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Ben Francis: From Pizza Boy To Billionaire

In July 2023, Gymshark turned over £176 million for the year; that’s more than a £70 million increase from the previous year, a staggering rise of 71%. We take a look at how Ben Francis created one of the UK’s fastest-growing companies, and how 2024 will be Gymshark’s biggest year yet. 

Back in 2012, fitness fanatic Ben Francis was studying international business and management at Aston University whilst working as a delivery man for Pizza Hut. He created several start-up businesses including an online website selling car number plates, but they failed to make an impact. Ben applied his work ethic in the gym to other aspects of life, which was the catalyst for Gymshark’s success. Gymshark was originally a website selling supplements via dropshipping, taking over six weeks to make the first sale. Unhappy with the gym clothes currently in the market, Ben and his friend Lewis Morgan branched out as they began designing and printing their fitness apparel, using a sewing machine and screen printer in Ben’s parents' garage. 

Photo: Ben Francis
Photo: Ben Francis

Gymshark took a unique approach to marketing. They supplied online influencers with free products to promote on their channels and social media. Sales began to soar from £450 to £45,000 daily, as Gymshark’s name began to rise. In 2013, Gymshark had its big break at the BodyPower exhibition in Birmingham. The aim wasn’t to sell products but to promote the business and meet new people. A tracksuit from the event went viral and generated £30,000 in sales in just half an hour; having previously made £300 a day. 

Fast forward four years, and in 2016, Gymshark was named the fastest-growing business in The Sunday Times’ Fast Track 100. The company opened a new HQ in Solihull in 2018, and the following year opened a Gym and Innovation Hub across the road. The business has continuously kept on growing. With a combined 140,000 square feet, the campus-like business park includes garment production centres, photography, film and podcast studios and a cinema. More importantly, it is only a few miles from Ben’s parent’s house where it all started, enabling Ben to give back to his community by creating jobs and improving the business’ sustainability. 

It’s clear from the start that Gymshark is a heavily community-based business. Ben would instigate meet-ups at gyms after every event they want to. In 2018, he started to organise his own across global cities known as ‘We Lift The City.’ These events allowed consumers to purchase products but also collaborate with fellow gym enthusiasts. Via his YouTube account, Ben says, “I’m generally interested and fascinated by talking to people – and I learned more from the people at these events than anyone in business. Those people started following us on social media and we started to build a following.” At one event in Los Angeles, a consumer spoke about his desire for a camouflage range. Ben took this idea on board and ensured a camouflage range was on the agenda. It became an instant hit with consumers globally. 

In 2020, a year after Gymshark generated over £200 million in revenue, General Atlantic purchased a stake in the business. It was at this moment that the world went into lockdown due to coronavirus. 

With gyms being closed, you’d be forgiven for thinking Gymshark was about to take a decline. Ben took the opportunity to pay personal trainers to do online workouts via Gymshark’s social media accounts, and with this, sales grew. 

In October 2022, Gymshark’s flagship store opened in Regent Street, London. In 2023, with a net worth of £1 billion, Ben was awarded an MBE for services to the business sector and also featured on Forbes Youngest Billionaire’s List. 

“2024 is going to be our biggest ever year.”

That’s a bold statement given the success Gymshark has already achieved. But when Ben outlines his plans for the year, it’s clear Gymshark continues to head in the right direction. 

With the store being a huge success, a further store is set to open in Westfield Stratford this summer. There are also plans to open a 12-month pop-up shop in New York whilst also expanding Gymshark’s delivery to Dubai and the Middle East. 

In terms of products, Gymshark is set to launch its highest-quality athleisure in the upcoming weeks, which will launch exclusively with Selfridges. 

Not bad for a university drop-out. 


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