Gymshark is the UK’s most ambitious new gymwear brand and it’s taking the industry by storm
Interview by Nicky Godding
Fasten your seatbelt. This is retail for the 21st century. You won’t find Gymshark on the high street, unless someone’s wearing it.
You won’t find it on soulless edge-of-town retail parks either. The only place you can buy Gymshark now is online. This brand sells direct to the consumer, with a shop window on social media: Lots and lots on social media.
Gymshark is the UK’s fastest growing brand and it’s based at Redditch in Worcestershire. Launched five years’ ago by Ben Francis, just 19 at the time, it’s now generating annual sales of over £13 million with projected sales of £40 million this year – and £80 million the year after. Crazy? I know.
It’s an incredible story. In 2012 fitness fanatic Ben started making and selling gymwear with his university friends. They felt there was no sportswear which reflected their personalities, so they did it themselves, spending hours on a sewing machine and screen printer. And boy did they hit a rich seam of demand.
As a teenager, Ben had built websites (his first fully functioning website sold license plates), then he moved on to computer development, creating fitness apps. So Gymshark’s website was born. Sending their products to YouTube fitness stars they admired, they quickly learned the benefits of online influencer marketing, which remains the company’s fundamental marketing strategy today.
years’ Gymshark was achieving a turnover of £4 million, but success was
catching up with them and there were issues with product and on time delivery.
As CEO Steve Hewitt, who joined the business in 2015, explains: “99.9% of
people of their age and experience would have failed, but Ben was determined.
He also understands his consumer inside out. He is that consumer and lives the
brand, but at that age you don’t know what you don’t know. I came into the
business to add structure and experience.”
Steve asked Ben: Do you want to be a lifestyle brand in Bromsgrove, or do you want to become a global player? “Ben said he wanted to impact and inspire as many people as possible, so that’s what we’re going out of our way to do.”
Athleisure: the fastest growing retail trend in the
roots are in the gym, but it’s now developed into athleisure, or activewear,
probably the fastest growing retail trend in the world. The company’s target
market is those aged between 18-25, whose lives revolve around fitness, fashion
overarching focus, full stop, is to understand the 18-25 age group in our
sector better than any brand in the world,” says Steve. “The way we do that is
by being content-led.” For the Millennial generation, it’s all about the
experience and emotion.
“Price matters but more importantly it’s about being part of something. Our followers are very loyal, but they can also be very fickle. If we can’t be bothered, or seem to be taking our success and customers for granted. They’ll be quick to call us out.”
to do that on social media. Gymshark knows its room for error is very small,
but Steve’s view is that if you look after the brand and its community, the
numbers look after themselves – if you have commercial common sense.
Gymshark also pulls in 14 year olds, its customers of the future. “They are our Young Sharks, our next point of entry,” says Steve. And of course, there are the 35-44 year old fitness enthusiasts.
90% of the brand’s consumer interaction comes through Instagram. As I’m writing this, Gymshark has 1.4 million Instagram followers and a total of 3.6 million across all social platforms. They have a great customer care team who are fast to respond to any enquiries.
A brand for Millennials
Gymshark is a Millennials business. “We say that our legacy is not our bank balance. We want to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Steve. This might sound trite, a bit bleeding heart – but he means it.
Ben says he would rather know he’s affected people’s lives positively rather than having £1 million in the bank or a Lamborghini.
Steve adds: “Ben’s really humble. He could go on any holiday or drive any car he wants. But as a Board we have gone out of our way to ensure he stays real. And he’s up for that.”
Gymshark sees itself as aspirational and affordable.
The high-quality photography, videography filmed across the globe and the carefully-chosen brand ambassadors deliver the first, the second is delivered by its ‘direct to consumer’ model, cutting away retail outlets which need their own margins.
Manufacturing is done in the Far East but the company is hoping to move some to Turkey and Portugal. It would love to have some manufacturing in the UK if it can find the right sourcing partner and is putting significant money into research and development (“Art plus science equals wonder”, says Steve).
