Who is Richard Hilton?
Get to know the entrepreneur behind Gymbox, the 22,000-member gym offering unique classes such as Psycho Circuits, Rocket Yoga and Ghetto Zumba
Name: Richard Hilton
Why you should know about him: After discovering the excitement of New York gyms, full of disco lights and music, Hilton decided it was time UK gyms had an overhaul and launched Gymbox. Today the company offers a variety of exciting exercise classes across its eight London sites, with live DJs providing the soundtrack for everything from ‘Psycho Circuits’ to ‘Rocket Yoga’ and ‘Ghetto Zumba'(zumba with an urban music soundtrack).
Having quit his career in advertising to launch arguably the most exciting and original gym brand in the capital, Hilton’s success story is an inspiring one. Learn more about him with these five facts…
1. Advertising is in his blood
Born in Birmingham and raised in Northwood, Hilton’s father ran his own ad agency, Hilton Advertising
It was this that led the Gymbox founder over the Atlantic to join advertising agency McCann in New York, where he first discovered the US trend for gyms that have more in common with a nightclub than a place for exercise.
Upon return to work for McCann in London, he discovered that the capital had nothing comparable. He knew it was time to offer the UK an alternative to the “bland, beige and boringly snooty” fitness studios offered by most health clubs.
2. He has a creative vision
Hilton started his nascent fitness brand in a car park in Holborn in 2003. With these guerilla roots, he didn’t just turn to anyone when it came to designing the first Gymbox site.
The entrepreneur hired Ben Kelly Design (BKD), the interior design firm behind Manchester’s world famous Haçienda nightclub, to create a space “where working out felt like going out and exercise was hot and sweaty fun”.
15 years later and that heritage is still evident in the range of classes offered by the company including and featuring live DJs, laser lights, glow sticks and uniquely designed workout spaces.
3. His advertising experience was invaluable when it came to building his brand
Hilton says the 11 years he spent with various leading ad agencies gave him the skills and experience necessary to grow such an unusual concept.
The entrepreneur knew he wanted to target the 18 – 40 age bracket and drew on his advertising background to attract them with a controversial offering that included classes called ‘chav fighting’, ‘stiletto workout’ and ‘boob aerobics’.
While such tactics are undoubtedly polarising and even led to an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority, there’s no doubt they’ve been integral to the brand’s phenomenal popularity.
4. He hired human dumbbells
Back in 2009, Hilton revealed one of his most bizarre marketing efforts in the form of human dumbbells.
Ranging from a 30kg woman to a 155kg man, the human dumbbells wore black leotards with their weight printed across the front and would shout encouragement at the gym goers’ request.
The entrepreneur described them as “the ultimate embodiment of visualisation theory” and said they would improve the “physical and psychological performance” of his punters.
5. He’s stuck true to Gymbox’s core philosophy
Despite selling a large stake in the estimated £60m business, Hilton has not lost sight of his core philosophy. Gymbox was founded as an antidote to snooty health clubs and a place where “you could be anyone you wanted to be […] any shape […] a man, woman or completely undecided […] just pure, unadulterated serious fun”.
Eight sites later, each “utterly unique” and not just a “clone of the last”, the brand continues to invent crazy new classes, deciding whether to keep them on the basis of its 22,000+ members.
In an interview with The Sunday Times in 2015, Hilton revealed that the gym that had inspired Gymbox in New York had lost its vision when the original founder left. He said: “I’m happy to create more gyms with the cash but only if they are all beautifully executed — I want to ensure the reason for the brand’s success is not lost in growth.”
15 years after Gymbox was founded, alternative fitness is a booming industry, which is why it was featured as one of our best business ideas last year.
To gain inspiration from other influential entrepreneurs in this series, follow the links below:
- Ann Summers’ Jacqueline Gold MBE
- Lastminute.com co-founder, digital champion and peer Martha Lane Fox CBE
- Tech City driver Rohan Silva
- SBTV founder Jamal Edwards MBE
- Lastminute.com and Made.com founder Brent Hoberman MBE
- EnterpriseJungle founder Emma Sinclair MBE
- Cath Kidston founder Cath Kidston MBE
- Simon Franks; founder of Redbus and co-founder of LOVEFiLM
- And serial entrepreneur Oli Barrett MBE