WIT CEO Dan Williams on Building the World’s Largest Fitness Company
What started as the seed of an idea in college has grown into the premier destination for fitness clothing and equipment. WIT is now the one-stop-shop, both online and physical, for functional fitness and training freaks, collaborating with the biggest sports brands and the biggest names in CrossFit.
Dan Williams, the founder and CEO of the company, told us about how business has become such a big company, why you need a little luck to go with your big ideas and where he sees the industry. of fitness going in the next few years.
Where did the idea for WIT come from?
In school and college, I was really into sports. My dream, like many of us, was to work for a Nike or an Adidas after college. I was a semi-professional runner, so I was trying to be an athlete for a while after college. I knew I wanted to play sports and fitness, but I wasn’t sure what it would be.
I knew I would have an idea because I have always been an entrepreneur, even then. The ideas for WIT came from me when I walked into a CrossFit gym in Leeds all those years ago. I noticed that people were wearing the same clothes and shoes which I found a little strange at first considering I always went to the gym with my rugby shorts and socks on!
CrossFit was such a small sport in the UK at that time. There were probably 50 clubs all over the country and one of them was in Leeds. They were all wearing Reebok shorts and Nano 1. They were such cult consumers and they followed each other’s trends, whether it was nutrition, training or clothing. It was evident in no time that fitness, be it CrossFit, or other group or class setups, was becoming a sport in its own right.
The brands were sitting and taking note: Under Armor, Nike, Reebok and smaller brands. They were focusing on this consumer for the first time, just as they had done for running, football or basketball.
So I realized that there was an opportunity for someone to become the link between this consumer and these brands. I understood that the consumer and the brands wanted someone genuine as a retailer. I thought I could be that person.
I was very early in the market and there weren’t a lot of CrossFitters. But the development since then has been astounding. A few years ago, there were still people training in rugby shorts in the gyms of the big chains. But now, everyone wears specific training equipment. It has been adopted as a way of life and people want to invest in the right clothes and shoes.
How much do you think fitness has become a 24-hour way of life?
We started out riding the wave of CrossFit and F45 and now training is so central in the lives of so many people. It is now such a large and diverse demographic. It has become such an important part of our society and we have been fortunate enough to put ourselves in a position to help that.
Originally, our data suggested that our target demographic was strictly 25-35. But the past two years have dramatically changed that. There have been so many people embracing fitness in their homes, or at the park, that we’ve seen them enter the gym ecosystem.
The CrossFit user was very 25-35 and dominated by men. Typically, the fitness audience is now a much larger demographic with a more 50/50 gender split.
What was it like starting WIT from scratch?
I love Leeds but knew it wouldn’t work for this idea. I need a lot of people that I can get to quickly. There was no business plan, to be honest. I just had the feeling that this consumer and the sport of fitness was about to take off. Someone was going to grab the opportunity, so I figured I might as well. I moved to London almost immediately, with a little money but not a lot. We rented the lower ground floor of an Intersport. We were in a basement and didn’t have a real store front. But we tagged it and I brought an inventory of Reebok and cool underground CrossFit brands from the United States.
We took off very quickly. Because I had been involved in the CrossFit community, I knew people were clamoring for this concept. So we didn’t need the fascia. As soon as they realized it, they were there because they wanted one place to get this equipment and clothing.
We were lucky, like many entrepreneurs. We pitched on Nike, the goose that lays the golden eggs of a start-up like us. We knew they were trying to enter the CrossFit space with the Metcon shoe. shady decor.
I said we need 1000 units of all colors so I wanted to order 5000 units. They wouldn’t give them to us. They said we were a start-up and we were too risky, so they only gave us 200 units in total. I told them they would regret it. On our launch day, we sold those 200 pairs of shoes in ten minutes. We had 200 people lining up at Cheapside for the Metcon 1. I returned to Nike with a photo of the queue.
The beauty was that no one else knew about the shoe, so it was easy to replenish the stock immediately and the boost from Nike and the Metcon that we had over the next couple of years got us off the ground very quickly.
Did that inspire the idea of advertising and “ditching” new versions?
People are so obsessed with fitness now that they’re as excited about the release of the new Metcon as they are about the new Jordan. It’s also a fairly similar demographic in some ways, especially men between the ages of 25 and 35. The sneaker culture lives on.
Now we have the chance to do collaborations with brands with even Following exclusive. And it elevates the brand externally to investors and other stakeholders. We use the drops to generate hype around the business. It is not our bread and butter. But we love a launch.
Can you identify a turning point when you knew WIT was really taking off?
Granted, it was my idea, but I felt it was the big one from the start. I understood the client so well. Our relationships with brands have undoubtedly boosted the activity. Our relationship with the community has helped us over the years. But to be honest, that was the boring stuff. We were very lucky with our first round of investment. I had no more money and a guy walked into this basement store and asked us what we were doing. He had just spent three years in New York City, so he had seen where the fitness space was going. He asked me if we were looking for investments. And I said we were!
Based on a phone call and coffee, he gave us enough money to open our first permanent physical store in Shoreditch, which really gave us a plan to really get things going.
I like to think we executed things pretty well. But there is an element of luck that comes into play.
How was the Shoreditch site?
It was another basement! But the good thing about being down there without fascia for the first three years is that we’ve gotten used to working around the clock to get people into space. It reflects so much of what we’re doing now – we’re still doing activations and events, athlete appearances and all that stuff, long before it was all the rage.
Once we left the basements in recent years, we continued to do these activations but on a larger scale, which allowed the brand to take off again.
How important is it to ensure that your role in the fitness industry is accessible and accessible?
It’s a tough balance, to be honest. I think we could do a lot better with a lot of the things we do. Basically, if you only watch CrossFit, it’s pretty intimidating for a lot of people. And the price is not affordable, especially in London. I think we have struggled in the past. A lot of consumers come to us who are quite mature in their training and they want access to the drops. We struggled with the newbie athlete and brought him into the store or website.
Diversity has always been one of our core values. Whether internally or externally with our community. From board level, through middle management to junior team members, we have a company with all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities, with a very even gender distribution. In fact, I am outnumbered in the management team.
The network of people we work with carry the same values and that makes us, I think, more accessible. There will always be the problem of prices for registering for training, especially in London. Something has to be done about it. We are thinking about opening a training space for three months completely free, just to give people access to the ecosystem and to do fitness. We may be a little better than others, but we desperately want to improve.
Where do you see fitness evolving in the next five years?
First, I think it’s such an exciting place. Both as a business owner and as someone who loves to go to the gym. It only goes one way and it is increasing exponentially. I hope that this will become more central in the lives of a greater diversity of people and that we can participate in solving these problems. After COVID, it’s just an amazing place because we’re all so much more focused on our health.
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