Steve is fizzing with ambition: “We have one chance. We want to make awesome product. We want to have owned IP.
“We are visionary in building a cult community, we want to be visionary in other areas too: wearable tech is on our radar. We want to get closer to our consumer.”
The vision also involves physical retail, but on Gymshark’s terms. “We want to take the brand to key cities across the globe.
“We did Mercer St, Manhattan, New York, just up from Lululemon and Nike Lab. Two hours before we opened a pop up store, there was a queue four blocks long. London is next.”
If the global opportunity for Gymshark is 10/10, Steve says the brand is currently at 2/10.
There is phenomenal growth potential, but Steve, Ben and their fellow directors are adamant the business mustn’t be complacent.
“When we launched our flex leggings this year we sold out of a large quantity with a proposed four-week cover in 11 minutes.
“We had teams high fiving but we said, let’s look at categories that are not growing as fast and put as much focus into those.”
At 60% of sales, the United States is Gymshark’s biggest market.
The UK comes in second at 25%, followed by the EU at 15%. Australia and Canada are growing markets – Gymshark is switching on its Australian online store in July. A French online store opens in October, followed by Russia, India, Japan and South America.
Women’s apparel represented 9% of the business two years ago, this has now risen to 65%. “We have to stay relevant,” says Steve. “Being relevant to an 18-25-year-old in a few years will be different from what it is now. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re up for the challenge.”
There is no exit plan. “None whatsoever. Our view is keep on doing what we’re doing and keep it fun.”
The lowdown on Gymshark CEO Steve Hewitt
Steve Hewitt grew up in the North East of England. Following a degree in sports business at Manchester he headed stateside to work, ending up running the commercial side of Adidas’ Reebok brand (softening his Geordie accent so they could understand him).
He headed up Reebok’s commercial interests in Europe. “Big numbers, a lot of travel, a lot of pressure. I left for one reason only, my wife and I had a little daughter and I was doing around 300,000 air miles a year. It was a work/ family lifestyle decision. I wanted to see my kids as they grew up.”
He was head-hunted to run Hartlebury-based Tiger Turf, which makes artificial grass for sporting and other markets. When he arrived, it was turning over £3 million a year. He helped take it to £25 million turnover in three years, after which it got sold to a Dutch consortium.
He met Gymshark when he was doing consultancy work with SMEs in the area, and the rest is history in the making.
Quick facts on Gymshark
Gymshark is a fitness apparel and accessories brand, manufacturer and on line retailer. It is currently the fastest growing retail brand in the UK, supported by over three million highly engaged social media followers and customers in 131 countries.
Head office: Redditch
Revenue: £13 million in 2016 (projected £40 in 2017)
The discreet and sensitive nature of L3 TRL Technology’s work means it can’t always shout loud about its huge success. We reveal as much as we’re allowed.
Interview by Nicky Godding
A major global cyber-attack this May, which threatened 47 NHS Trusts across the UK and countless corporations globally, got us all thinking yet again about our national vulnerabilities.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, launched last October, hit the ground running but countless organisations have been quietly working for years protecting and mitigating cyber threats to essential national infrastructure.
L3 TRL Technology, based at Tewkesbury, is one of the UK’s most successful cyber and electronic warfare companies. It designs, develops and delivers advanced electronic systems for the protection of people, infrastructure and assets.
I met L3 TRL’s Chief Executive Greg Roberts the week after the May cyber-attack, and it was naturally at the top of our conversation. “What do we mean by ‘critical national infrastructure’?” he asks. “Certainly, our transport and communications networks, healthcare systems and the Bank of England – but does that also stretch to retailers such as John Lewis? Tesco’s?”
Should retailers be considered part of our national infrastructure? Maybe not, but if people can’t buy food and essential items, daily lives are disrupted. It’s an ongoing debate in which L3 TRL, along with the wider cyber industry, is involved: Where does Government responsibility end and personal responsibility begin?
