Founded in 1998, Lululemon is a yoga and sports apparel company from Canada.
Although its first store was opened in 2000, the company sold $350 million worth of products in their 113 retail stores 8 years later.
In 2012, Lululemon was reported to have the third most productive retail stores in the US, only behind Apple and Tiffany & Co..
According to Nina Gardner, Lululemon’s community relations manager, the company achieved all this almost entirely via word-of-mouth, and with ads in only two publications:
We don’t do ads. All of our marketing is done word-of-mouth and grassroots Gardner said. The only place you’ll see ads is in ‘Yoga Journal’ and ‘Runner’s World,’ two national publications.
Let’s take a look at how a company that started off selling yoga pants managed to grow so big from leveraging on word-of-mouth:
1. Lululemon’s customers are eager to show off their inspirational-poster themed shopping bags, just as they might on Pinterest.
Lululemon is all about living an active life, evidenced by their goal to “sweat every day”, and other activities like breathing deeply, drinking plenty of water and going outdoors.
These values promote a very positive and healthy image, something that customers can relate to and aspire towards. And customers who shop at Lululemon are given tote bags that have the company’s manifesto emblazoned all over them:
The feel-good quotes on the bags serve as a form of “social snack“: something we look at to make ourselves feel better throughout the day.
By associating the brand with these values, customers would feel as if they’re “connecting with her best self” as they buy their yoga pants.
Word-of-mouth action tip: Make something about your product worth showing off to others.
2. Lululemon staff feel more like your yoga or gym buddies – they’ll happily talk to you more about yoga and goal-setting than their products.
Lululemon store staffers wear yoga pants so they feel more like yoga or gym buddies (Click Image To Enlarge)
Lululemon’s store employees “are encouraged to discuss exercise goals with customers and take into account their feedback written on chalkboards in the fitting rooms.” This ensures the staff are better equipped with more information to give personalized recommendations to every customer.
They are also instructed to dress like they were going for a workout, so customers would see them more as people you see in a gym or yoga class, rather than a store employee.
Plus, most people who work at Lululemon are athletic and fit individuals, so they have a lot in common with their customers. This relatibility and similarity makes them a lot more likeable, and customers are more comfortable trusting them.
And this building of relationships is exactly what Nina Gardner is trying to achieve:
"Making sure we’re really building those relationships (with customers) — that’s what really sets us apart from being just another retail store that’s opening up to sell clothes. Absolutely we sell clothes, but we are building relationships. We are supporting communities.”
Word-of-mouth action tip: Don’t rush into selling your products – connect with your customers like a friend, so they’ll like you more, and open up to you.
3. Retail stores transform into fitness and conversation hubs on weekends for free lessons, to give back and get people involved with the brand.
For one of their stores in Burlingame, California hosts free yoga classes on Saturday mornings and Sundays, as well as a weekday run club. This practice originated from Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, who used his office space as a yoga studio at night to help pay for rent back in the day.
This, according to former CEO Christine Day, positions Lululemon stores as a “fitness and conversation hub”. It also increases customer engagement, encourages regular visits to the store, and keeps the brand constantly top-of-mind.
What having similar-minded individuals for store employees and free fitness classes in-store does is – it evolves customers’ perception of the brand from being an apparel company to an entity that embodies your ideals, and a community to find like-minded people.
Christian Buss, a Wall Street analyst described Lululemon’s brand identity to a fitness partner:
"They’re selling a brand identity…the model that Lululemon is trying to build is, you’re pretty cool, we’ll be your partner in being your best possible self. And that kind of turns retail on its head."
Word-of-mouth action tip: Leverage your existing assets to contribute to your community.
4. Lululemon engages fitness trainers and athletes as brand Ambassadors to inspire and engage with their customers, so they can feel motivated to keep fit.
Nicole Katz from Yoga 216 is one of the many brand ambassadors of Lululemon (Click Image To Enlarge)
So if Lululemon organizes free yoga and fitness classes regularly all throughout the world, who exactly leads all those classes?
They are Lululemon’s brand ambassadors; yoga teachers and fitness trainers that have chosen embody the brand’s values and lifestyle.
These 1,500+ ambassadors host classes in Lululemon stores within their communities, and according to a yoga teacher from Australian fitness group OzSquad, get support from the brand to pursue any events and initiatives they desire.
Of course, they’re also outfitted with the Lululemon products, so they get to wear free gear while promoting their own yoga schools and the Lululemon brand.
Word-of-mouth action tip: Celebrate and promote individuals who embody your brand values, so customers will think of you when they look at them.
Lululemon has always been a brand that connects their products with values that inspire their customers. People buy Lululemon pants because they agree with the values that Lululemon embodies and expresses.
And that can be a powerful thing, as branding expert and author Karen Post explains,
"They’re selling emotion and happiness and joy and feeling good about yourself, … and when companies keep their eye on that in a more focused way, and less on the features of the product, their chances of being a successful brand just go through the roof."
Questions to ponder:
- What are some values that your target customers live by?
- Does your company embody and communicate those same values in your marketing?
- How can you create a positive and engaging community, where your customers can interact with your brand?
