Andrea Wise is a top rated fitness, nutrition and wellness power-house who is passionate about helping her clients bring their demanding lives into balance. The woman behind AndreaWiseLifestyle.com has been at the forefront of elite fitness since her days as a Division I collegiate softball player. She is the owner and head coach at ASCEND, the highly acclaimed boutique training center in downtown Chicago serving the ‘who’s who’ of Chicago business executives, entrepreneurs, and creatives.
How did you get into the industry?
Growing up, I was an athlete. I did gymnastics, ice-skating, swimming, and ballet. Then I found softball and really liked it, so I played competitively and in college. After that, I didn't really want to leave the industry, so I found the opportunity to work in a local gym in Chicago as a floor trainer.
Any emerging industry trends?
I'm feeling that, right now, a sense of community and smaller boutique studios is something that's more prevalent. You see all these different specialty studios popping up that have yoga, cycling, or something restorative and then there's a juice bar – all of them trying to foster a sense of community. I don't want to say that people are straying away from big box gyms, but I feel that a lot of people will go to their said gym and also visit these other boutique studios because they really enjoy their experience or they like the special attention or enjoy the services that are offered.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Technology is also a big piece that's really infiltrating the industry. Industry leaders are asking - How can we work more efficiently? How can we track things more effectively? How does that help us streamline things throughout the day? How can we chart and progress where we were versus where we want to go AND show that to people that are coming in? Technology is definitely a big piece that will probably continue to grow with the industry.
Yet, here at Ascend, we aren't super tech-savvy. For example, most of us don't use wearables with our clients or have them put one on when they come in. One of the things I feel that people love about our studio is the one-on-one personal attention. People still want to feel like a human. They don't want to feel like they're another number. Our sense of community, the people we have here, and their level of expertise is definitely something that sets us apart. Most of the people that work here have been in the industry for 10+ years in their discipline. People can come to someone for one thing, but also have the ability to come back to the same place to see experts in a multitude of different fields. That's something that makes us a bit unique even though we aren't necessarily on the tech side. Technology is important, and, sometimes, we do bring in others to host workshops and events where they are utilizing a new piece of technology (such as guided meditation) and the clients there are excited to have those options. But generally, we like to keep the human component.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
The inspiration for my business was pretty organic – I had gone through the ranks as a floor trainer all the way to the management track. At this point, I had worked at a couple larger well-known companies that had a national footprint and got a lot of experience in management and facility maintenance. Then, I felt like I wanted to take the leap and try something on my own. So I did. I left and started my own brand in 2012.. I was primarily doing one-on-one personal training, yet I still wanted to figure out how I could set myself apart from other people in the industry. I rebranded into Andrea Wise Lifestyle in 2015 and started to entertain a space of my own. I wanted a space where colleagues that I work with could also have a place to offer their craft. The best way to do this would be in a boutique setting where people of different expertise and different disciplines could be under one roof but in a smaller settling.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
You know the future is...they always say that you need to have a plan. I believe in that, but I also believe in trying to figure out where the demand is and how you can get more people engaged. The future of Ascend is continuing to grow the brand awareness and introduce new people into our community that can appreciate and see the value in the space.
