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Moving the Studio from Startup to Growth with Larry Gerrard of Gymshark

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester:

From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester, and this is The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast.

Daniel Jester:

Welcome to episode 63 of The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. In this episode, I'm joined by Larry Gerrard, studio leader at Gymshark. If you have a pulse and are active at all on social media, I'm certain that you've heard of Gymshark, an absolute favorite brand amongst fitness influencers. Gymshark has experienced incredible growth over the last several years. And we connected with Larry to talk about his approach to building the right foundation to make sure his studio team is supported during that growth.

Larry Gerrard:

I really want to show that I was supporting them. We've got this thing at Gymshark where we talk about managing the whole person, and I really aim to do that.

Larry Gerrard:

It's not a photographer, a stylist or a production person who's in my studio for eight hours a day, and that's when we interact. I want to know about these people. I want to know what turns them on. I want to know what turns them off.

Daniel Jester:

As of the time of this recording, just a few days before the release of the episode, Gymshark was having a sale on their website, I discovered, so maybe head over to their website and see if you can still take advantage of some of the great deals on high quality workout wear.

Daniel Jester:

We're not being paid to plug this, but maybe I should start insisting on an ad fee instead of just enthusiastically plugging everyone all the time.

Daniel Jester:

Anyway, here we go.

Daniel Jester:

This is The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. I am your host Daniel Jester, and joining me today for this episode, very excited to introduce Larry Gerrard of Gymshark.

Daniel Jester:

Larry, thank you so much for joining the show.

Larry Gerrard:

Not a problem. Thank you for having me.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah, it's my pleasure. As a human person who's on social media, I'm very familiar with Gymshark and the popularity of Gymshark, so I'm feeling a little bit starstruck to talk to you, Larry-

Larry Gerrard:

That's the first time.

Daniel Jester:

-As weird as that might sound to you.

Daniel Jester:

But Gymshark is exploding and has been exploding for several years now. You don't need to be somebody who goes to the gym all the time to know Gymshark and to know that people care a lot about this brand and are very attached to it.

Daniel Jester:

And that's why we invited you on the show today to talk about how you have helped lead the studio team at Gymshark through this explosive growth.

Daniel Jester:

We have talked on this podcast before... We talked to Carrie Crow of Hello Fresh about what it's like to manage a studio when a company is exponentially growing.

Daniel Jester:

And we're going to take a little bit of a different spin with you, Larry. I want to talk about really making sure that we've built the right foundational team. We can touch on processes a little bit, but we had a conversation earlier this week that you said some really insightful things about the types of roles that you think about for one thing when you need to build a team who has to handle Gymshark's growing in the triple digits percentage points year over years. It's insane.

Daniel Jester:

Not only that, but Gymshark is getting more and more popular. You're selling more and more things. And also as we know, just industry-wide and creative, our asset needs are also exponentially growing, so you're getting hit from both sides.

Daniel Jester:

So getting this process started, when you joined the company, you've been there for about two years now, what was important to you to make sure that you had the right foundation for supporting a team through growth like this?

Larry Gerrard:

My main thinking coming into the role was that firstly, I was inheriting a team and these guys don't know me from Adam. They can look on Instagram, they can look on LinkedIn and they can look on my website, but ultimately, they don't know how I operate, how Larry operates. And that inheriting a team and inheriting a young team is what you really need to set your stall out.

Larry Gerrard:

I knew that the first year of my time at Gymshark was going to be a real underpinning. We talk about foundation. My first year was the real underpinning and putting in those firm foundations to allow the guys to be success, to be perfectly honest.

Larry Gerrard:

And there's many reasons why I chose to go to Gymshark, but actually it wasn't about me being the best. It was about making the team better. I've been in the industry 33 years, so this is a very exciting challenge for me after all of the other things I've done. But I really wanted to demonstrate to the guys, me personally, positive energy that matches the company, that matches the brand. Whatever history these guys have had... Some of them have been the company five years. They've got more and more Gymshark experience than me. They've seen things happen. They've seen a bit more growth go on. They've seen mistakes happen. So that positive energy I really wanted to bring, and I really wanted to show that I was supporting them.

Larry Gerrard:

We've got this thing at Gymshark where we talk about managing the whole person and I really aim to do that.

