The Piper Podcast: Richard Hilton on fighting a drag queen and letting go of Gymbox

Richard Hilton has spoken of the challenges of stepping away from his fitness chain brand Gymbox.

You come to a point when you realise the business is better off without you,’ says Hilton in the latest podcast from Piper’s ‘How I Grew My Brand’ interviews with leading entrepreneurs. ‘I was becoming scared to grow the business… It deserved to go on a rapid growth stage but I wasn’t interested in that journey. The best for the business wasn’t necessarily going to be me running it.’

Gymbox was inspired by Crunch, an edgy New York gym Hilton joined ‘as a very skinny 19-year-old’ working in advertising in the 1990s. ‘The first week I was taught boxing by Muhammad Ali’s ex trainer, the next by a drag queen,’ he tells broadcaster Mary Nightingale.

Launched in Holborn in 2003, the first Gymbox site flooded within 24 hours, but customers assumed the hastily stripped floors were part of the irreverent new brand’s decor. The business has since grown to 11 sites and sales of more than £30m. In 2016, Hilton stepped aside as CEO when Gymbox secured a £39m funding package.

In a wide-ranging interview, he describes the power of brand messaging, the importance of maintaining culture during fast growth and explains how ‘paranoia can be healthy’.

Hilton’s interview is the fifth episode in Season 2 of Piper’s How I Grew My Brand podcast series. Other interviewees in this series include Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella, Aron Gelbard of Bloom & Wild, Charlie Bigham of Charlie Bigham, and Jasper Cuppaidge of Camden Town Brewery.

All the Piper podcasts, along with the latest featuring Richard Hilton, can be downloaded on Spotify, iTunes or SoundCloud.