How Gymshark went from start-up to a company worth more than £1 billion by targeting a niche audience through social media

How Gymshark went from start-up to a company worth more than £1 billion by targeting a niche audience through social media

How do you disrupt the powerful hold that fitness giants like Adidas, Reebok and Nike have over their markets? Look no further than Gymshark for the answer.

In August this year, US fund manager General Atlantic took a 21% stake in the firm that valued the company at more than £1 billion. And in case you haven’t heard, the meteoric rise of this British upstart fitness and apparel brand only began in 2012.

The secret of such growth? Social media marketing to a niche community.

An effective warm-up

Targeting a niche market was key to getting started. Back when fitness clothes were baggy, purely functional affairs and fitness social media accounts first started to appear, Gymshark’s young founder Ben Francis spotted an untapped need. So he created gym clothes that look good enough to wear not just on a workout but also on a night out.

A fitness fan himself, he contacted social media influencers (male body builders at first) offering them free apparel in the hope they would wear it and recommend items in their workout videos. Fitness social media influencers suddenly found they looked great wearing Gymshark apparel online.

Although a familiar social media marketing technique, it was the combination of product, strategy and great implementation that made this work. As influencers promoted the clothes, sales grew. Soon, 18 influencers were being sponsored and a combined 20 million people were made aware of the brand at one stroke.

Flexing its muscle

But Gymshark knows its audience and has grown it ever since.

The clothes became so popular that many influencers became ‘Gymshark athletes’ (brand ambassadors). The brand then developed a community and a cult status.

Customers could meet their favourite influencers at Gymshark expos and queues formed around the block. Eventually, these ticket-only events were just too big for the firm to manage.

And if you want to buy an item on any other retail site, you just can’t. Adding to the cult status, only Gymshark can sell its highly sought after, yet affordable, gear.

Staying injury-free

It seems that there is still more to come for Gymshark. It’s community and customer base has grown beyond the testosterone-filled muscle gyms dominated by men. Today, women account for about two-thirds of its sales.

And while beefy male influencers propelled the brand to stardom in the past (£100 million in sales by 2018 and the mantle of ‘fastest growing company in the UK’ at the end of 2017) female influencers hold the key to its future.

Studies have shown that Gymshark’s female influencers, such as fitgurlmel (see main image), are much more likely to mention the clothes they are wearing, highlighting the colour, the fit and its style, than their male counterparts.

This will definitely help grow sales. The trend for ‘athleisure’ – wearing gym clothes in everyday life – has created a market forecast to reach US$567 billion globally by 2024. So the brand’s future looks even better.