How Gymshark Built a $52M Global Brand with a Multi-Channel Growth Strategy

How Gymshark Built a $52M Global Brand with a Multi-Channel Growth Strategy

As one of the fastest growing global fitness and apparel brands in the world, Gymshark relies on Shopify Plus to execute a multi-channel strategy that includes immersive online-to-offline customer experiences and PPC campaigns cited by Facebook as some of the most successful in the world to achieve:

  • Triple-digit growth resulting in $52 million during 2017
  • 9.3X ROI on a social campaign that lifted YoY holiday sales 197%

Ben Francis, Founder of Gymshark

“The great thing about Shopify Plus is the fact we fundamentally trust the platform and can do what we want almost immediately and be confident it’s going to work. We’ve set the standard and continue on our journey towards being the greatest fitness brand in the world.”

With millions of customers and brand loyalists in 131 countries, Ben Francis, founder of leading fitness apparel and accessories brand Gymshark, understands that continuing to grow globally at an accelerated pace requires a much more sophisticated approach than it did when he founded the U.K. based company in 2012.

“I wanted to make handmade, fitted clothing that younger people wanted to wear to the gym,” Francis says.

Demand for Gymshark products initially spiked when Francis introduced his company at a popular trade show and was inundated with orders; more than $42,000 in a single day. “That was the first time,” Francis recalls, “we realized we were onto something.”

Today, Gymshark is known around the world for fostering wildly popular online-to-offline (O2O) customer experiences by organizing world tours where Gymshark customers can meet their fitness idols and make purchases in person at an array of Gymshark events.

It’s part of the company’s multi-channel, global strategy.

A strategy that may have never become a reality if it weren’t for a $143,000 mistake that caused Francis to realize Gymshark needed a different toolset if it was to grow even faster internationally.

A Platform That Scales With You

The accelerated growth Gymshark was experiencing from its inception through 2015 required a platform that could handle significant spikes in traffic and grow in lockstep with the brand.

But Francis and the Gymshark team quickly regretted their decision to choose Magento as their commerce platform, in part, because of the length of time it took to get up and running.

“It took six to eight months just to build the site,” Francis recalls. “By the time [it] was finished, we had doubled in size and had already outgrown the site.”

The situation quickly went from bad to worse as the Magento site that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and maintain crashed on the grandest stage of all for a retailer: Black Friday. According to Francis, Gymshark was down for eight hours and the outage cost an estimated $143,000 in lost sales.

Scale, Reliability, and Customization

Ten months after entering into a relationship with Magento, Gymshark replatformed with Shopify Plus, a commerce platform that scales on demand alongside dynamic brands like Gymshark. Not only did Francis and his team need a reliable platform, but also one that can be customized to offer personalized customer experiences across the globe.

For example, Gymshark uses Shopify Scripts, which offers merchants the ability to write their own custom code on Shopify Plus’ servers, to customize the checkout and surprise customers with freebies that earn loyalty. Specifically, Scripts has positioned Gymshark to offer customers who make a particular purchase a complimentary gift.

Similarly, Gymshark’s checkout process itself — from product pages to payment — is customized for a mobile-first ecommerce experience:

“It’s something that would’ve taken a lot of money and weeks to accomplish on Magento,” Francis says. “The great thing about Shopify Plus is the fact we fundamentally trust the platform. We can go into Black Friday and don’t need to worry about the website crashing, whether we can or can’t handle it.”

With a platform on which he can rely, Francis had positioned Gymshark to execute a …

Multi-channel, global strategy to aggressively compete with titans like Nike and Under Armour.

Shopify POS Drives Offline Sales

Born in the age of social media, Gymshark is a brand built in large part on creating meaningful connections that endure. One way the company does this is with its brand ambassadors; fitness icons with millions of raving social media followers.

In what can only be likened to an all-star collection of rock and roll stars going on tour together and offering free admission to concerts, Gymshark organizes and executes its own world tours; massive undertakings in which it flies its iconic fitness ambassadors all around the world so fans and followers can meet their idols in person and without charge.

“We get goosebumps,” says Francis, “watching Gymshark customers who have driven hundreds of miles to meet their fitness idols face to face. People are fascinated with athletes and these meetups and pop-up stores remove the layer between fans and their heroes and create emotional experiences that are truly moving.”

Importantly, Gymshark powers its immersive online-offline customer experiences with Shopify’s POS system to help organize world tours where Gymshark customers can meet their fitness idols and make purchases in person at expos and special events.

Not only does the Shopify Plus POS system allow merchants to sell anywhere, but the centralized reporting also positions merchants see both physical and digital sales in real-time.

“It’s a customer experience second to none,” says Daniel Knight, Gymshark’s website manager. “It bridges the gap between the digital and physical worlds and creates emotional customer experiences that can’t be had online alone.”

