym clothes he wanted to wear.
  • 2014 – Gymshark is now making £250,000 a year, so Ben leaves university to work on Gymshark full-time.
  • 2015 – Steve Hewitt is brought on as a management consultant before becoming managing director.
  • 2016 – Gymshark is the UK’s fastest growing company.
  • 2017 – Turnover trebles to £40.5million from £12.7 million in 2015/2016. Steve Hewitt becomes CEO.
  • 2018 – Gymshark is expected to turnover £100million by the end of the year.

Ben sent his products to fitness models such as bodybuilder Lex Griffin, who has 392,000 followers on Instagram, who then raved about the brand on his page.

He also made sure Gymshark’s own social media accounts were eye-catching, with attractive models posing in Gymshark clothing.

It worked, as the company’s Instagram account has 2.4million followers.

Gymshark also hires influences to be brand ambassadors called “Gymshark Athletes,” and they travel the world meeting fans and promoting the brand.

Ben’s girlfriend, Robin, is also a Gymshark Athlete.

Ben started making gym clothes in his parents
Ben started making gym clothes in his parents’ garage as a full-time student and pizza delivery driver

Ben explained to Drapers magazine: “One of the examples I always use is that if I wanted to meet, say, a Nike[-sponsored] athlete, the closest I’m likely to get to them is if I pay to go a football game and see them from the stands.

“We want our team to be as accessible as possible to the wider Gymshark community.”

Ben handed over the title of CEO to sportswear veteran Steve Hewitt, who held senior positions at Reebok and Adidas, last year, but he’s still a majority stakeholder.

The experienced pair of hands has helped the business to grow even further, Ben believes.

The business currently only sells clothing online, but Ben is thinking of opening a physical store soon.

Fiona Paton, a senior retail analyst at market research company GlobalData, told Drapers why Gymshark has been such a success.

She said: “Gymshark has used fitness stars wearing the brand and promoting it online with great success, allowing it to reach its target market directly.”

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