Not all heroes wear capes… In fact, some of them sit at a desk and answer phones in an office building. It may not sound so glamorous, but these people have the power to save the day. Take Alecia Nicole, for example, Onnit’s Quality Coordinator (formerly in our Customer Service dept.). When a customer ordered some apparel for his wedding and received the wrong product, another company’s service rep might have just offered a refund or gotten a replacement out to him a week later. But Nicole went the extra mile, personally shipping it to the man just in time for him to walk down the aisle.
It’s just one of many examples of how far Onnit’s team members will go to support one another and our fans and followers. When you love your job and believe in what you do, it doesn’t feel like work as much as it does a mission. In this week’s edition of Onnit Stories, Nicole shares her mission for knowledge and self-love, telling Chief Fitness Officer John Wolf how she’s grown with the company in this live video interview.
See below for the video, as well as an edited transcript of the highlights. You can stay up to date with Onnit Stories by following Onnit’s Instagram TV (IGTV), where a new one appears every other week.
John Wolf: I’ve noticed that your Instagram handle is now @diving_yogi, and I was like, “Well, what is a diving yogi?” Then I found out that you are now a scuba instructor. Is that correct?
Alecia Nicole: I’m not an instructor yet. Right now I’m just a rescue diver. But I’m working on my next level, which will be instructor certification. So, I’m headed in that direction.
Let’s back up to when you first landed at Onnit and how that all went down.
I love telling this story because I feel like the universe perfectly laid out all the bricks for me to get here. I used to listen to a ton of different health podcasts, and in one of them they were advertising for Paleo f(x)™. It’s an event that’s held here in Austin, and it’s just this big expo where all these health companies that are generally Paleo eating-focused come.
It was the first time I had ever gone to anything like that, and I was very intimidated, but I was like, “I’m going to do it.” So I went, and there were a bunch of booths set up. I’m just meandering through, just kind of standing in the background, not really interacting with anyone, and I walk up to this one booth. It was the Onnit booth. What made me walk up to it is that Onnit used to have this bicycle that had a blender attached to it. You could put ingredients in the blender and make your own smoothie by bicycling around the expo. I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” So I went up and did that.
I talked to a lady who I now know as our Director of Customer Service, Katie Miller. She was just so nice and welcoming to me. She was just like, “Oh, what are you interested in? What do you do?” She was just so friendly, and it kind of made me go, “Oh, OK, I do belong here. I can be here.”
Then, a couple months later, the company I was working for got purchased. It was a health insurance company, and they were moving the company to Dallas. I didn’t want to move to Dallas, so I started searching for a new job. I thought, “Oh, that conference I went to… Let me start looking up those companies.” Onnit was the first one I looked up. When I saw their job postings, there was one that had just been posted 13 minutes before, and it was the kind of job I wanted. I remember thinking, “If I had searched for this a half-hour sooner, I wouldn’t have found it.” I would have gotten a message like, “No jobs available.” But it had just been posted, and I applied, and then I got the job.
What was your first role here at Onnit?
I was a Customer Service Associate, which is honestly a great role to start with at this company, because you have to know about everything else we do to be able to interact with our customers. You see, our customers are really, really smart. You’ve got to know what you’re talking about in order to be able to interact with them, and I love that. So I learned a lot in those first couple years working in Customer Service.
You have to stay up to date with what everyone is doing—all the podcasts and everything. Otherwise, the customer will be like, “What was that product that Aubrey mentioned [on his podcast]?” And then we’re like, “Oh, crap, I didn’t listen to the recent episode. Now I have to do it fast in order to be able to answer.”
It’s funny to think that the person you were talking to at Paleo f(x)™ might have been one of the people that was involved in your interviewing process.
Yeah, she was definitely a part of it, and she was a part of the reason why I felt more comfortable going into that process—because it definitely can be intimidating. I think I had four interviews to get the job, which was more than I had ever done for a job previously.
Customer service is such an important component of our business. A lot of companies might outsource customer service, or they might only have one or two products to sell, which makes it a lot easier. But the diversity of products we have across different channels at Onnit makes it unique and challenging. You’ve got these weird fitness people, like me, doing things that are completely different than the supplement side of the business. Then you have the food products, and people asking you about the ingredients, or the manufacturing process.