Larry Gerrard:

It's not a photographer, a stylist, or a production person who's in my studio for eight hours a day, and that's when we interact. I want to know about these people. I want to know what turns them on. I want to know what turns them off.

Larry Gerrard:

I'm not in every part of their lives, but I just think it's just really important to know the person.

Larry Gerrard:

We're still building now, but as long as I keep listening to them, as long as they know I've got their back, because in this day and age, we are just firing through stuff and we've got to be totally agile and flexible. So set direction. Be clear as possible. Be able to communicate that. Bring people on board.

Larry Gerrard:

And one thing, I said to them right from the start that I was just going to PR the fuck out of them because they are brilliant and they are so good. But they'd almost been a bit forgotten in the studio, in another building.

Larry Gerrard:

And they are the cold face of the business. A lot of stuff they were doing makes the money for Gymshark. So I get in front of people that they potentially wouldn't, so I get the opportunity to hold things up, hold people up and say, "Look at this. Look at that person."

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. I appreciate that a lot.

Daniel Jester:

Just to touch on it briefly, you mentioned being in the industry 30 years. And I wanted to acknowledge you, Larry were with Avon for an entire career's worth of time, 20 years, ending up as head of global photography and production. So definitely I think one of the more senior people that we've interviewed on this podcast. Because a lot of people who are in e-comm today came from more traditional sort of, I shouldn't say that Avon wasn't more traditional photography, but come from a background as, the photography was in the mid 2000s and around the digital transition, but we're talking about 20 years of experience with a beauty company, doing creative production for the purposes of selling these products.

Daniel Jester:

That's a long time and a lot of teams, and a lot of experience that you bring to the team at Gymshark. And it's no surprise to me, a company like Gymshark with the ambitions they have, turning to somebody who's got a career such as yours.

Larry Gerrard:

I had to be really flexible there because Avon is a totally different company, totally different mindset, totally different management, strategy, vision, and so I think it just goes to show that if you've got that experience in you, actually, you are now joining a different culture. You're now joining a different frame of mind and you can really use... That 21 years of experience in a global beauty company is now playing out at Gymshark. So all of those important factors are all still there when it comes to engaging and managing the team.

Daniel Jester:

And the other thing that you mentioned about, first and foremost, coming into the team, you're inheriting a team and I've been thinking about this in advance of this conversation that there is for a lot of new companies, especially newer startups that build an in-house creative team or studio for themselves, there is this transition from the startup studio to whatever phase two looks like. They've achieved enough growth. They know that things are working. They start to have some processes developed. Sometimes you go in and you still see the hallmarks of a very scrappy startup studio, four or five different brands of packs in the studio just because you had to take whatever you could get in those early days. But there is a transition from the startup team to the more seasoned team that is in the phase two of an internal studio.

Daniel Jester:

What are some of the key roles that you think that you need to build out in a team to transition from that launch team, because a lot of times they'll have hired a photographer, they may have hired a studio manager, but sometimes you need to start thinking about expanding those roles, building more senior and junior levels in.

Daniel Jester:

Can you tell me a little bit about your strategy around transitioning from the launch team to phase two of a studio team?

Larry Gerrard:

Yeah, sure. Excuse my dog who's barking. I'm not sure if that's an issue.

Daniel Jester:

No, it's all right. We get all kinds of background noise on this show. I'm surprised my yard guy isn't here today just because why not?

Larry Gerrard:

I think my dog's missing me.

Larry Gerrard:

Look, one of the reasons why I went to Gymshark is that I knew I would have autonomy to change things. And actually, in some cases, it's actually not changing things. It's just realizing that things need to happen. So they may not be happening already, but I could come in and have that autonomy to make a difference. And that is the main reason why I came to Gymshark.

Larry Gerrard:

And having my experience of being a creative director and an art director within photography and building brands, yes, I'm always in the studio, yes, I'm always on location doing photography and video, but now I'm in this internal unit where what you're constantly trying to do is just engage with people so we don't get this silo mentality and this silo work.

Larry Gerrard:

Although with your stakeholders and all the people you talk to day-to-day, you are outward going, but I don't want that silo mentality in regards to where we sit in the industry and how we operate and the great creative content we produce.

