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Gymshark’s North American President Talks Strategy
August 13, 2021
Practically every athletic brand is vying for a competitive edge in the crucial North American market and Gymshark is no exception.
The U.K.-based brand has named Henry Spear as president of Gymshark North America. Not a new hire, he has been working with the company for the past 10 months. Spear previously worked with Faherty, where he relaunched its women’s line, and further back at Tory Burch as director of footwear merchandising.
Spear will be based in Gymshark’s Denver office, where the executive team includes relative newcomers like vice president of finance Annie Mitchell and vice president of brand Sennai Atsbeha, who each have big-brand experience. The team in the U.S. office has increased to more than 100 people from 40 in less than a year.
Founder Ben Francis was a 19-year-old college student who worked at Pizza Hut when he started the company with a few friends in 2012. The company has steadily been building sales in the U.S. and has opened two distribution centers to accommodate demand.
Emphasizing how Gymshark is a brand that listens to its community and responds to it, Spear said, “Over the next six to nine months, what you’ll see is more products and more initiatives from Gymshark that are in response to what the community has been asking for. That’s going to be really key to our success in the U.S. and help differentiate from our competitors.”
The Cape Makes A Return On The Runway
Spear first joined Gymshark as vice president of commercial, overseeing merchandising and inventory in North America. He later took on the role of general manager of North America. Spear will not be succeeded in that role, but someone will be hired to work on merchandising, planning and operations that Spear had overseen.
While the company has had a brand presence in the U.S. for quite some time, Spears’ goal is to accelerate growth and increase its foothold hold here. That will involve driving brand awareness and reaching audiences the company wasn’t speaking to, according to Spear.
The U.S. market comprises 50 percent of Gymshark’s total sales and that is expected to increase to at least 60 percent over the next three years, while overall sales strengthen simultaneously, Spear said. Introducing new products every two weeks is one way the brand has bolstered customer engagement. Next month, Gymshark will launch a collaboration with one of its key athletes: fitness leader Whitney Simmons. In addition, a community-oriented campaign entitled “Built Together” will debut in the next two weeks. Performance-oriented apparel is the crux of the business but more athleisure options are being offered.
U.S. shoppers tend to spend more than U.K. ones, which is driven by the average U.S. customer’s propensity to spend, Spear said. American shoppers are more inclined to buy multiple colors of the same item or sets, like a matching crop top and leggings, Spear said. “Also, the lifetime value of the U.S. customer has been a bit stronger than in the U.K. Once they discover the brand, we see them returning quite quickly,” Spear said.
Having had pop-ups in markets like Los Angeles in New York City, the brand is considering opening more permanent community-focused ones in the next three years. “The idea of signing a five- to 10-year lease is a way of the past. It’s [about] identifying how do you capitalize a physical space for the right amount of time, based on the ever-evolving customer community and what makes the most sense for them?” he said.
New York and Los Angeles are two possibilities, as well as Miami, Atlanta and Chicago. Fitness-based activities with instructors who have loyal local followings and youth initiatives could be offered at retail outposts, Spear said.
Gymshark’s social media will be key in leveraging its direct voice to speak to U.S. consumers while considering how they interact with sportswear brands, for example, through team sports, he said. “The U.S. is a unique market in that no other market in the world has such a relentless focus in college athletics and professional athletics. But there is a lot of time off-the-field that people are training and conditioning for those sports throughout their entire lives,” Spear said, adding that ensuring the brand’s channels are speaking to training for sport and how Gymshark is going to amplify that conditioning is one key strategy.
Working with sponsored athletes, a mainstay for any sports-oriented brand, is another. The plan is to link up with some more key U.S. athletes who have their own social media channels to convey their fondness for the brand and how it helps their performance. The digital-focused brand has 3.3 million TikTok followers. Gymshark is also looking to partner with a few other brands that will align with its message, goals and objectives, Spear said.
“Relentlessly customer-focused,” the company is centered on its core demographic of fitness and well-being, but other important factors are transparency, family and being a trusted partner, Spear said. That could mean aligning with similarly minded brands but ones that aren’t necessarily apparel ones, or a fitness partner that specializes in classes or conditioning. Other lifestyle partners that Gymshark’s customers are already engaged with could be another opportunity. Appealing to a social native audience could be rooted in experiences such as music and entertainment ones, Spear said.
Existing athlete partners include fitness-for-well-being advocate Simmons, bodybuilder Steve Cook and pro boxer Ryan Garcia. Stateside, the company is exploring the prospects of team sport athletes, college ones in particular, since the NCAA has cleared the way for college athletes to be sponsored. Basketball, soccer and baseball are of interest, Spear said.
With distribution centers in Rialto, Calif., and outside of Columbus, Ohio, Gymshark is considering a third location that could potentially open in the next three years. Locations are being assessed in the Northeast and the Southeast in the U.S., Spear said. “Speed-to-delivery is obviously of utmost importance in an e-commerce era,” he said.
Paid social, paid media, Gymshark’s athletes and the brand’s organic channels and initiatives are helping to acquire new customers. Spear declined to pinpoint how many new customers the brand is acquiring monthly but said customer growth rates are increasing by double-digit percentages month-over-month.
Last year, General Atlantic took a minority stake in Gymshark that reportedly valued it at $1.3 billion. Spear said, “As of now, we are not looking for outside investment. We are looking to continue our growth organically and essentially self funding our growth for growth for the future.”