Strength Shop Europe Origins: Celebrating 10 Years
Founded in the UK in 2009, Strength Shop is a brand name that is now well recognised amongst lifters across the globe. Not many years after its foundation, demand for lifting equipment on mainland Europe skyrocketed. So, to cater for this growing market, Strength Shop Europe was launched in 2012.
In the following video, co-founder of both companies, Joni Purmonen, discusses the last 10 years at Strength Shop, from its simple beginnings to the evolution of strength sports and the company as a whole.
In the days when strength sports were still in their infancy, Strength Shop co-founder, Joni, was on the hunt for simple lifting equipment. Based in the UK with a few years of amateur lifting experience in powerlifting, Joni and fellow lifters were struggling to find the basic gear for their lifting sessions. This included belts, wrist wraps and singlets which could only be sourced from select companies in the USA or a few small distributors around the world.
BARRIERS TO THE SPORT
Expensive and hard to come by, it was no wonder that strength sports, whether Strongman, Powerlifting or Weightlifting, remained so niche and inaccessible for most.
A GAP IN THE MARKET
From an initial need to source equipment for himself and his friends, the founding team's search for manufacturers and suppliers eventually enabled them to get hold of the kit needed.
“It was very amateurish from the start (and) there were no big plans to have a big company with lots of customers…”
But as interest in strength sports began to organically grow, a hobby developed into a small-scale business and it became the mission to supply budding athletes with affordable equipment for their strength training.
“At the time it was really tricky to get these things, so just by having a shop where it was easy and affordable, I was so happy and proud to see that we were enabling people to get involved in these sports”.
TRIED AND TRUE PRODUCTS FOR EVERY LIFTER
A lifting staple for every lifters collection, the Powerlifting belt remains a best-seller to this day and was one of the first items which Joni sourced for himself before the foundation of Strength Shop:
“This bad boy has seen a lot of action and is still with me; 40, maybe even 50 Strongman comps, some Powerlifting meets and even a Highland Games. It may no longer look so great but it holds sentimental value to me. As my overall size has dropped since the days of competing, I´ve had to go a few belt holes tighter, but the belt remains a trusty companion.”
PERSONAL LIFTING JOURNEY TO LOVE FOR ALL THINGS STRENGTH
Before his entry into the world of lifting, Joni was 68KGs and loved to run. But one conversation changed his whole mind:
“One day I overheard a bunch of bodybuilders making fun of powerlifters who just wanted to lift big, and I thought, that sounds cool!”
Eventually Strongman was the strength sport which caught his fullest attention. With some hard work and dedication, Joni put on 50KGs to start off his competitive career in the sport. And once weight categories became official, it was the 105KG category which he settled on.
With a love for the competition floor, Joni went to as many Strongman competitions as he could and within two years qualified from Northern-England's Strongest Man to England`s Strongest Man and eventually to UK`s Strongest Man. Joni also competed four times in the national championships in Finland.
NEW HORIZONS IN EUROPE
After its initial success in the UK, Joni decided to start Strength Shop Europe and moved out to Berlin, where the company is now headquartered.
With its own warehouse and office team, Joni was finally able to work directly with what he enjoyed most. In true entrepreneurial style, Joni did a little bit of everything; from packing orders to receiving shipments, talking to customers and attending sports fairs.
“It was a crazy plan in retrospect. I didn't have any desires to grow it into anything huge but I had a job which I loved, working in strength sports”.
CHANGES IN THE STRENGTH SCENE
In terms of training equipment, things have definitely moved on. Joni reflects on the days when Strongman equipment used to be made by people welding things together which, although unique in its own way, allowed for less consistency across the sport.
So, along with soft goods, the first equipment released by Strength Shop had a Strongman focus; Yokes, Logs, Farmer’s Walk Handles, all of which aimed to make training for the sport better and more accessible for everyone.
“We wanted to enable people to actually train with this equipment because it was either very difficult to get hold of or very expensive”
And when it comes to weightlifting and general barbell training, we´ve seen how the growth of Crossfit has done a great service to the lifting world. Nowadays most gyms will have at least one set of bumpers and barbells to train with, which was not the case some years ago (something unimaginable for newcomers to the lifting scene today).
ADAPTIONS TO A GROWING BUSINESS
The past years have seen significant changes for the lifting world as well as the company. Along with the organic growth of Strength Shop, there came a point where Joni realized that he wasn't able to take responsibility for all the different areas any more. And now with two small children, some priorities needed adjusting. Several hires later in the warehouse and the office, and the company is able to cope with the increasing demand for its products, as well as improve on the processes and range already in place.
“These days product development is a large focus and the marketing side of things has improved a lot too. But despite our growth, I still hope to keep the old grassroots style approach.”
Located in East Berlin, Strength Shop Europe´s office and warehouse sit beside one another which makes for a very practical and communicative setup. We´re particularly proud to have our warehouse with its workers based here, as opposed to being outsourced like so many other companies. Many of the original warehouse members are still there to this day, so we like to think that we have a balanced and enjoyable work environment for everyone. As Joni reiterates, we work hard, but maintaining a relaxed atmosphere is key too.
When taking on new team members, we always look for people who have a background in strength sports. To be able to carry over knowledge and enthusiasm from your hobby to your work really makes a big difference.
Strength sports are still growing and with increased presence and popularity amongst younger lifters, there’s plenty of room for more.
Since more and more people have access to train globally, we are constantly looking for ways to improve the range currently in place and add new products, which we think would be valued by our customers.
We´re very aware that now more than ever, with the internet and social media, new training modalities, videos and lifting advice, there's a lot of information out there. And we´re therefore always keeping a close eye on developments in the strength sports world so we can push our own way forward.
Along with the changes we experience, we haven´t forgotten the core mission which we started with when Strength Shop was founded: to make training products accessible for everyone.
As one who has walked the talk over the years, Joni’s outlook remains key to the Strength Shop ethos. In his own words:
“I never want us to forget the purpose of our mission: by athletes for athletes!”