A national treasure
L3 TRL works at the heart of our country’s infrastructure. It partners with civil and defence organisations, defending against evolving and emerging threats worldwide and is considered by many within the industry a ‘national treasure’ for its work in these sectors. It provides government with the capability to protect and encrypt data in transit, data ‘at rest’ (ie stored data, including in the cloud), and mobile data. Its electronic defence products help keep our national protection forces safe out in the field through intelligence gathering, and from attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The company is a huge success story for the region, turning over around £60 million last year and exporting to over 24 coalition countries.
However, there was a difficult period between 2014 and 2015 before Greg arrived, where L3 TRL had to adapt following the military withdrawal from the Gulf and Afghanistan conflicts.
In just two years Greg has turned L3 TRL from decline to growth. Orders have increased by 40%, employee numbers have risen to over 320 and the company is recruiting.
L3 TRL’s US parent company, L3 Technologies which has its headquarters in New York, is encouraging its UK business in organic growth and strategic acquisition. TRL invests up to 10% of turnover in research & development and recently acquired Australian company Micreo, which designs and produces wearable protection, complementing L3 TRL’s current product range. It has also taken responsibility for another Australian business as part of a wider re-organisation in L3’s global corporation.
How has the company achieved such a rapid about-face? That’s down to Greg, who has considerable form in corporate turnaround. Greg says the key is ensuring he is clear about his vision with people, and matching that up with their expertise.
Listen very carefully
L3 TRL is a successful business on the lookout for skilled and talented people so it must be frustrating for the team that they can’t talk freely about what the company does. Everyone is hugely security conscious (I’m asked to leave my mobile phone and voice recorder in my car. It’s like a parent being asked to abandon a baby. Thank heavens for my shorthand skills).
L3 TRL supports recruitment into the cyber industry and runs its own in-house talent management programme, Cerebrum, which was recently shortlisted for a national HR award. The company is particularly proud of one of its university graduates who, at just 22, is advising Her Majesty’s Government. “She’s one example of the incredibly intelligent employees at TRL and we’re delighted to be able to give her such an opportunity,” says Greg.
L3 TRL is a member of the National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst programme, boosting the cyber skills capabilities of the UK’s current and future workforce. This offers bursaries of £4,000, paid work placements and employment on graduation to talented students.
There are not enough young people choosing a career in cyber security, but Greg is positive: “The quality of emerging talent we see is excellent,” he says.
L3 TRL is a member of the 5% Club, which has over 150 UK companies all wanting to make a difference to the UK’s global prosperity by focussing on technical skills to drive innovation.
Other members include Gloucestershire-based Renishaw (a founder member), Malvern-based Qinetiq and electrical contractors Clarkson Evans.
L3 TRL’s people are important to Greg. “It’s about celebrating diversity, creating an environment and culture where we inspire each other,” he says.
“I’m happier, more engaged and energised today than I was when I joined L3 TRL. Retirement? Not on my agenda. I love what I do.”
A decisive career
Greg Roberts left school at 16 years old with few qualifications or career ideas.
He undertook a four-year engineering apprenticeship and joined a company which made artificial limbs, wheelchairs and mobility vehicles. Having completed an HNC, he moved to a small subsea acoustics business later bought out by UK engineering company Ferranti.
In the early 1990s Ferranti merged its subsea business with Marconi and a few years’ later the company became Thales Underwater Systems.
Greg discovered a talent for business development. He was also quick to accept advice and support.
“One boss was a WW2 Lancaster aircraft bomber. The only time he told me off was for not making a decision when he wasn’t there.” You don’t ignore lessons from men who’ve got split-second, life-and-death experience.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the global defence industry faced a decade of decline. However, Greg had risen to become Sales & Marketing Director for Thales Underwater Systems.
“In 2000 we were bidding for three key defence programmes, and I was asked to win one, or two if I could.” He won all three, securing £300 million worth of business, a huge coup for a British company.
His career at Thales went global and for the next seven years, he worked first in Nice, then Paris, France.