Larry Gerrard:

So I think from my first day when I walked into Gymshark and Maryanne, who's one of my photographers who's very experienced. I think she's now four years at Avon, but a photographer in her own right before she came. And she was there on set, capturing, trying to get the essence of the Gymshark brand, coming through the model, getting the right moves. We shoot a lot of moves with our stuff to make it authentic, to show how the stuff stretches. She's trying to do all that, and she's trying to do all the system stuff as well. She's trying to make sure the Capture One folders were there, trying to make sure metadata was happening, making sure there was no misfires. The usual Digi Op stuff. And so that was the very first position that I pushed for.

Larry Gerrard:

Obviously, everything needs a rationale. You have to jump through a few hoops. Not as many as at Avon, because I was given this autonomy to change things around, so we secured that position. And the thing with that position was we knew that it wasn't just employing a Digi Op.

Larry Gerrard:

Yes. Okay. Day to day when we're shooting our e-com imagery, they're going to have sole focus there and that will support the photographer on set. But what's happened with our Digi Op, slash assistant photographer is that this is a person who for the past year and a half now has been surrounded by all of this experience, and a multifaceted group, and real life experience on set.

Larry Gerrard:

We get her shooting all manner of content for us because, maybe we're touching on it later, but it's not just the e-com imagery that we shoot. So the team get involved with a lot of stuff. And actually this enabled this Digi Op, assistant photographer to really go on a steep learning curve. And her development plan I say maybe some of the tightest that we've got because of the position she's in and what she's surrounded by. So that was a real success but that was our first marker. That's what we did.

Daniel Jester:

The Digi tech role, or as you call it in your studio, the Digi Op role, is one of those ones that I think to an outsider can look a little bit, I won't say extravagant, it's too strong of a word, but looks a little bit like it's just an extra person around for the sake of having an extra person around.

Daniel Jester:

And to use another inaccessible, obtuse analogy, you think of it as a guitar tech for a band. There's a show happening. Some of the people need to stay focused on that show. If there's a problem that comes up, you need somebody who's not involved in being focused on the show to help solve that problem.

Daniel Jester:

And even above and beyond that, like you mentioned, the Digi tech often is somebody who shoots, wants to be a photographer in some cases, or at least shoots, or at least is observing enough knowledge to step in on set if they need to at some point, but they're also managing the technical side of the production because that's something that can grind a shoot to a halt.

Larry Gerrard:

It's an absolute key. It's so key.

Daniel Jester:

It's absolutely key, yeah. And they often, also in a lot of my studios, have become defacto studio tech support because on the other hand, they're a little bit on the techy side. You know what it's like working in big companies to get your company IT support to even set foot in your studio because they don't know what's going on in there. They don't know the software. They don't know the computers. They often don't know how to work on a Mac in a lot of cases.

Daniel Jester:

Just to say it out loud on the podcast today for everybody, this is a pretty critical studio role that you don't want to overlook.

Larry Gerrard:

I will sing the praises of any Digi Op, lighting assistant out there.

Larry Gerrard:

I come from a world where, especially on the bigger productions, you may have two assistants who are running lighting and actually one Digi Op, and that Digi Op is the photographer's right hand person. And you know what? It is a show. Exactly what you said. And normally as an art director, I've brought all these people together to put on a show, and I'm in the middle of the show being the ringmaster, making sure the show's happening beautifully.

Larry Gerrard:

And actually a Digi Op can be there cutting things off at the past before they even become a problem, before they even become an issue. And some of the people I've worked with have been super talented photographers in their own right and they just understand their shit. They just know what they're doing.

Larry Gerrard:

I want to call out the tech team at Gymshark because actually they know exactly what we're doing. They are brilliant. They are brilliant. If it comes down to certain licenses that we need. Or Capture One updates or whatever it is that you need, administration codes, they are on it every day. We are totally Mac-based as well, and they understand all of our software.

Daniel Jester:

In my career, it has never failed where I've worked with a new tech that I hadn't worked with before that I didn't learn something new in the first 10 minutes they showed up on set.

Daniel Jester:

We've had the situations where we're putting together a crew for a production. My normal tech was on another job, or out of town, or whatever, so I'd get recommendations for my trusted people. Everybody who listens to this podcast knows how this goes. This is three days before.

