His car reeked of greasy pepperoni pizza…
The irony is that delivering fattening pizza night after night is what Ben Francis knew he had to do if he wanted to succeed in building a powerful fitness brand.
Francis — a then nineteen-year-old living at home with his mother in the U.K. — would save his tips and buy as much inventory as he could; he was hawking supplements online when he discovered gym clothing actually sold better.
“This wasn’t the the big baggy type of clothing bodybuilders wear,” Francis says. “It was handmade, fitted clothing that younger people wanted to wear to the gym.”
Delivery after delivery, Francis saved his wages and tips and spent a year building inventory that would appeal to millennial fitness buffs. Eventually, Francis was generating about £300 a day in online apparel sales.
That is until he took his fitted gear on the road.
Francis introduced his Gymshark line of workout apparel at a major industry show and was soon inundated with orders: £30,000 in a single day. “That was the first time,” Francis recalls, “we realized we were onto something.”
With his days as a pizza delivery driver in the rearview mirror, Francis looked ahead and saw something that might seem insurmountable to anyone other than a teenager with a dream: competing against industry behemoths like Nike and Under Armour.
Why not visit each and every customer you have regardless of where they’re scattered across the globe to make their wildest dreams come true?
Of course, all that only works if your site is up on the most important shopping day of the year.
Goosebump Meetings Minus the Pedestals
Ripped but not massively huge …
The fitness-minded millennials Gymshark targets understand the difference and want gear designed just for them.
“I wanted to create a line of fitness apparel I wanted to wear to the gym,” Francis says.
This is the gap in the market Gymshark fills …
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 like Steve Cook:
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 like Cook all around the world so fans and followers can meet their idols in person and without charge.
In Francis’ words:
“We get goosebumps 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 expos remove the layer between fans and their heroes and create emotional experiences that are moving.”
The star ambassadors, who wrap themselves in Gymshark apparel, aren’t there to make a hard sell but rather to spend a short while with the followers who have made them famous. And it’s all courtesy of Gymshark.
“It’s a customer experience second to none,” says Daniel Knight, Gymshark’s brand manager. “It bridges the gap between the digital and physical worlds and creates emotional customer experiences that can’t be had online alone.”
The rendezvous between idol and fan may last but a brief moment in time, but the ramifications are concrete and enduring.
In just four years, Gymshark has gone from an idea to 3 million social media followers in 131 countries and £41 million in sales during 2017 alone.
It’s impressive, especially when you consider Gymshark’s founder was a teenager working out of his mother’s garage not so long ago.
But the company’s financial performance would be even better had it not been for a massive technical failure at the worst possible moment.
Not only did it cost Gymshark financially …
It resulted in a massive hand cramp for Francis.
The £100K Mistake & Handwritten Apologies
Gymshark started on Shopify but quickly outgrew the platform…
This was prior to the advent of Shopify Plus, an enterprise ecommerce solution for high volume merchants, so Francis and the Gymshark team began looking at competing platforms that could handle the company’s accelerating growth. They settled on Magento but quickly regretted the decision as it took too long to get up and running.
“It took six to eight months just to build the site,” Francis recalls. “By the time the site was finished, we had doubled in size and had already outgrown the site.”
The site, according to Gymshark, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and maintain. But finally, there it was just in time for the granddaddy of all shopping days: Black Friday.
And that’s when the emails and tweets started rolling in, one after another ... after another:
The failure cost Gymshark an estimated £100,000 and even worse, the trust it had spent years earning from customers expecting a great experience.
“That was supposed to be a huge day for us but we let our customers down. It didn’t matter that it was Magento’s fault, it’s our brand and customers blamed us which really hurt.”
Ben Francis, Founder of Gymshark
The Gymshark team expects to be apologizing for years.
In fact, Francis himself has penned more than 2,500 handwritten apologies that include discounts and go out on customer birthdays to those who were affected by the Black Friday crash.
“We have the same morals and values as we did when we were a small company,” Francis says proudly of the cramp-causing handwritten notes. “Each of these customers is a human being and deserves to be treated the way I’d wanted to be treated if a brand let me down.”
Ten months after entering into a relationship with Magento …
Gymshark returned home to Shopify, using RyanFosterDesign to replatform and power its ecommerce with Shopify Plus. Importantly, Gymshark is using Shopify Scripts, which offers merchants the ability to write their own custom code on Shopify’s servers.
With scripts, merchants can have it all: the freedom to write their own code as well as the scalability, reliability, and affordability associated with cloud-based ecommerce.
“Scripts allows us to customize the checkout and offer customers who make a particular purchase a complimentary gift,” Francis says. “It’s something that would’ve taken a lot of money and weeks to accomplish on Magento. But with Shopify, we can do what we want almost immediately and be confident it’s going to work.”
“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.”
Ben Francis, Founder of Gymshark
With Gymshark home once again on Shopify, Francis says the company can focus entirely on what differentiates it from competitors and industry giants; a reliable and emotional customer experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
The freedom to grow bigger, faster …
Experience the speed, security, and support that over 500,000 merchants already trust.
Find out what happens when technology gets out of the way so you can focus on your business, instead of worrying about your website.
Beyond Sweat, Here’s Some Extra Energy
“We level the playing field between fans and their idols,” Francis says.
However, Francis isn’t satisfied with the status quo and is already working to identify ways Gymshark might enhance the customer experience at meetups and expos. “We’re looking at doing some big things and really stepping it up,” he says.
Expect Gymshark to offer sport-specific products that may be used in and out of the gym:
- Running gear
- Cycling gear
But Gymshark is quickly looking for ways to diversify beyond sweat. While the company is investigating the latest moisture-wicking technology, it sees a future in which fitness apparel serves a much greater purpose than simply keeping fitness buffs dry:
- Fitness apparel that can provide athletes with additional energy
- Next generation wearables that can prevent athletes from pulling muscles or injuring themselves
“We are massive fans of technology,” Francis says. “The ideas we’re researching may be a few years away or maybe not- who knows?”
If anyone might …
It’s a former pizza delivery boy now making big money making the world healthier.