Right now, we do a handful of different special events and workshops. We have the capacity to do so much more because Ascend is a private space with a lot of flexibility. I like to support other local entrepreneurs and other health and wellness professionals that don't have their own brick and mortar space. And then outside of that, I don't know, maybe there's areas in other places besides Chicago that would like to have an Ascend.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Back to what I discussed before, I think part of the success of the business has been inviting others to share in the space at Ascend. The space is relatively open, yet still small, and it allows us to provide and offer a variety of different experiences under one roof. My partnerships with the Pilates instructors, personal trainers, massage therapists, and physical therapist have all yielded such a strong sense of community. Clients are continuing to return to the space for different services. I have a number of clients that I train one-on-one, who also come to the facility for Pilates or massage. Most recently, I also partnered with someone to host a six-week mediation series. That was really exciting to have all these different people in the studio and to watch clients who come regularly also participate or support the workshop by engaging with something new.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I am someone who is somewhat of a pleaser. So, it has been a challenge for me to draw hard lines in the sand with people that are my friends or people I’ve known for years. When I was managing before in corporate America, I didn't feel the same way. It was very black and white, and it wasn't my company. I could default and say, "Well, I don't have a choice, that's what the company wants to do," or "these are the rules.” But, now, I’m the making up the rules, I’m the person making all of the decisions. And I’m starting something from scratch, trying to get all the structures in place. , I’m constantly juggling what's going to make the most sense on the business side while ensuring the best customer experience. And, as the business is still growing, there are sometimes things that have to shift in order for the business to run more efficiently. I want all of my colleagues to feel supported, but it sometimes means that one person doesn’t get what they want. My head and my heart are constantly in battle and, while I’ve ultimately gotten better, I still struggle sometimes with the conflict that comes with not giving people what they want.
Being an entrepreneur is hard - that’s nothing new. Being a female entrepreneur is also hard. I've really tried to embrace the process and minimize mistakes. Everything takes longer than it's supposed to, everything's always over budget, and everything typically does not go as planned. I’ve learned that I have to be fluid and just figure it out as I go. Being flexible and resourceful has been really important.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
The ideal customer experience would be that they walk into the space and they're pleasantly surprised. The space is bright, airy and light. I want them to experience the beauty of the space in general, notice the cleanliness (that's something that's really big for me) and make sure that the people they encounter are friendly. We want them to feel good when they come into the space - everything from the soap that's used in the bathrooms to the flowers to the music that's playing - we want them to feel a sense of community and want them to want to come back. Since the space is open, I also want them to see what’s happening in the facility, like "oh, what's that person doing?" or "I've never done that," or "I didn't know you offered that." It exposes them to the various services offered and I think the variety makes it more inviting.
How do you motivate others?
With my personal clients, I focus on what's important to them - do they want to look better, do they want to feel better, do they want to perform better? I stay in tune with the individual, even as it changes from time to time, and keep motivation by reminding them why they want their particular goal. It's never about me, it's about them.
The same goes for the other people that I work with. People enter the fitness industry for different reasons. Most often, it’s because we enjoy helping people or we've been able to overcome something ourselves in a certain field and want to help empower others. I feel that when you're working with instructors or people in other disciplines, you need to find out why they're doing what they're doing. Do they want to share their story? Do they want to help people? Do they want to make more money? And I feel like people don’t like to talk about that last one. I won’t say that it’s taboo, but everybody needs to pay their bills and so, if people are really good with in their field and can make a lot of money and help people, that's kind of a two-for-one and they should feel good about it. Finding out what individuals want and need, whether it's managing people, or coaching or motivating clients, I think that's most important piece.
Career advice to those in your industry?
If you want to have your own business or build you own brand, it has to be something that you're truly passionate about. It needs to be something that you can eat and breathe and doesn't necessarily feel like work. Because when you start your own business, you're in it. You're in the trenches, you're in it, day in and day out, and it's all you do and all you see. So, if it's not something that you fully embrace - it's probably not the best idea.
What do I do best?
I'm really good with people. A variety of different people. Older, younger, business people, people from all walks of life. I'm good at talking with them, engaging and getting to know about them. I think that I'm a very good listener and ask open-ended questions to learn more about someone.
What makes me the best version of myself?
Being authentic. I feel that being authentically interested in what people are doing or who people are has gotten me far. It's allowed me to build real relationships with people. When I meet people that I'm not so interested in - I'm not going to be fake about it. My coach used to say, "Fake it till you make it" and I think that applies to certain things, like when you don't feel like doing a workout, but I don't think that applies when you're talking about people and dealing with relationships. I'm just very aware when I find people that I click with and have commonalities with versus those I don’t.
What are my aspirations?