Daniel Jester:

You're like, "Oh, shit. My tech can't make it. Who am I going to get?"

Daniel Jester:

And so we'll bring in somebody new. And within 10 minutes of them showing up, I'm having those producer jitters of like, "Okay, listen. I just want to be sure that you know what you're doing. We haven't worked together, but you were referred to me from somebody that I trust."

Daniel Jester:

So you do that little dance in the first few minutes where you're like, "Okay, do you know what you're doing? Is this going to be a disaster or are we going to be okay?"

Daniel Jester:

And then they sit down at the tech station and they fire up Capture One. They're like, "You know if you did this, this and this, this would load faster and you can get these images out faster?"

Daniel Jester:

And it's like, "Okay, great. You know what you're doing. We're good. I'm happy and I also learned something new, so thanks."

Larry Gerrard:

And these guys had to evolve as well. I think we've spoken previously about, we're not going to dwell on it now, but for how long I've been in it I was shooting film. I'll be on location somewhere, shooting a sunset with film, trying to do your Polaroids and you clip test. And actually it goes back to that guy, that guy who has absolutely got rolls and rolls of film all around him and loading camera backs, ready for that eight minute window to shoot something. The role extends from that. It's this really on-it person who just... All images are almost going through them anyway. It's a highly responsible position. Now we're in a digital scope. It's so responsible.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. There is a little bit of looking at that person like they're magic, in some ways, when you work with a really excellent assistant or Digi tech.

Daniel Jester:

I've had the opportunity when I was with the commercial studio in LA to work with one in particular who was a longtime photo assistant of the owner of the studio who was just like... I never saw him face a problem that he couldn't solve in some incredibly creative way.

Daniel Jester:

I guess we're going to name this episode in praises of the Digi tech [inaudible 00:17:27] assistant.

Larry Gerrard:

I'm going to get T-shirts made. They're my favorite people.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah, definitely. I need merch opportunities for the podcast too. Yeah, we got to come up with something.

Daniel Jester:

Just as an aside, I know because this was going around my very niche LinkedIn community, but it was Tony Baker who posted a sticker that his wife had picked up somewhere that said, "Fix it in pre." And I was like, "Yeah, let's fix it in pre instead of post. Let's do it that way. Let's actually anticipate these problems."

Daniel Jester:

As we got into this Digi tech conversation, you mentioned your photographers there. They're working. They're trying to balance out the work they're doing with the model on set and the brand.

Daniel Jester:

And just for anybody listening, if you haven't checked out Gymshark's website, what Larry said is exactly right. For every skew, they're not just shooting your standard front side back shots. There's usually an action shot that incorporates some kind of gym equipment.

Daniel Jester:

In that case, it's similar to shooting for a yoga brand where now you've got more time limit than maybe you're used to because you're asking this person to exert themselves in ways that might be uncomfortable on set.

Daniel Jester:

But you talked about, it's hard to focus on making sure that you're doing service to the brand when you've got technical problems that you're also trying to solve for.

Daniel Jester:

And this is an interesting idea, and I think when we spoke earlier this week, I talked about that like triangle of cost, speed and quality, and that brand is either a fourth element to that or it heavily influences quality in some way. But brand is super important.

Daniel Jester:

And for a brand like Gymshark where people really care about this brand and they want to feel like they're experiencing the brand in a really rich way just... I guess there's not a specific question here, Larry, but I just want you to riff on the idea of how important the brand itself plays into a team, and not only the team, but the physical studio space as well.

Larry Gerrard:

You're talking to the right guy here. I'm an absolute brand advocate. I've spent my life building brands visually and also rejuvenating them. That's one of the most exciting things you can do. When you're based on insights and data and you're actually bought on board now to visually hopefully, turn this brand around.

Larry Gerrard:

Now, at Gymshark. We are lucky. We are very lucky, and I totally understand this, that we are not an e-com mincing machine. We aren't the relentless... Okay. Yeah, we have some very hefty days. We had a couple of hefty days just this week. When you see four rails of clothes come out and different connotations of we have four models on set and the logistics are quite high on that and the shot count is high, but more often than not, we are not this mincing machine just getting on set, shoot it, and it's off onto the next one.

