IRX: Steve Hewitt, executive chair at Gymshark – It’s not about innovation, it’s about agility and disruption
Steve Hewitt, executive chair at fitness brand Gymshark and keynote speaker at IRX, discusses how the fast-growing ‘unicorn’ brand puts evolution – and revolution – front and centre.
At its heart Gymshark has an essentially entrepreneurial spirit, driven by our founder Ben Francis. When he launched the business in 2012, Ben was determined to do things differently. For example, he incorporated influencer marketing from the very start – a rarely-used tactic almost a decade ago. This helped us to develop, from an early stage, a deep understanding of our community and what they want from our brand. Since then, Gymshark has gone from an entrepreneurial start-up to a global brand with millions of customers in over 180 countries and a large social community – close to 18M followers at the last count. We’ve been able to grow faster than almost any business of our type globally and have joined the list of less than 25 British companies to have secured ‘unicorn’ status.
Driving this growth is innovation or – as I prefer to say – agility and disruption. This means we can respond swiftly to trends and changes in the market in a way that our competitors are unable to. Over the past 18 months we’ve created a separate team entirely dedicated to innovation. What can we do to drive evolution and revolution? These are the questions that are front and centre for us. The innovation team now numbers over 20 people, all tasked with looking ahead and responding to what’s around the corner. We’ve also invested heavily in technology and recruited a team of crack data engineers.
Our staff sit at the heart of our organisation. The average age of our nearly 900 employees is 29 years old and many of the senior management team are under 30 years old. We’re firm believers in handing over trust and responsibility and also recruiting with a laser focus on the culture fit. This approach not only ensures a synced-up team working in a fast-paced environment (and, frankly, provides a fun place to work!), but also helps to keep the wants and needs of our target customer –16 to 35 year olds – front of mind at all times.
We’ve led the direct to consumer revolution and built a truly community first brand that’s dedicated to uniting the fitness community. Our aim is to extend our brand and therefore expand our community. Around 80% of our business is international: the US is our biggest market and we’re also expanding into other key markets such as Germany and Australisa. The key to expanding globally while remaining authentic to the consumer is a localised approach with strategy tailored to the communities we want to reach. For example, the products are sold through 14 regional websites rather than a central one, allowing for a better understanding of local needs.
Consumer interest in health and fitness is at an all-time high as a result of the pandemic, so the future continues to look bright for Gymshark. We’re expanding our offering beyond fitness apparel and have launched a training app, with more new launches to follow in the future. That’s not to say we don’t always have our eye on the next challenger brand on the horizon. We’re aware that we need to keep evolving and that’s where agility and disruption have a key role to play.
Steve Hewitt is keynote speaker at IRX (InternetRetailing Expo) & eDX taking place on 13 & 14 October 2021 at the NEC, Birmingham.
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