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Copyright 2014 Journal Sentinel Inc.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)
RICK ROMELL, rromell@journalsentinel.com Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Menomonee Falls Kevin Mansell on the Menomonee Falls - Look for Kohl's Corp. CEO Kevin Mansell on the elliptical machines at the company's new multimillion-dollar employee fitness center, maybe even in the middle of the work day.

Mansell, 61, was a longtime runner until his knees began protesting a couple of years ago. He switched to easy-on-the-joints elliptical workouts, hitting the gym three or four times a week in the winter but tending to slack off in summer.

Now he's lost an excuse. Kohl's this week joined the growing group of companies that are encouraging their employees to get, or stay, healthy by offering an on-site corporate fitness center.

The big retailer's gym, just across Silver Spring Drive from the company headquarters, covers 14, 000 square feet in a sleek building filled with natural light.

Run by Wisconsin Athletic Club, it has 33 cardio workout machines, about 20 weight machines, a cushioned floor and enough free weights to test an outside linebacker. There are two studios for fitness classes, and well-appointed locker rooms.

"I'm very confident people are going to utilize this," Mansell said Tuesday as he walked through the center during an open house. "We've already had a tremendous amount of signups."

Even before the fitness center was ready for viewing, some 700 Kohl's employees registered for membership. The cost is $25 a month, but if people use the place eight times a month, it's free. Employees also can opt for a $55-a-month membership that also gives them access to all seven Wisconsin Athletic Club public locations - again, free if they go to the gym eight times a month.

Kohl's thought about simply not charging at all for the fitness center, Mansell said, but decided, after talking with executives from other companies and with the Wisconsin Athletic Club, that it was better to give employees an incentive to use it.

He also said the company wants employees to work out during the day if their schedules allow - the sort of flexibility that might require managers to set the example.

Wisconsin Athletic Club also runs on-site corporate fitness centers in the Milwaukee area for Johnson Controls, Direct Supply and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, and does programming for other firms, too, CEO Ray O'Connor said.

"We continue to see it grow each year," he said of interest by companies in promoting employee fitness. Other firms that have established fitness centers include Harley-Davidson; Trek Bicycle in Waterloo; and Schneider, the trucking and logistics company in Green Bay.

Large companies usually are, like Kohl's, self insured, and the benefits of a fitter, more-active workforce include reduced health-care costs. "But it also helps with morale and productivity," O'Connor said.

The Kohl's gym is part of the company's new wellness center, which also includes a CVS-run pharmacy and a medical clinic operated in partnership with Columbia St. Mary's. Kohl's had a clinic and pharmacy before, but the new operations are much larger.

In a sense, all this springs in part from Kohl's disappointing - though still very profitable - financial performance of the last few years. Mansell said a lot of the difficulties stem from macro forces beyond the company's control, but that Kohl's also has been asking, "What are all the things we need to do differently, to innovate differently, that will build a better next five years."

That questioning led to a recently unveiled "greatness agenda" that emphasizes, among other things, the need to attract and retain talented employees. The fitness center and expanded clinic and pharmacy are steps along that path.

"An active and healthy workforce is a ticket to success," Mansell said.

Copyright 2014, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

"An active and healthy workforce is a ticket to success." Kevin Mansell, Kohl's CEO

Copyright, 2014, Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.

June 5, 2014

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