Life Time to make splash in area’s fitness market

As national fitness brand enters Wisconsin, others ready to compete

Life Time’s front entrance area.
Life Time’s front entrance area.

When Life Time Brookfield opens later this fall it will bring 126,423 square feet of health and fitness amenities to Waukesha County, aiming to set itself apart as a “luxury, resort-style destination.”

The massive facility at The Corridor mixed-use development in Brookfield is the first step into the Wisconsin market for Chanhassen, Minnesota-based Life Time Inc. and the company has high expectations as the brand is already well-established across the Midwest.

Life Time operates 145 large-format health clubs in 30 states and Canada, but those in cities such as Des Moines, Iowa; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Kansas City and St. Louis have performed particularly well, said Jeff Zwiefel, chief operating officer at Life Time.

That’s because Life Time claims to offer members something more than just fitness.

“The power of our business for over 20 years has been the idea of connecting like-minded people and when you put those like-minded people together in a setting like our club, it does truly become their third place after home and work,” said Zwiefel. “The very backbone of the Midwestern community is that and so this just further provides that forum.”

Life Time Brookfield’s upper level will have 400 pieces of cardio and weight equipment, two NBA-size basketball courts, and yoga, Pilates, indoor cycling and group fitness studios for the 125 group fitness classes offered on average each week.

The facility’s ground level is where the company’s resort proposition comes into play.

It includes a full-service spa and salon, executive-style locker rooms with saunas and steam rooms, two indoor pools, a “kids academy” with dance, art, music and tumbling studios for children, a business lounge with co-working space and conference rooms, a health-focused cafe and bar area, and an outdoor aquatic center with zero-depth entry pools, lap pools, waterslides and a poolside cafe.

Offering an extensive list of amenities and services “under one roof” is why Life Time considers itself an attraction for members, but Zwiefel said the company puts just as much emphasis on minute details such as scented towels in the yoga studio, shampoo and conditioner in the showers and the Life Time app, which allows members to schedule a hair appointment at the salon, track exercise and order lunch from LifeCafe.

Zwiefel said the Life Time brand reflects the way consumer tastes have evolved. And now more than ever, consumers prioritize experience-based entertainment and social connection, likely in response to the rise of technology.

But those trends aren’t only shaping national health club brands. Local fitness clubs are also working to evolve, especially in a highly competitive and ever-changing industry that’s seen a recent shift toward studio-based fitness.

“We had this conversation internally: is the time of the big club over? And our decision is absolutely not,” said Keith Nygren, president of Wisconsin Athletic Club. “People are looking every bit as much for that belonging, maybe more so than they were 40 years ago when we started.”

The WAC has grown since its 1976 founding to open eight Milwaukee-area locations and employ 1,200 people — all while staying true to its original concept as not only an athletic club, but also a social one, Nygren said.

When the WAC started its big attraction was racquetball, but these days its group fitness classes (more than 700 per week across all locations), “Club Pub” bars and tennis leagues have become some of its most popular features.

And that won’t change, even when national brands like Life Time enter the market.

“I don’t think we’ve done anything disruptive to our company as a result of any competition coming into town,” Nygren said.

That’s not to say the company doesn’t keep an eye on competition, he said, but it instead looks to its members when weighing big decisions, such as opening its eighth location in Lake Country or renovating its Wauwatosa facility.

And because it’s been in operation for decades, the WAC has both members and employees who have been a part of the club for multiple generations.

“The best people we wind up hiring are people who grew up in the club because they understand what our commitment is and they also see that it really hasn’t varied too much, and that’s not an accident,” Nygren said.

Milwaukee-based Elite Sports Clubs, which currently operates five locations, has been around for almost as long and, like the WAC, isn’t gun shy when it comes to competition.

Touting unique amenities such as music and dance lessons and ping pong and cornhole leagues, Elite said it continuously works to create a sense of belonging for its members while evolving with the industry.

“We are all too familiar with national brands moving into the Milwaukee market—some last, others don’t. We’re proud of the communities we have grown together with over the past three decades, and are glad they are continuing to be developed to attract more families to this great area we call home,” the company said in a statement.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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