Lululemon Athletica passed the $1 billion sales mark last month, joining the ranks of Under Armour (which hit the mark in 2010). At upwards of $80 a pop for a pair of Wunder Unders (leggings) or a Define Jacket (zip-up), how does such a high-end brand appeal to the average athlete and keep attracting new customers? Speaking from experience as an avid yogi-wannabe, I resisted Lululemon’s clothing for a long, long time. Then I received a gift card for Christmas. And now I’m hooked. So, beyond the stylish clothes with quirky names and near-lifetime warranties, what makes the Lulu Kool-Aid so tasty?
– Community engagement: Every month Lululemon partners with a different fitness organization and hosts a weekly community class. Classes aren’t necessarily yoga focused, just centered on fitness. You sign up, and Lululemon foots the bill. Talk about establishing good will – with the customer and with local organizations. Lululemon also hosts regular in-store yoga classes and run clubs, free of charge. Emerge from your yoga practice happy and Zen, and you’re conveniently back in the Lululemon store, surrounded by its clothes. Then, influenced by endorphins and Lululemon’s goodwill, try to convince yourself you don’t need another $50 Power Y Tank (yoga top).
– Personal connection: Through clever brand positioning, Lululemon makes its clothes almost secondary to what the brand stands for. It’s not about stylish pieces of athletic apparel; it’s about a lifestyle. Reusable shopping bags are emblazoned with commandments: Friends are more important than money. Do one thing a day that scares you. Employees are encouraged to establish 1 year, 5 year and 10 year goals. These goals are prominently displayed in stores, and the same goal sheets are available for customers to download online. The brand takes on an inspirational quality; Lululemon doesn’t just want to dress you, it wants to encourage you to realize and accomplish your goals. That’s a bold aspiration for retail.
– Brand advocates: Fitness instructors are given a 15 percent discount on Lululemon clothes – Lululemon calls it Team R&D. And to extend it further, Lululemon identifies ambassadors around the world who embody the brand lifestyle and live the culture. So when you go to class and see your instructor masterfully kicking your butt – and lookin’ pretty darn good doing it – you’ve (subconsciously or not) equated being in shape with looking good and looking good with Lululemon.
It’s impossible to back peddle and create a company culture and mission as strong as Lululemon’s. In order to be as pervasive, genuine and ultimately lucrative as Lululemon’s brand has thus far proven to be, the ideals must form the foundation of the company from the get go. Will the demand for Wunder Unders wane? Perhaps. But I think brands can learn some lasting lessons from Lululemon’s powerful mantras. Namaste.