10 Retail Change Makers
Considering that it is Completely Retail Marketplaces 10-year anniversary, we thought it appropriate to shine a light on one of the main reasons we love what we do here at Completely retail…And that reason being, Entrepreneurs!
These 10 pioneering individuals are not only some of the most ambitious people around, but who’s stories can inspire even the most demotivated ‘couch potato’. Read on to get more acquainted with these impressive entrepreneurial forerunners for a daily dose of motivation
1: Ben Francis – Gym Shark Founder (British entrepreneur)
Born in the West Midlands in 1992, Ben grew up a huge Aston Villa fan and attended South Bromsgrove High School, and later Aston University in central Birmingham.
As a kid he was obsessed with football but realised he wouldn’t be able to make a living from it, so that obsession then moved to computer-based projects. Self-proclaimed as never being great at school (because of not applying himself properly), until at the age of 17 when he took his first IT class. This IT class was different to anything else he’d previously done because it was all about learning and applying real skills – not just writing about them. At around the same time, he joined a local gym. The gym was hugely intimidating, but he watched Youtubers such as Scott Herman and learned the basic skills and structure you needed to apply to yourself in the gym, to get desired results.
Ben mentions on his personal website that these early lessons of structure, consistency and hard work were some of the most important lessons he learned in his life. He applied these same lessons to his schoolwork, and went from getting Ds & Es at GCSEs, to A’s and B’s at A level. He realised that the structure, consistency, and work ethic that he found in the gym, could be applied to different areas of his life and it would work. This mindset and structure really helped to change his life.
Around this time, he started to merge his passion for computing with his newly acquired passion for fitness and created two fitness-based iPhone apps. They were basic, but they allowed Ben to apply his creativity with his two biggest obsessions. Both entered the top charts in the UK. Both apps were basic, the first was called Fat Loss Abs Guide. It was a simple app filled with pages on how to lose weight and get abs. The second was called iPhysique, it was an app that gave tips on how to get in shape, but also would allow you to auto populate your calendar with a basic workout split so you could hold yourself accountable.
Shortly after this, Ben wanted a website that would actually start to transact. A website that would offer him a space to sell something and that revolved around the fitness industry that he’d fallen in love with. The most obvious thing to sell was supplements, but he couldn’t afford any stock. He called around UK distributors, but soon realized that his then £5 an hour Pizza Hut wage wouldn’t even get him a foot in the door. After realizing he didn’t have the capital it took to purchase stock, Ben decided to rather change his approach and to drop ship.
He loaded the Gymshark website up with as many supplements as he could find, and drop shipped them all from other vendors, adding a small margin. It took over 6 weeks to get the first sale, and then in July 2012, Gymshark was born. After drop shipping for several months, he spent everything he had on a screen printer and sewing machine. This was a solution to the fact that nowhere created or sold fitness wear that made sense to him. No one had created streamlined, tapered fitness wear. Everything coming out seemed to be large, boxy, and baggy.
Gym Shark created bodybuilding & fitness wear inspired by what their heroes wore and made it fit to our body types. They designed for themselves (they were the customer) and spoke to the fitness market that wasn’t being spoken to. Ben and his team created the product they wanted and communicated in the way they wanted to be communicated to. Through social media.
On his personal website Ben states “How did I start the UK’s fastest growing company? For the most part I was lucky. After that, it’s down to creative problem solving and incessant work ethic.”
With an unbending work ethic and utilizing social media as his marketing platform, Ben Francis and his team have grown Gym shark into a multimillion-pound business.
Gymshark are set to open their first permanent physical store on London’s iconic Regents Street in the summer of 2022. Providing an experiential space to bring the conditioning community together, offering workout spaces, special events, hangout locations and more.
With a stake over 70% in Gymshark, Francis has a net worth of £700m as of 2021. If that’s not inspiring, we don’t know what is!
2: Roger Wade – Founder and Former CEO, Box Park (British entrepreneur)
After more than a decade after starting Box Park, Roger wade has recently announced that he will be stepping down as CEO. With his unparalleled success in the conception of BP we thought it relevant to shed some light on his journey, as it wasn’t the easiest ride for this British Entrepreneur
Roger is no stranger to rolling his sleeves up and putting in the hard work needed to get a brand up and running, and experienced many late nights and early mornings whilst growing British streetwear brand “Boxfresh” from a Greenwich Market stall to a multi-million-pound global brand.