COMMENTARY: Based in Vancouver BC, lululemon is known for their athletic apparel, including clothing for yoga, running and any other “sweaty pursuits.” Customers can not only buy clothing and merchandise but they can also sign up for in-store events ranging from workshops, runs and yoga classes, offered on a weekly basis and tailored to the local surroundings. To personalize the in-store experience, lululemon educators and community ambassadors can be found in every store to talk to customers about healthy living, yoga, exercise etc. The ambassadors program is composed of individuals who adhere to the same lifestyle and cultural ideals oflululemon, and can share their expertise with the local community.
Lululemon Athletica retail stores have taken the store and shopping experience to a new level. Julia Brunzell, Manager of Store Design at lululemon atheletica discusses the unique in-store experience that the brand provides.
“We are constantly listening to feedback about how guests experience our stores and how they function for our educators. Every store designer works in the stores to experience firsthand how the space is used, what works best for flow, product visibility and efficiency. In addition, we want every store to feel like a part of its community from the first day it opens; we invite our guests to hang out, chat with our educators and learn about local yoga/fitness studios. Every week, our stores push aside their product fixtures and open the store up to the community for a complimentary yoga class.
Our stores are designed to be conversation starters, while also being fundamentally warm, inviting, eclectic and accessible to everyone. Over the years our fixtures have become more streamlined, modern and modular which allows for flexibility and creativity with visual displays. We are known for our unique, creative and locally relevant storefront designs which range from making a big design statement to a fun reflection of the community we are joining. For example, our Burlington, VT location is a strong ski community so we used two gondolas as benches outside to create an eye-catching and locally relevant storefront. At our Houston Galleria mall location, we designed our storefront using glass windows that look like those from a space shuttle, a nod to the nearby Houston Space Centre.”
There have also been many changes within the lululemon brand. Recently, the brand has launched a new fast fashion clothing line, &Go. With apparel ranging from dresses to pants and tank tops, the line is set to be offered online and storewide. With this change comes another in the men’s clothing division. Lululemon is set to open a standalone men’s store by 2016. The brand offers a range of men’s clothing on its website, including jackets, hoodies, pants, socks and underwear. Finally, with lululemon’s latest expansion into the European market, it will be interesting to see how these developments continue to affect the stores and brands initiatives worldwide.
When Julie Brunzell was asked how these changes and expansions affect the store design concepts and whether consumers will begin to see larger stores, pop up shops etc. to showcase the new clothing lines, she said.
“As a company focused on innovation, we are always evaluating how we design our stores and with that comes continuous examination of layout principles, space planning, size and location. We aim to create community and shopping experiences that speak to our guests and settings which vary from city to city. Entrepreneurship is one of our core business values and as a business that is grounded in community, we enable and support store managers to have a hand in creating spaces that resonate with their guests and their community.”
Lululemon Store Of The Future
Lululemon just opened a new flagship store in New York City's Flatiron District. At 11,500 square feet, it's the brand's largest flagship location. Its Union Square location closed its doors.
The Flatiron District is home to many other stores that specialize in athleisure — Sweaty Betty and Athleta, to name a few. But that makes sense: The area has many of the most popular boutique fitness studios — Flywheel Sports, Exhale, SLT, Pure Barre, and two SoulCycle studios that are mere blocks apart.
And Lululemon is capitalizing on that. One of the new store's features, The Concierge, will dedicate floor space to helping shoppers beyond the sales floor.
The Concierge at Lululemon's Flatiron District store in Manhattan (Click Image To Enlarge)
The Concierge will recommend nearby classes and locations, so that the exercise-obsessed shoppers can don their new pants in class. To top that off, shoppers can book classes while they're shopping.
The Concierge will be a hangout spot — there will be a "community board" to help shoppers discover new places to run, new classes, and even new places to eat.
The Community Center located inside Lululemon's flagship store in the Flatiron District of Manhattan (Click Image To Enlarge)
Lululemon will make shopping a luxurious experience, with a coat check, water, a coffee bar, snacks, and a phone-charging station. You can also have your purchases delivered to your home, office, or hotel, so no need for lugging big Lululemon bags around during the day.
The company is focusing on expanding its already-strong community with a new space called Hub Seventeen. Hub Seventeen will be above the store's retail floor.
Carla Anderson, Lululemon's general manager of US retail, said in emailed comments.
"Our stores are inspired by community, from the design aesthetic and in-store guest experiences and classes to our ambassador and studio partnerships."
Chairs hang from the ceiling inside the Community Events Center of Lululemon's flagship store in the Flatiron District of Manhattan (Click Image To Enlarge)
The 5,000-square-foot space will be used for fitness classes, monthly dinners, concerts, art shows, and more.
Lululemon's stores already have yoga classes, but Hub 17 will take it up a notch.
"While all of our stores offer in-store yoga and fitness class and events, Hub Seventeen is the first time we created a dedicated community space separate from the retail experience."
The Community Events Center inside Lululemon's flagship Flatiron District store includes an area for yoga exercise demonstrations (Click Image To Enlarge)
Don't worry, Lululemon acolytes — there's a vast retail floor.
The retail floor located inside Lululemon's flagship Flatiron District store (Click Image To Enlarge)
There's a great chance that many other forthcoming Lululemon stores will follow suit.
"Our flagship stores in particular are designed to elevate the community in new and unique ways, often serving as a testing ground for new guest experiences and retail innovations."