In this interview, we get to know Larry Maloney, the General Manager of Gym Operations at Onnit.
Although Larry’s personal interests in self-improvement and well-being first sparked his love for working out, it was his drive and genuine passion for results that drew him from the food and hospitality industries into the personal training and fitness space.
Larry chose an unusual path to his current role. Despite having a management role at another local gym, his certainty that the Onnit approach was the one he wanted to pass on to his clients led him to accept a rare Customer Service Internship with the company in 2018. Taking what many would consider a step backward to achieve his goals, Larry worked his way back up into management. His willingness to take risks rather than shortcuts to achieve his goals and his hands-on approach to the many roles supervises have put him in a unique position to understand his business from the ground up.
Read The Interview
Maloney took the time out to answer our questions regarding his motivations, management philosophy, and how he and Onnit adjusted to change and even closures in the face of COVID 19.
Read on for an understanding of his views of the importance of building a community on both sides of the mat and his belief that succeeding in fitness is a matter of specializing in quality rather than offering something for everyone.
Over the past decade, you’ve worked in various roles in the fitness industry. What sparked your passion for fitness?
In my early twenties, I was pretty overweight and I lost close to 100lbs at around 21. Throughout my 20’s while I was working in the food industry, I kept working out. There came a point in my hospitality career where I realized that I didn’t like that industry, but I loved being in the gym. Trying to come up with a way to make money and be in the gym all day, I decided that becoming a personal trainer was the way to go.
My passion for fitness came from seeing the results of something that I had complete control over; when I train, control what I eat, how much I eat, when I work out, how often I work out, and everything in between. After I started seeing results and my body started changing in significant ways, I was driven to discover how far I could push myself. I’m still finding new ways to get stronger, faster and my physique continues to get better after almost 20 years of working out.
Fitness is amazing. It’s an ever-evolving industry. There are always new methodologies, exercises, and information coming out. Once I started seeing that I could help other people and see them start to feel and look better and become more confident, I was hooked.
In my opinion, being able to give the gifts of fitness and wellness to others and watching them discover a passion I share is the most addictive thing about fitness.
Less is More
What operational challenges do you think are specific to running a gym or health club?
Operationally, gyms have to do a lot of the same things that most industries do. They need to provide a clean facility, offer exceptional customer service, and establish systems that create sustainable processes.
Where they differ is that in the fitness space, and at gyms and health clubs, in particular, it’s difficult to make money unless you’ve dialed in what you’re offering. I’ve worked at several gyms that were good facilities but had a hard time making enough money to support themselves. In these cases, the gyms focused on getting as many people as possible in the door. They spread themselves too thin trying to accommodate everyone by offering ten different services and twenty types of membership.
A better approach, and what recently started working for us at Onnit Gym, is to offer a few core services but to do a really kick-ass job with their quality. The same philosophy applies to being a personal trainer — find a niche where you excel and stick with that instead of trying to be all things to everyone.
What do you think makes your business model unique?
Our business model actually changed after the Covid 19 closures. When we reopened, we decided to offer only our Small Group Personal Training membership or one-on-one Personal Training.
Consolidating from five to seven different memberships to a single offering made a huge difference in terms of simplicity, community, and revenue. We actually increased our membership rates upon reopening. It seems crazy, but we decided we would rather have 100-200 members willing to pay a premium for the personal touch — members that we can get to know and coach on a personal level. Now our coaches spend more time providing individual feedback and attention to each of the ten clients attending their sessions.
Community is Key
What is your secret to creating a loyal client base?
There isn’t really a “secret” per se, but my overall approach to creating a loyal client base is based on an idea from James Kerr’s book Legacy about New Zealand’s national rugby union team. We’ve all seen those “coaches” who yell at and demean their clients. That mentality makes no sense unless it’s something that someone specifically wants. Instead, we treat every person who comes to Onnit Gym as an individual and sympathize with their specific needs.
Another factor for our success at retaining clients is that everyone at the Onnit Gym, members and coaches alike, follows the same program. All of our coaches practice the workouts together about two weeks ahead of the members so that we can troubleshoot and test our programming. Being on the same track promotes bonding in the gym community. It helps us relate to our members when we coach their workouts. Having similar programs and goals also helps our members relate to each other — even though they may work out at different times they’re all in it together.
That, paired with the holistic Onnit methodology that focuses on warm-ups, mobility, CNS prep, programming, and decompression, keeps our members safe and able to push themselves and gain each and every session.
We’ve all seen those “coaches” who yell at and demean their clients. That mentality makes no sense unless it’s something that someone specifically wants. Instead, we treat every person who comes to Onnit Gym as an individual and sympathize with their specific needs.
What procedures do you have in place to ensure that your facilities don’t go over budget when purchasing supplies and equipment?
It’s been pretty easy to stay on budget right now while we are scaling back up from closing.
Luckily, we have an accounting team at Onnit who are amazing at what they do. That helps us keep an eye on day-to-day operations. We also have several managers who are very focused on our PnLs. That being said, what we require for our program is pretty minimal, so we don’t have to order equipment very often. The most variable area of our gym is the cafe. That we manage on a week to week basis based on sales.
What operational systems do you think are necessary to run an efficient fitness club?
I am a fan of systems for everything. They’re necessary for sales, customer service, membership, and cleanliness. Systems are the only way that you can make efficient and sustainable business decisions. By having a baseline in place, and removing variables, you get insight on how to adapt and maximize return. I believe that systems should always be evolving and regularly assessed.
Systems are the only way that you can make efficient and sustainable business decisions. By having a baseline in place, and removing variables, you get insight on how to adapt and maximize return.
If you had all the resources you could ask for, what is one strategy or solution that you wish you could implement to better grow your business?
I think if I had unlimited resources for Onnit, I would renovate a few of our spaces so that we could run multiple groups simultaneously and offer a dedicated space for recovery/durability classes.
Currently, many of our groups are at capacity, which we limit so that we can ensure our members get the attention they need and deserve. By expanding our spaces and being able to offer more groups concurrently, I believe we’d be able to help more people meet their fitness and community goals. This would also allow us to bring on more staff which is another important part of growing a great business — finding amazing trainers and fitness enthusiasts who want to touch others’ lives through fitness.
As an operations leader in the fitness space, what advice do you have for someone who is interested in taking on an operations role in your industry?
One recommendation that I have for almost any management role is to understand all positions within the company before you start making operational decisions. I am a huge proponent of moving up the ranks into management roles. I’ve personally done that in the last three businesses where I assumed the role of General Manager.
You understand, by being in the role, exactly which areas can be improved or adjusted.
I know it’s not always logistically possible but if you get into that management role, take the time to get trained and understand other roles and solicit feedback from your employees before you start making significant changes.
One recommendation that I have for almost any management role is to understand all positions within the company before you start making operational decisions
What are your hobbies?
I love spending time outdoors with my two sons. We love exploring Austin — the parks, trails, food, and everything that this amazing city has to offer. I also like painting, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, and hanging out with friends. I occasionally play video games and am a huge Marvel/DC, comic book, and anime nerd.
Do you have a personal motto that you live by?
Life’s too short to not be fun. That says it all really.