Yeah, and where the foods and supplements are sourced, how they’re manufactured, who the employees are, where we’re located, where we ship from, whether we use carbon neutral shipping… They ask everything, and you have to know everything.
For those wondering, “Why all these interviews? Why does it matter so much?” It’s because when a customer has an experience, we want to nurture it into an ongoing relationship. Whether the person is trying to determine if they want to trust us with their hard-earned money, or they’ve already bought something but it didn’t go as planned, we want to know how to support them. It’s really important that the people who are answering the call can represent our values. It’s great that Katie was the first person you met, because she walks the walk and talks the talk, right?
Yeah. I think one thing that’s particularly special about our Customer Service team and how we empower them is that there’s a lot of autonomy. It’s like, “Here’s the knowledge, here’s the general direction, here’s the vibe. Now go and take care of people.” There are so many other companies where it’s just, “These are the rules, and you have to follow A, B, C, and D, no matter what.” With us, it’s just take care of people, be nice, be open, give them the education, and then let’s help them to leave with as positive of an experience as can be, even if something doesn’t go as expected. I love that.
So you’re empowered with some creativity and some leeway. Can you give us an example of how you use that?
So, there was a piece of Aubrey Marcus apparel that this guy ordered one time. He wanted it for his wedding, and it didn’t arrive on time… or maybe it was the wrong size. He contacted us the day before his wedding, and it was a Friday at about 4:30 p.m. He’s like, “Where is my jacket? I’m getting married tomorrow!” So, I, personally, had to go to the warehouse, get the right jacket, drive to FedEx and overnight this thing to some tiny town where he lived.
To the FedEx people, I was like, “We need to make sure it’s going to get there at 8:00 a.m. the next morning.” I don’t even know how much it cost to ship it, but I did it. I shipped it to him, and I was like, “You will have this for your wedding.” We took care of it. That was one of my favorite experiences that I’ve had—that I was able to do that for him.
I think that says a lot. You mentioned how you have to be educated on all Onnit’s products to do your job, but you’ve also taken advantage of other educational opportunities. Tell us about that.
I jumped all in as soon as I started working here. It was funny. I was talking to our CEO, Jason Havey, a couple weeks ago, and he’s like, “I think you hold the record for working in the most departments.” And I said, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I do.” Any time there was a call for assistance, or a special project, I’d say, “Yes, I’m doing it.” And then, of course, Onnit gives us the opportunity to do all of these trainings in fitness through the gym, which is just amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.
We all feel a little protective or uncertain going into a new environment. But what happens when we put ourselves out there and are willing to contribute, even when it’s outside our scope? I’m sure a lot of those yeses got you doing things you’d never done before.
Yes, over and over again. Realizing that you can do way more than you think, and having a team around you that’s constantly like, “Yes, you can do this,” has made a huge difference. But at the same time, no one’s pushing you to do something that’s going to hurt you or anything like that.
You’ve had a lot of those moments at our fitness certifications, specifically. You’ve done several of them.
Yes, and I’ve done Durability three times.
That makes sense, because Durability has a lot of connectivity to your other primary educational focus—yoga—which goes back to your Instagram name. Durability is like a cousin of yoga. We say Durability is kind of like the through-line, the connective tissue for our whole system. No matter if you’re doing steel mace, steel club, kettlebell, battle rope, barbell—we teach it all within the lens of how to enhance our longevity, the health of our body and the tissues and our joints, while still gaining the performance benefits that everybody wants.
Yeah, I think of Durability as the practice that allows you to continue doing all the other practices. You can do the other training without Durability, but at some point, you’re going to hurt yourself or you’re going to be out of the game. But if you do your Durability practices and you keep up with them, you can do everything else longer, faster, stronger, harder.
What were some of the other training opportunities you’ve gotten through Onnit?