Larry Gerrard:

So we really understand the power that the shots that we create have when they're online. So obviously talent is totally key, so we choose talent based on the potential clothing range that we are shooting because each clothing range will talk to a different exercise tribe, so that relevance and that authenticity needs to come through that talent, whether it's body shape, whether it's the way they move, whatever it is. So we spend a lot of time trying to get that across on our assets, and we do a lot of the movement stuff and we do a lot of the exercise stuff. But the environment is so conducive with the models to have a great time because ultimately, we have a great time. And I can only say this because I've spent my life in studios, it's the most upbeat environment you will ever witness, and you couldn't fail to capture the true essence of that model.

Larry Gerrard:

Yes. They're a gun for hire. They're going to come in on the day. We also have our real consistent models that we know really connect with our different tribes and our different ranges. But when you really have that environment and you haven't had to try too hard to get it, because yet again, the model is just a vital link in that putting on the show again. So they've got to do their part of the show. They've got to say what they're going to on the show poster. And so we really build this environment which we don't try too hard to build, to be perfectly honest, because across Gymshark, there is a culture like I've never seen before, such an inclusive culture, such a speak-up culture, a real environment of, "If you're going to make a mistake, make it quickly. Move on. It's absolutely fine. It's absolutely fine."

Larry Gerrard:

And actually, we encourage the team to even look for the things that they can maybe influencing the business as well that may be out of the realms of what they do day-to-day, but actually they may have a fix for it.

Larry Gerrard:

And so that listening is absolutely key.

Larry Gerrard:

I think we are so human. I've walked around companies where they pride of place are these pictures where they have this godlike sky with a sun shining through it. And it says, "Integrity, honesty, respect." And it's complete bullshit because it's like, "Do you know what? We have six foot letters on the wall which say don't be a dickhead."

Larry Gerrard:

And it's absolutely true. That should be a motto in life for everybody, really, if we look at the world today. Just don't be a dickhead. Be human. And we're all in this together and we're all playing a certain part in quite a privileged world to produce great asset.

Larry Gerrard:

So the brand piece was something I really had to work on with the guys as well, literally just get a bit of clarity to them in regards to that ownership piece. What part do they play in that?

Larry Gerrard:

They may just do it but everything heads towards the brand and it's the most important thing we've got. Brands can lose credibility overnight.

Daniel Jester:

Very insightful words, Larry. And I think that's about the time we have for this episode. I feel like that conversation went really quick.

Larry Gerrard:

What a shame. What a shame.

Daniel Jester:

I don't want to leave our listeners in lurch here, but I got to tell you, so this episode's going to go live relatively shortly after we recorded it. Right now, as of today, I'm on the Gymshark website. Got it. Nailed it. And we're going to leave that in Calvin. Don't don't cut that part out.

Larry Gerrard:

No, absolutely not. That's amazing.

Daniel Jester:

There's a sale going on Gymshark's website right now. We're talking about what I think universally is agreed to as very high quality active wear and gym wear. I was shopping for me a moment ago, but now I see some leggings here that I think would look phenomenal on my wife and they're $30 bucks on sale right now, which is pretty hard to say no to.

Larry Gerrard:

That's that's got to be done. It is high quality.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. It's got to be done. So Larry, I got to kick you off the show and I'm going to do some shopping and that'll be that. But thank you so much for your time, for your insights.

Daniel Jester:

I think honestly, I really genuinely think we can have you back to talk about a couple of other things. There's a couple of other avenues I'd love to dig into.

Larry Gerrard:

Obviously I'd love to be back.

Daniel Jester:

And maybe we'll reminisce about the film days. I wasn't a working photographer at the time, but I've shot my fair share of film so we can have a little talk about it.

Larry Gerrard:

Yeah. I'd love to do that. Thank you for having me on.

Daniel Jester:

That's it for this episode of The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. Did you like it? Whether you did or didn't, shoot us an email to let us know what you think, podcast@creativeforce.io. Even if you just want to reach out and let us know that you're listening, we'd love to know that information.

Daniel Jester:

Many thanks to our guest, Larry Gerrard, and thanks to you for listening.

Daniel Jester:

The show is produced by Creative Force, edited by Calvin Lanz. Special thanks to Sean O'Meara. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time my friends.

About the host

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.