Nicholas Carroll
Nicholas Carroll, Category Director - Retail Insights, has a particular flare for the grocery industry but analyses and writes in-depth reports on a range of UK and European retail markets.

Why open a physical store?

Founded in 2012 as an online-only direct to consumer (DTC) brand Gymshark has enjoyed significant success over the past ten years and has grown to sales of over £450m. 

Given the success the brand has had to date, many would question why Gymshark needs physical stores. While among Gymshark’s core audience of under 35s brand recognition is strong – with over half of this group aware of the brand – this drops to just one in ten for those aged 45+

A physical store then gives the brand a direct way to grow awareness, and as starts go a flagship shop on one of the UK’s most recognisable streets isn’t a bad one. However, it should also allow the brand to offer a new side of the business and new experiences to that core audience. 

Prior to opening Gymshark has talked about this store as being its ‘home’ and a place to round out what the brand stands for. After visiting we can say that the store certainly delivers on this. So what can store based retailers learn from the new Gymshark flagship store?

1. Tap into experiential retail trends

The store brings to life the functional but fun approach to fitness that Gymshark has developed over the past 10 years, and features a host of experiential elements, from one-to-one personal training stations to in-store classes, which will resonate with its core audience of under 35’s desire for more experience-led retail. There are also spaces for customers to dwell with partner Joe and the Juice providing in-store refreshment and spaces for shoppers to sit and relax, and gain insight on training regimes and products from staff. 

These experiential elements and social spaces are important to modern shoppers, and they are the clear distinction between the online and physical channels. Physical shopping is still a social activity for many people: 60% say visiting a shopping destination is a good way to socialise with friends/family, rising to 71% of under 35s. Equally one in ten people say they exercise to meet new people, and therefore Gymsharks store hits both points by creating an exciting new environment for shoppers to visit and a place for it to foster a community of fitness enthusiasts. 

Gymshark app users can book free personal training sessions at its Regent Street store. Image source: Mintel.

2. Make the most of the functional elements of a physical store

Although the experiential elements will be headline grabbing, the most impressive aspect of the store is that it is a strong functional step into physical space. As a flagship there are naturally exclusive ranges, but the store as a whole does a good job at bringing to life ranges – with dedicated spaces for different aspects of Gymshark’s offering, all with explainers about how these products can elevate fitness goals.

Lots of Gymshark employees are on hand to provide advice and take payment using portal devices. Image source: Mintel.

3. Provide quality one-to-one service

Service is critical within the physical environment: two thirds of shoppers think good staff knowledge encourages you to go into stores most often. However, it is also an area which has seen a lack of investment and focus from many retailers, and half of shoppers think the standard of customer service in-store is not what it used to be. 

For any brand to be successful in the physical space service must be at the heart of their offering, and while Gymshark may have previously been an online only retailer, it has clearly understood the need for quality one-to-one service. A host of staff are enthusiastically on hand to help, and although there are traditional tills, each staff member is equipped with mobile payment devices which encourages interaction.

New blood critical to the future of the high street

So Gymshark’s first foray into physical retailing is far more than a vanity project. It doesn’t necessarily break the mould, and there are clear opportunities for the brand to evolve the space to take in more aspects of the brand’s persona, such as its earlier 2022 experiment with physical retailing, the Deload barbershop. We hope that Regent Street is not a full stop in the brand’s physical adventure, but the start of a journey which reaches out across the UK’s shopping locations.

Gymshark has created a format which, with or without the experiential elements, could be transplanted to other physical locations. Image source: Gymshark.

Encouraging more online-first brands into the physical space is critical for the future of the high street. Most shoppers say that better quality stores locally would make in-store shopping more appealing, and while there are issues for flagship destinations like Regent Street and neighbouring Oxford Street their current woes pale in comparison to what is facing many shopping destinations across the UK. The high street may have regained the majority share of retail spending in 2022, but compared to pre-pandemic in September 2022 alone sales on the high street were still £3.5 billion lower than they had been in September 2019. 

The importance of thriving high streets to British society

The income squeeze is affecting both consumers and businesses alike, and asking businesses to take a gamble on physical space currently is difficult. However, that is why all stakeholders, from retail to landlords to local authorities, with a vested interest in a prospering high street need to be lessening barriers to entering the physical space and to take a long term view of the importance that physical shopping locations have, not just to the retail sector, but to wider British society.