The founder, chairman and CEO of Life Time Group Holdings sat in the first-floor bar at the Aug. 11 opening of his 160th club and explained how Life Time stands so far above the crowded fitness marketplace that it doesn’t have to worry about competition.
“Our goal is to create an incredibly exclusive experience but offer it inclusively to all kinds of people,” Bahram Akradi said at the Life Time Athletic Country Club in Downtown Palm Beach Gardens. “To do that you have to create a place that has a magnetism. … It has to be a completely elegant, Four Seasons-like experience every single day.”
He urges his employees to think of it like Disney.
“There were amusement parks before Disney showed up,” he said. Disney “came to Orlando but they built magic. They didn’t build an amusement park. They created extraordinary what was ordinary in other places. And Life Time is Disney of a healthy way of life.”
The four-story, pool-topped club is so unique it doesn’t compete with existing businesses, Akradi said. By raising health consciousness, it boosts them all, he said.
“It’s a unique offering that elevates not only the health and well-being of a community because we inspire and motivate tens of thousands of people to go do things that otherwise they wouldn’t go do. … And so people just become naturally healthier,” he said.
Local gyms that charge $20 or $40 a month are pursuing a different customer.
“We are at $249 a month. We are addressing a different side of the economic market and we don’t hurt them. They don’t hurt us,” he said.
Life Time absorbs Tribe Studio
While some local boutique fitness studios charge nearly that amount for monthly memberships, most charge much less and owners and managers say they don’t fear the corporate behemoth.
After four years, Bowers shut down her downtown Abacoa Tribe Studio and went to work for Life Time, taking her instructors and customers with her.
Tribe, which offered kettlebells, kickboxing, pilates and yoga, was beginning to break even less than two years after opening when COVID hit and forced a shutdown.
Business was on the rebound, she said, but then after nearly three years of construction, Life Time beckoned. It was nearing completion of its $60 million fitness center and parking garage, a project that Akradi said would cost nearly $100 million to replicate today. It’s the publicly traded company’s fourth Florida club and 160th nationwide.
Bowers knew Life Time would offer one-stop fitness with weightlifting, cycling, running, indoor pickleball, yoga, barre and swimming, plus a spa and cafes and child care and a poolside rooftop bar, and she feared the worst.
“I just knew I couldn’t compete with that. I hate to see that some of these mom-and-pops are going to be shutting down. They don’t know,” she said. “They assume Life Time is like LA Fitness. They just don’t know.”
She brought over eight of her 15 instructors and nearly half her 200 members to her job as a Life Time instructor. Life Time caps membership of the 136,000-square-foot Gardens facility at 4,500 and said membership neared 2,000 by opening day.
Can local studios survive Life Time?
Life Time has two yoga studios with space for about 40 mats in each. They’re on the second floor, with their own entry lounge and sound system on a floor with separate studios for barre, cycling and pilates. It’s a different vibe from the third floor, which is an open floor dominated by weight training, resistance machines, treadmills and stationary bikes. Locker rooms and a spa, with indoor pool, dominate the first floor.
Yoga classes follow a script developed by the company, rather than driven by instructors as is common at local studios.
To get enough teachers to lead three to four yoga classes a day, Life Time recruited from local studios. While some owners told teachers they couldn’t do both and many said no instructors made the jump, Hamsa Power Yoga at Military Trail and Donald Ross Road in Jupiter took a different approach. They allowed five instructors to teach at both places, co-owner Brittany McKay said.
She’s not worried that her students will end up there as well. Instead, McKay said she expects Life Time to introduce more people to yoga and result in more students all around.
“A lot of people start their yoga practice in a gym. That’s why I don’t have a problem with my teachers teaching there,” said McKay, who opened Hamsa about three years ago. “If that’s where they (students) want to start their yoga journey and they learn more about yoga, what a gift!”
For newcomers seeking the more spiritual side of yoga, boutique studios will be there to offer the teachings behind the physicality, she said.
“If you eat the same burger for five years aren’t you going to be like, ‘I wonder what the spicy burger is like?’” she asked.
‘We can all play in the same sandbox’
Life Time’s size and breadth doesn’t worry Kim Hoss, a co-owner of the CycleBar in Donald Ross Village at Military Trail and Donald Ross Road.
“We’re a different animal. We’re like ‘Cheers.’ Everyone knows your name,” she said. “They’re like a big corporate conglomerate. We’re local.
“I think we can all play in the same sandbox. … There’s a McDonalds and there’s a Capital Grille in the same town.”
Like many studio owners, she said Life Time reached out to recruit her instructors. None left, she said.
“Obviously we’re doing something right if none of our instructors went over there.”
At YogaSix near the Trader Joe’s on PGA Boulevard, customers pay $150 a month for unlimited access to six core yoga classes. Just 10 members and one instructor have left citing Life Time, Manager Shelby Peterson said. The departing customers typically were looking to combine multiple club memberships — yoga, swimming, lifting — into one.
At Club Pilates in downtown Abacoa, members pay $229 a month for unlimited time that includes resistance pilates, which is extra at Life Time.
General Manager Meaghan Soriero welcomed the competition. “I think it’s great. There’s definitely enough people with different budgets.”
Bowers, the senior instructor at Life Time, fears the worst for small business-owners. She compared it to being a hardware store when Home Depot comes to town.
“They’re telling you they’re not afraid,” she said. “But they are.”
© 2022 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.