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The Interview: Gymshark founder Ben Francis on his ambitious vision for retail

Tom Shearsmith
28 October 2022

Gymshark was founded by Ben Francis and Lewis Morgan in 2012. To mark its ten-year anniversary, the sportswear brand is opening its first bricks & mortar store, taking a 18,000 sq ft premium retail unit on London's Regent Street.

The new store stays true to Gymshark's roots and is designed to foster a spirit of community among its millennial consumer base, with fitness classes, expert advice and even an events space for staging podcasts, panel talks and screenings.

On a tour of the new store, ahead of its opening this weekend, got the opportunity to speak to Ben Francis about Gymshark's first bricks & mortar store, why it's "the most flexible retail location" he's ever seen and what 19 year old Ben, who had just founded Gymshark, would say today.

How would you describe the new Regent Street location?

This is the perfect blend between community, conditioning and retail. It’s a place where someone can come in, grab their juice, do a studio session, take part in events and buy product - it’s the perfect blend of those three areas. There’s been a lot of talk for a while about experiential retail and I think this store is a great example of that. I’m really excited about the official opening.

How has the brand journey and development shaped the retail location?

We’ve tested every element of this store somewhere - we’ve done studio sessions, retail pop-ups and live events. Every element we have done in isolation but this is the culmination of all of those things. The fact that someone can jump on the Gymshark app and book a class for free is really cool. It’s something I’m really passionate about.

How does Gymshark drive its engagement with consumers?

I’m a massive fan of connecting with the customer in person. We connect with our consumers in many ways - through our athletes, through our partners and other mediums. Ultimately we speak through marketing, the branding and the products. Our values and vision to make everyone feel welcome in the gym and unite the conditioning community really resonates with our customers because of how clearly these values align with our product and partners. I think things really work well as a business when it’s not just one thing - it’s not just one advert or a product, it’s a fully synced up approach. We’re now seeing that with Gymshark as we reach 10 years old.

In those 10 years you’ve really challenged the market, how do you aim for this location to continue challenging that?

We’ve obviously got the free areas and activities here, which is massively important, but we’ve also got the opportunity here to respond to the demand of our customer. We have our production facility in Birmingham where we can produce an item, test it here and learn. The agility that we’ve built into the business is really special. Being consumer led is the most important thing and we’re not here to define what a consumer is going to like. The consumer tells us what they like and we react. As the business has grown, we may have lost a little bit of that agility and responsiveness but I’m really passionate about bringing that back in abundance.

How response is this space to that consumer demand?

The product we can change up as quickly as our supply chain will allow us to. There’s a button in this store that we can press to change this place from a retail space into a gym space in 15 minutes. This is the most flexible retail location that I have ever seen. We have a machine that can lift all the product up to the ceiling that is unique to us and it’s something that the manufacturers even commented on - they’d never seen or built something like this.

How do you anticipate the growth of the retail location in the next 12 months?

The dream is to have more locations like the one at Regent Street. The next 12 months are about refining that and getting the store perfect. The likelihood of things in this store changing is very high, as it’s unlikely that we’ve got everything right the first time around, be it the studio or retail layout. The most important thing to me is that we nail it second time, once we’ve got customer feedback it should be easy for us.

What would you say to the 19 year old Ben, who had just founded Gymshark, now that we’re here today?

I would honestly say that the most important thing to tell myself is to trust your gut. We’ve made a fair number of mistakes over the years but we’ve learnt and I believe that we make less mistakes when we trust our gut. The prime example I’d give of trusting your gut is this retail location - we signed the lease in the middle of the pandemic and we’re now in a cost of living crisis…but we’re investing in the long term vision for the brand and it just feels like the right thing to do!

Read's In Pictures: Gymshark's first ever store on Regent Street.

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