Returning to the UK he took control of another Thales company. Loss-making when he joined, he turned it into a £90 million turnover company in five years. Throughout all this, he also found time to complete an MBA.
Greg spent over 25 years with Thales before moving, first to Northrop Grumman then avionics company Curtiss-Wright before being headhunted to his current role at L3 TRL.
Head office: Tewkesbury
Group Revenue: £60 million
Two major investments in research partnerships that will strengthen the links between the UK's research base, industry and business partners have been announced by Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science.
Both investments show the pivotal importance of engineering and the physical sciences to the country's continued development as a global research and innovation leader.
The first investment is a new initiative, a set of Prosperity Partnerships, which will receive £31 million of government funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). This will be matched by a further £36 million from partner organisations in cash or in-kind contributions, and £11 million from universities' funds, resulting in a £78 million investment.
Ten universities, including the University of Warwick and University of Bristol, will lead on 11 projects that range from the future networks for digital infrastructure to offshore wind and they will partner with businesses operating in key areas of the innovation landscape. These include household names such as Siemens, BP and Unilever and also firms like M Squared Lasers that are leading in areas such as advanced photonics.
WMG, at the University of Warwick, WMG at the University of Warwick has been awarded £5.7 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). In conjunction with Jaguar Land Rover, Brandauer Holdings, Dynex Semiconductors and ST Microelectronics, WMG will be researching the science of high performance electrified propulsion ( Addressing emergent challenges in vehicle electrification through collaboration to grow scientific understanding).
WMG’s Professor Barbara Shollock said: “This Prosperity Partnership will tackle the emerging challenges for vehicle electrification through a unique collaboration to grow scientific understanding. This integrated approach brings the potential for the UK to lead, both industrially and scientifically, in an area of high growth and relevance in the UK's industrial strategy.”
The University of Bristol, in partnership with Thales Bristol will be designing new processes that guide the engineering of hybrid systems with embedded autonomy.
Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science said: A central part of our Industrial Strategy is boosting the economic impact of our world-class research base by supporting the flow of innovative ideas and techniques from concept to market-place.
This investment will ensure the work of our universities continues to have positive impact around the world and maintain the UK's global leadership in science and innovation.
Professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Professor of Biochemical Engineering at UCL, who chaired the panel that approved the Prosperity Partnerships projects, said: “The Partnerships awards are a further demonstration of EPSRC's vision in creating exciting opportunities for industry and academia to work together on strategically significant problems. The quality of the applications we reviewed was outstanding and demonstrated strength of vision, relevance and a determination to pursue long term collaborative research. The breadth of applications too speaks to the diversity of UK industry and to the alignment between the UK's very best academic teams and our industrial base.
The grants promise to create a series of exciting avenues of research leading to industrial implementation. It's a wonderful new example of how, in partnership, we can harness our collective capabilities to strengthen our economy and once again underscores the importance of ongoing investment in the HE research base.
The second EPSRC investment is £60 million for 33 universities to advance their Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAA). These allow institutions the flexibility to operate tailored schemes that help increase the likelihood of impact from their research. The IAAs speed up the contribution that scientists make towards new innovation, successful businesses and the economic returns that benefit the UK.
Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council said: If innovation is an ecosystem then it is dependent on having a fertile soil of research and the fresh air of ideas to nourish its growth. These new EPSRC Prosperity Partnerships and IAAinvestments will provide the right conditions in which new technologies and products can be developed more quickly. In turn, this will return social and economic benefits and ensure the UK continues to be one of the best places in the world to research, innovate and grow business.
The IAAs' aims are to promote movement between universities, businesses and other organisations; to support the very early stage of turning research outputs into a commercial proposition; improve engagement with businesses, government and third sector to sow the seeds of new collaboration and more strategic engagement, and reach out to researchers who do not normally engage in exploitation activities and driving culture change within the university.
The flexibility within each IAA means that different universities support activities in different ways, in line with their own unique needs and opportunities.