Launch PPC Campaigns Facebook Praises

It’s asymmetric marketing at its finest …

The images and content Gymshark scatters across its digital properties are famously bright and almost over-exposed in some cases. However, once a year around Black Friday the company runs a “Blackout” campaign in which it reverses normal course and offers prospects and customers imagery they can’t help but notice.

“Everything turns dark and black, says Noel Mack, Gymshark’s Brand Director. “Models wear black on black clothing and we’ll even post completely blank black images on Instagram with no caption to intrigue our consumer. It’s a real departure from our usual content.”

Instead of first creating a “hero” piece of content and then trying to stretch and squeeze it to fit the various social media formats, Gymshark took the opposite approach.

The “Blackout” team first decided which platforms and formats would best tell the story it desired to tell. Only then did it engineer content specifically designed to fit the selected sizes, formats, and aspect ratios.

“We consider ourselves a real forward-thinking brand and want to continually push the boundaries of what’s possible,” Mack says. “We often toss out the rulebook with stuff like this and it can really pay off.”

Pay off it did …

Facebook took notice of Gymshark’s campaign and was so impressed, COO Sheryl Sandberg highlighted Gymshark’s success when pressed on a quarterly earnings call by a Wall Street analyst for an example of a European brand using Facebook not only to generate demand but lift sales.

Sandberg said this on the call:

“Gymshark is a fitness clothing brand based in the U.K. They ran Facebook video ads and Instagram Story ads for their Black Friday campaigns.

“They target with lookalikes [audiences] people who had previously purchased and custom audiences of people who had started but didn’t complete the purchase [process] and they saw a 9.3 times return on investment for the two week holiday period.”

That 9.3X return Sandberg touted helped Gymshark grow its year-over-year holiday revenue 197%.

Importantly, Gymshark cites Facebook’s targeting tools as a big factor driving its growth on Facebook and Instagram.

Specifically, the ability to target custom and lookalike audiences combined with rigorous A/B testing has positioned Gymshark to identify and target only the best-performing groups. Even better, the advanced targeting capabilities have not only allowed Gymshark to generate leads but also convert prospects already in the funnel.

Here’s Sandberg again:

“What happens on our platform is people start out doing demand generation and then use the repeat opportunity to show people ads moving [them] down the funnel to demand fulfillment.

“If you use our targeting tools well, you can actually start out with demand fulfillment. So some of the examples I’ve shown on this call from Holiday Inn to Gymshark are about people using the targeting tools to find the people who are interested in the products and then you can get [them] closer and down the funnel to demand fulfillment.”

But, is it really possible that you too could get Sheryl Sandberg or Mark Zuckerberg to mention your brand to the world?

How to Get Facebook to Mention Your Brand: A Blueprint

Triple-digit growth and a 9.3X ROI isn’t enough …

If you really want a shot at being mentioned by the likes of Sheryl Sandberg you’ll have to combine sustained peak performance with something you do in every ad you run: include a strong call to action.

In essence, you’re advertising yourself and that CTA has to be directed at your Facebook account representative.

Understand that during Facebook’s quarterly earnings calls Sandberg routinely highlights the success of small and medium-size businesses that are using Facebook to accelerate growth.

Facebook actually wants to mention brands like yours.

It’s crucial that you make sure your Facebook representatives are championing you and your success to superiors. This ensures you are among the pool of candidate brands Zuckerberg and Sandberg can point to as specific use cases when Wall Street asks.

In Gymshark’s case, the team had an inkling but was still on the edge of its seat during the call.

“We have some great associates at Facebook who were really rooting for us to make the earnings call so we had a good idea we would be mentioned.

“However, sitting in on that call and hearing our business which grew from extremely humble beginnings mentioned by the likes of Mark and Sheryl was a surreal moment for us for sure.

“I don’t think we will ever get used to the recognition from some of the most revered and respected people of our generation.”

Noel Mack, Gymshark

The Future at Scale

Fast growing brands executing a global multi-channel strategy know intuitively that what made them their first $50 million in sales isn’t likely enough to generate their next $50 million. In fact, the most successful global brands routinely experiment with and develop new sales channels to accelerate growth.

It’s a concept Francis is well familiar with as he considers new ways Gymshark might enhance the customer experience or sales channels through which the company might engage its 5.1 million social media followers. “We’re looking at doing some big things and really stepping it up,” he says.

Whether that includes integrating the latest moisture-wicking technology into its products or introducing next-generation wearables that can prevent athletes from pulling muscles or injuring themselves, Francis has positioned Gymshark to sell anywhere its customers want to buy.

The Gymshark-Shopify Plus combination means that while Gymshark researches the latest technology in fitness apparel, it is also well positioned to use world-class SaaS technology to execute a multi-channel growth strategy anywhere in the world.

“It’s a good thing we went onto Magento because otherwise we’d probably take a lot of what Shopify Plus does for granted,” Francis says. “Now we have set the standard, all our forthcoming campaigns need to continue to improve as we continue on our journey towards being the greatest fitness brand in the world.”


About the Author

Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog and founder of The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best-known brands, businesses, and marketers. Get more from Nick here.