The Box ’N Burn certifications. The Wim Hof breathing and cold plunge workshop we did at Aubrey Marcus’ house. We did a memory workshop with Jim Kwik. And I got my yoga certification through Black Swan Yoga. It’s funny because I had zero intention of teaching yoga when I started that course. It was just another one for me to do. But as I took the course it became the one that made all the others kind of come together for me and I realized, “I have to share this.” I can’t just hold on to this. This needs to be given to other people as well.
Working at Onnit, it was the first time I ever worked at a place where I liked my coworkers and actually wanted to spend time with them outside of the office, and grow with them. We used to do company-sponsored happy hours before COVID, when the world was normal, and that let us connect on a deeper level with the people we worked with. When you do that, it allows you to open yourself up to more opportunities. You can say to someone, “Oh, I don’t know this thing. Can you help me learn it? Can we learn this together? Can we grow together?” There are an infinite number of learning opportunities at Onnit, even internally on the professional side of things. We have LinkedIn courses you can access about anything you could ever want to learn.
So, everyone here is just consistently growing, and in that kind of environment, you know you’re going to grow too.
I remember the first time I went to an Onnit cert. I was so terrified of the part at the end where you have to teach what you just learned over the past two days to another person at the cert. It’s part of your final exam, so to speak. I was like, “Oh, no, I don’t want to.” I kind of just hid behind the rest of my group. I was very timid about all of it, but now I’m like, “I’ll go first!” I want to teach. After doing all of these certs, you learn that as soon as you learn something you need to start teaching it to solidify it in your own brain. Also, you realize if something isn’t right when you try teaching it. You’re like, “Hold on, I said that wrong. Let me figure out the right way to deliver that message.” Then you figure it out for yourself.
You’ve gone through and experienced so much with so many different departments. Can you highlight a little more about that? And how do you feel that experience has positioned you as a leader within our community?
The only department I think I have never worked with is accounting. So I’ve worked with every other department from the warehouse to the gym to back when Onnit had a 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu school and Black Swan Yoga. Some of them I had paid positions with, but I got experience with a lot of them just because they needed some extra hands for this or that—a special project, something where volunteers were needed. I was always first in line to volunteer for everything. Because of that, I got to know pretty much everyone in the company. Community is what Onnit is all about. The reason why this works is because it’s a community, because we actually care about each other and we actually know each other.
So, fast-forward now to where the world is different, and there are people coming in who don’t know about our community. They weren’t here when we would all go to happy hour and have special events. So I’m trying to find new ways to carry on that energy. We can’t go to happy hour right now, but maybe we can connect over Zoom, or Skype, and I can still get to know you. I can still show you that this company is not just “clock in, clock out, and go have your life somewhere else.” We’re a family here.
It’s so easy to just have tunnel vision and be like, “Oh, I’m just going to run into the Onnit office and do this thing and get out.” But can we take the time to actually just talk to each other and get to know each other?
You might just get a Wolf hug if you do [laughs]. So, through all those experiences and all the education, you’ve gotten to play with all the Onnit toys and experience all the products. What tops your list in all our different categories? Favorite supplement, food, and piece of fitness equipment?
My favorite supplement is Total Human®, which is kind of a cheat because it’s like 17 supplements in one. But if I couldn’t choose Total Human®, I think VIRUTech® is my favorite supplement, because my immune system needs to be on point, and I don’t want to get sick, ever. So, I take VIRUTech® every day.
Food item? I would say I really like the Vanilla Almond Protein Bar. Then, for fitness equipment, I’d say the steel mace. It’s a surprisingly difficult tool when you first start out with it. You’re like, “Oh, it’s simple. It looks like a bat.” But it’s not. Since the weight is so light, I think it’s deceiving to people, because they’re used to a barbell or a kettlebell, and they’re like, “Oh, I can lift this.”
Customer Service gets so many phone calls from people who are interested in the steel mace, and we always recommend you start out with either 10 or 15 pounds. But so often customers are like, “No, no, no. We’re going to get the 25.” And we say, “No, please just trust me. Get the 10 or the 15.” But they always ordered the 25-pound Quad God, the one with the faces on it. Then we’d get a call a week later and someone is saying, “I can’t lift this thing! Can I return it?” And I’d tell them you can, but it will cost you more to return it than what your refund is going to be. So, to everyone listening to this, when a Customer Service person recommends something to you, just listen to them!
