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Diarmuid McSweeney | Dublin, Ireland
“We had zero experience in retail and zero technical skills, what we did have was a range of low-cost digital tools that were easy to use, even for us. We just figured it out.”
Diarmuid McSweeney, Gym+Coffee

When COVID-19 forced retail locations across Ireland to shutter, digital connectivity allowed this community-driven athleisure company to shift strategy on the fly.

Gym+Coffee is an athleisure brand, but it’s a lot more than that too. “It’s a community of people with a passion to make life richer,” co-owner Diarmuid McSweeney says. This philosophy is summed up in the brand’s purpose statement: We believe in awesome things to do, an amazing crew to do things with, and high-quality gear to do things in. Before opening Gym+Coffee, Diarmuid spent several years working and living in Australia. He loved the beach life. He loved the laid-back attitude. He also loved the coffee culture that went along with it. Friends would workout at the gym and then meet up for a coffee wearing a hoodie, a sweatshirt, or perhaps some workout pants. When Diarmuid returned to Ireland, he wanted to bring a part of that culture back with him. So, together with two friends, he founded a company focused on doing just that: bringing high-quality athletic clothing to a nation that was already transforming the corner cafe into its new social hub.

The three friends opened a fully digital direct-to-customer storefront in 2017, without any previous experience. “We had zero experience in retail and zero technical skills,” Diarmuid recalls, “what we did have was a range of low-cost digital tools that were easy to use, even for us. We just figured it out.” Management and CRM tools like ZenDesk kept the back office moving while sales platforms like Google Smart Shopping helped Gym+Coffee direct additional customers to its products. And, for a company centered on community first and foremost, it’s no surprise that it focused intently on social media and online advertising such as marketing buys with Google Ads.

The company grew quickly. It added multiple physical storefronts across Ireland and salespeople to staff them up. “We were planning to grow the business two times over in 2020, expand our team, open our first international stores—we had a lot of plans.” Diarmuid says. “Of course that was before the lockdowns hit.” Diarmuid admits to some mild panic as the company’s stores closed down. Yet, this lasted for less than a week. Before long the Gym+Coffee team had an entirely new problem on its hands—how to keep enough product in stock to satisfy booming demand online.

To cope, the company shifted gears and doubled down on its digital capabilities—and quadrupled down on its digital marketing spend—moving nearly all of its resources over to that side of the business. He started using Google Ads and Smart Shopping much more and found Google Analytics particularly helpful at this time, as it helped his team make relatively large impacts with comparatively minor tweaks in strategy. He also developed a greater appreciation for the effectiveness of his company’s profile on Google My Business, given how it informed so many customers who came across it on Google Maps and Search. The company hosted health and wellness events on Instagram Live, allowed shoppers to book private style sessions over Zoom, added click-and-collect shopping capabilities, and kept the rest of its community updated through the rest of its social media channels, including YouTube. “We had a longstanding relationship with our customers online and when COVID hit we were able to pick that relationship right back up,” Diarmuid says. 

“There’s no way we would have been able to shift our operations to capture those sales, let alone process them, without our digital tools,” Diarmuid says. “The returns we got during the pandemic by focusing more on digital were just insane. It was cool to see really strong results internationally as well, from the U.K. to the U.S., and we were even able to expand to new markets like Australia. I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe this is really how it all happened.” 

All of this is going to inform a lot more of what Gym+Coffee does moving forward, especially as it seeks to grow further in international markets. “A fundamental part of that will be using more Google tools to enhance visibility in those markets,” Diarmuid says, noting that sales were up 300% year-over-year during the lockdown. But his most immediate priority is filling the many new job openings at his company. Gym+Coffee has already more than doubled the size of its full-time workforce since February 2020. “We’ve just been hiring like crazy these days,” Diarmuid explains. “And we’re doing it digitally, over Zoom and Google Meet.”

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