The Interview: Noel Mack, Chief Brand Officer, Gymshark
Gymshark was founded by Ben Francis and Lewis Morgan in 2012. To mark its ten-year anniversary, the sportswear brand has opened 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.
TheIndustry.fashion spoke to Noel Mack, Gymshark's Chief Brand Officer, about how the business learns from its customers, the flexible and responsive brand strategy, the new Regent Street location, and what future technology interests him.
Brands building is obviously key to your role. What activations and brand experiences have you been involved in and helped shape?
I'm really proud of our Deload barbershop that we ran in Summer 2022. I've had people ask me already if we are going to bring it back or bring it to our retail location at Regent Street. From the early days of Gymshark there has been educational stories from consumers about how the brand has changed their life - stories of hope and engaging conversations - brought on by content they have seen from the brand.
I don't talk about it often because it sounds boastful, but it's true. The Deload barbershop is a great example - I got messages from partners of men who said their partner was acting differently or wouldn't open up and they're completely different after speaking to someone for 30 minutes at Deload. Some people didn't even go to the event but it helped them realise they could openly discuss mental health issues with their partner.
There's marketing to sell t-shirts or products, and then there's marketing to sell products and raise awareness of something and change lives. When we get that right? I am at my most proud!
How responsive is the brand and its strategy to the consumer behaviour and habits?
We're really good at discarding anything that doesn't work or adapting it to try again. I think that has to be key to a successful business. E-Commerce brands don't typically go out into the 'real world' or retail. We tried it at a fitness expo and it went really well, so we thought - is it the brand or is it the expo?
We (myself, Ben and three fitness experts) then went to Time Square in New York, tweeted "come hang out" and very quickly we had hundreds of people turn up. Police actually had to come up and question what we were doing and we replied "It's just people socialising who enjoy fitness". We then thought...let's do this again but introduce product. We then had one pop-up, and another pop-up, and so on... and now we're finally here with a store on Regent Street.
How has the Gymshark community helped shape the retail experience at Regent Street?
A big part of the Gymshark experience in the early days was selling clothes at events and casually discussing what we were doing after, such as which gym we were going to. We'd often find ourself faced with hundreds of kids outside a gym because they'd heard where we were.
Community and fitness - that's the physical embodiment of what the Gymshark brand is. We've seen what fitness can do for people but community is also key. That community helps shape us every day. When we have community and fitness together it can yield incredible results for an individual and that's why we built an entire brand around that.
Community is represented throughout our new store, such as through our mannequins. The mannequins are members of our Gymshark community: amputees, those in wheelchairs, shredded individuals, your low level fitness individuals.
We've also got genderless changing rooms as we didn't want to put up any accessibility barriers. We've got transgender bodybuilders who compete in competitions - they've had to go on an incredible life journey. Can you imagine, transitioning and then trying to pack loads of muscle on?
We've also got Rob Kearney, who calls himself The World's Strongest Gay, he's one of the most typically masculine presenting men in the world when competing but will not hesitate to kiss his husband on stage or show off his own rainbow mohawk. He's unapologetic about who he is and that's so cool and real. Onboarding these incredible people from the gym and sports world helps build our community even stronger
How did you build the Gymshark brand and community?
The best marketing in the world is word of mouth. How many times have you looked at a billboard for Coca-Cola and actually thought: "I fancy having a bottle of Coca-Cola?". It's not often. However, if a friend tells you about new products from Gymshark, you're likely to look into it. We built the community through great product and a great understanding of what they want.
In the early days we actually made Gymshark very secretive and let our fans and everybody else talk about us - which saved us a fortune in marketing spending!
Looking at the pandemic, you had to shift your brand narrative and pivot very quickly from selling to maintaining consumer confidence and relationship building. How importance is that consumer confidence in the brand?
People don't just buy clothing anymore - they vote with their purses. If they hear that the CEO of a brand is a supporter of a certain cause for change, they're more likely to support and spend with them if they agree. I like that people see the positive things we do in the world and have that confidence to spend with us because of it.
At the start of the pandemic e-commerce adoption supposedly jumped forward 10 years. People were bailing on leases across retail - we 'zigged' when others 'zagged' and took the chance to sign a lease. Now people are returning to retail and spending money on experiences - we're positioned great with our new location.
The Regent Street location is adaptable to any possible future plans. What innovations or developments have grabbed your attention recently?
We're working really closely with Meta to potentially work on some cool stuff. The world of connected fitness is huge and we've got our own fitness app already.
The next evolution of connected fitness will possibly see us go beyond exercising and watching a TV at the same time. Imagine running or cycling and being able to see the people you're competing with. Imagine cycling with someone like Lance Armstrong digitally next to you and not having to pay thousands for the equipment and then a subscription on top - that's exciting to me.