I want to travel more. It makes me feel almost like a kid again - there's just something that's really interesting about traveling and learning about different foods and cultures I would travel anywhere. There's not one place where I feel like, "Oh, I want to go there." I just want to go everywhere. When you have those different experiences, you look through a different lens.
In terms of business ambitions, it might sound weird, but I definitely feel like there's something much bigger in store for me. I don't know what yet. It doesn't necessarily have to do with Ascend, I just feel like there's some bigger purpose for me.
My Biggest Success?
Going from being a small-town girl (from a town that didn't even have a stop light) to living and working as an entrepreneur in one of the biggest cities in the country. That's kind of a big deal. I didn't grow up on a farm. Just a small-town girl with a really small class and all of those things. Funny where life takes you.
My Most Challenging Moment?
I'm not a spring chicken but I'm not super old. However, being that I'm in my mid-30s and not married and not with any kids, I feel like it is a little bit of an outlier, especially for the Midwest. There are a lot of people who are married with kids and still do their business but when I’m out there, networking with women, I just don’t meet a lot of women that are my age that have never been married and don't have any kids. It wasn't a specific set decision that I made, it's more an observation of where I am right now.
I'm not saying that I'm not going to do those things, but when I was in my twenties, I didn’t notice it. In the mid-30s, it's a question that comes up more frequently. I never really thought about it until people started asking me about it and then I became more aware like "Is that weird?" or "Am I viewed as not normal because of those things?" And I feel like it's becoming more and more accepted that women don't have to be married and have families or can have families and not be married. But, in this age range, it starts to be a topic of conversation or a question and I'm like, "Is that really any of your business? Like, why does that matter?" "Does that make me a better person, a lesser person? Like does that change who I am?" No, I'm still me.
Eat clean. Train hard. Love life.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
My clients are some of my favorite people because I know their story and what they've accomplished. Being an athlete all my life, there's different athletes whose stories motivate me at different times. But I can't say that there's just one. Over the years as I've grown, it might be a book at one point or it might be a specific person or a story. Most recently, I’ve been reading Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough. I like to open it up just to some random page and it has different quotes and different sayings on it and pick one of the pages and read it for the day.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
I really enjoy this little place in Mexico that I've been visiting. It's a private beach strip and it has a wetland area. It is the furthest thing from a tourist trap - it’s just perfect. t's very calm and I love the people that live and take care of the property. It feels like home to me. I also really enjoy my bed. It's great. A place for me to just relax and meditate – things that I need on a daily basis to help me stay grounded and centered.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
I love Vital Proteins, I use lots of their products. I love and have certain crystals that I keep with me all the time. The collection has grown over time and they have different meanings. I’m a huge fan of a multitude of different seamless leggings since that seems to be my daily uniform. I have dabbled in some different brands that Carbon38 carries in my search to find my new favorite seamless leggings. Can't live without my phone. Can't do anything without my phone.
My Current Passions?
Despite being in the health and fitness industry, I'm a huge foodie. It’s ultimately all about balance but we’re on this earth for a short time and we get one chance. With that in mind, "I'm never going to NOT eat that " or say "I can't ever have X" is just not in my vocabulary. It's not how I live, and I don't feel like it's realistic. And when people set those parameters, it limits a lot of experiences and people that one could potentially meet. There's also a sense of community around food, so I think that it's a great way to meet other people and just have new experiences. I love going out to new restaurants and going back to the same places. There's a bunch of places where I'm a regular because I love the customer experience and the relationships that I've built with people. I'm a big bar girl, so that's typically where I sit, and I make friends with the bartender. I see and meet interesting people when I sit at a bar and I’ve had great conversations with people that turn into friends.
Even though I love food - on the day to day, I hate having to incorporate food into my schedule - I hate having to be like, "Okay, what's for dinner?" I find food as an inconvenience when my schedule is hectic.
I have to take time out of my busy day to eat food and I'm such a slow eater, that's it's even more inconvenient.