We’ll take some questions from the audience now. “Alecia, who are some people you draw inspiration from in both work and in life?”
Let’s start internally with people in the company. Obviously I’ll start with the man right here—John Wolf. You always have amazing energy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a bad mood. You’re always open to a loving conversation, and I always learn something every single time I talk to you, and that’s amazing. I love that so much. I love people I can learn from.
Also, there’s Shane Heins [Onnit’s Director of Fitness Education], and one yogi that I really love is Jessamyn Stanley, and I follow her. I love her because she’s very nontraditional. She doesn’t let people tell her she can’t do something because of what she looks like, or the types of clothes that she wears, or the fact that she smokes weed or does any other activity. She’s just herself, and she’s like, “This is me, and I’m going to allow you to witness the glory that is me as it is, and I’m not going to change it.”
There’s an author that I love—Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I cannot recommend her work enough, particularly audiobooks. If you listen to audiobooks, she has one called Joyous Body, and it just talks about the beauty of the human body and all the things that it does for you, and everything that it takes to keep you alive. She’s so poetic though, and describes it in a way that just makes you feel like you’re the most amazing thing in the world to just be alive. So, if you like audiobooks, you’re welcome.
We have a question from someone who seems to be an aspiring Onnit team member. “Can you hire me? I would love to work somewhere in the fitness field and with cool people like you.”
There is a careers tab on the Onnit website—onnit.com. Scroll to the bottom and you can find it. We are often hiring. Our team is growing so fast. You can also go onto Indeed and set an alert so you’ll get an email any time Onnit posts a new job.
Here’s a question from an Onnit Tribe member. “Hi, Alecia. What do you want people to know about the fitness industry?”
Well, here’s what I want people to know about fitness in general. Probably my favorite thing I learned in my yoga teacher training is that you don’t actually have to do everything the instructor tells you to do. Listen to what your body is telling you to do first, and then the instructor second. That knowledge has empowered me so much, and I feel like my practice—both yoga practice as well as my fitness routines—has just gotten so much better since I stopped feeling like I had to do every single thing I was asked.
So, for example, I’ll go to a class here at Onnit and they might say, “Pick up a 15-pound steel mace.” And I’ll be like, “Nope. I’m using the seven-pound steel mace today. That’s what my body needs.” Before, I may have been like, “OK, I have to use the 15 because that’s what he said,” and then I would end up over-exerting myself and being really sore, or maybe even tweaking something. I have shoulder issues, so I’ve learned to be extra careful. Learning to listen to yourself first and then the instructor second is one thing that I wish more people would do with fitness practices.
Yes, that’s so important. People feel the pressure because the instructor has this commanding presence, but the only true accountability you have is to yourself, because no one else is going to pay the price if you hurt something, and no one else knows how you’re feeling. So you’re not disobeying or taking the easy path, you’re taking responsibility for yourself. You’re empowering yourself by saying, “This is where I’m at, and this is what I’m going to do.”
Also, I will say that, previously, when I thought I had to do every single thing that I was instructed to do, I would sometimes not go to the class because I was like, “Oh, I know they’re going to ask me to do this thing and I don’t want to do that.” So then I’d just miss out on my movement for the day. But if I go in saying, “Well, at least I’m going to do something if I walk through the door,” that motivates me. And sometimes, when you get there, you do more than you thought you were going to do.
Any parting thoughts for us? Anything else you want to share?
I think I just want to reiterate again about how Onnit made me feel safe to enter into this fitness space. Because sometimes these fitness spaces can very much make you feel like certain people don’t belong there. I know sometimes people say that when they walk into our gym here at Onnit they’re a little intimidated, because it’s so big and there’s all this unusual equipment. But as soon as you talk to one person who trains here and you see how friendly they are, you’re just like, “Oh, this is a cool spot.” Everyone is family here. You’re welcome no matter what your fitness level, what your background, what your anything is. We’re all here to support each other and it’s been that way since Day One.