His most recent accomplishment being Boxpark – a pop-up mall built from shipping containers. Now with three Boxparks under his belt – Shoreditch, Croydon, and Wembley, plus a place in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list, it seems that all the blood, sweat and tears are really paying off for Roger.
Since 1989 he has launched two separate brands, but don’t let that accolade fool you, as Roger had quite the discouraging start. He was fired from his first three jobs in advertising – within a matter of months, and in the late 1980s he decided to travel to New York in an attempt at a “fresh start”. In New York he found work as a copy write but was more interested in a newly found love of buying and selling clothing after noticing a demand for American sportswear back in the UK. Roger mentioned in an interview with clic.co.uk: “All of my mates in the UK wanted American sportswear, so during my lunch hours I’d visit Midtown Korean wholesale shops to buy college basketball tops and baseball hats. Then I’d send them back home,”
Leaving New York and heading back to the UK with his then-girlfriend, he found himself jobless once again. Back in the UK he managed to get a job running a stall on Greenwich Market run by his friend who’d been making a great deal of money off selling the imported clothing Roger had been sending him from the US. He later met two fashion designers and together they came up with the idea of printing on blank T-shirts. This creative union is how Boxfresh (one of the UK’s most successful fashion brands of the 1990s) was conceived.
Over the next 15 years, Roger managed his company skilfully and progressively, and then decided to sell to the Pentland Group in 2005 for an unrevealed amount. “I built up Boxfresh from a market stall to a multi-million-pound brand with a turnover of around £20m,” he says.
A few years later the idea for his second business Boxpark was born. “In around 2010, I could see that independent shops in Britain were dying,” says Roger. “Every high street was becoming the same. I wanted to create a home for independents. That was my starting point. I love containers and I love industrial design, so a community of businesses in shipping containers seemed like a good plan. Containers are portable and low cost. So that’s how Boxpark Shoreditch came about. Boxpark Croydon and Box Park Wembley soon followed.”
This businessman is a rebel, a pioneer, someone who takes advantage of all the opportunities thrown at him. He learns from his mistakes and continues to move forward – all evident in his success story. Some of Rogers’ words to live by could possibly help you on your path. Here are a few words from the man himself.
‘You’ve always got to be special to your customer. If you’re not, you won’t exist.’
“To be successful, you’ve got to touch customers in a way that no one else touches them. So, if you’re making streetwear, that means your customers say: ‘I’ve got to buy Boxfresh; their clothes are amazing.’ If you run Boxpark, it means your customers think: ‘This is a truly brilliant experience. I love it here and I’ve got to come back.’
“Thanks to that way of thinking, I’m always asking myself: ‘What are the reasons that the customer is here?’ I’m always putting customers first and centre. That’s what I think it takes to be successful.”
“One thing I’d advise any budding entrepreneur is do is to build a business around something you love. But if you want to make money, the easiest route is to find the point where what you love links to a trend that’s growing. That’s what we did with Boxfresh in the ‘90s. I followed my heart. I was into streetwear, music, and clubs, and I saw this colossal rebellion against high-end fashion. There was a massive music movement – hip-hop in the early 80s and rave in the late 80s and early 90s – and we exploded off the back of that. Kids wanted something different to traditional fashion. We just gave them what they wanted.”
“Over the years I’ve been most successful when I’ve embraced mistakes, change and risk. Doing that is what keeps you alive as an entrepreneur. If you don’t confront those things – and the fear that comes with them – you won’t resolve issues, improve, or evolve. There will be times when risk paralyses you – when you have a young family, for example – but I equate it to racing driving. In that sport, fear is the worst thing that can happen to you. The moment you start worrying about risk, you begin to lose your power.”
“The point is, we found our success by mistake. By resolving issues – mistakes of our own making – we came up with new business ideas and creative solutions, which then led to business growth.”
Roger Wade’s entrepreneurial success – springing from his uniquely intuitive approach – is both inspiring and educational. No matter what line of work you’re in, there are lessons to be learned from his ideas and his story. His concept, that mistakes and fear are essential parts of entrepreneurship because they are intrinsic to a process of improvement and development, is particularly striking. So, too, is the simple yet effective way that Boxpark’s founder thinks about his business: content is king, then traffic, then conversion.
So, take it from the man himself. If you’re stressed, worried about mistakes you’ve made, or have regrets from opportunities you’ve missed, this means you’re thinking, learning, and getting better. And it is that uncomfortable process that gives you a higher chance of finding growth.
Read on to hear all about entrepreneurs Thom & James Elliot of Pizza Pilgrims & Nordic menswear brand ‘Asket’ founders, August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky.