From Brand to Lovemark: Lululemon Athletica
Lululemon Athletica has grown from a small Canadian retailer of yoga-inspired clothing and accessories in 1998 to be a major contender in the global sports apparel market. Over the past three years, the company has posted profits, “with nine quarters in which sales rose 30% or more from the year before” (Wall Street Journal). Its stock value is higher than J.C. Penney and the company sells more per square foot than luxury retailer Neiman Marcus. Lululemon’s yoga wear has become so covetable that other brands, such as Nike and adidas, have developed their own yoga lines in order to edge into this lucrative market. However, Lululemon is not looking to rest on its laurels in the midst of growing competition; already the company has hit its $1 billion revenue mark in January.
There are many brands in female sports apparel, but few that distinguish themselves as Lovemarks. Brands produce solid products and services, but in today’s competitive world functional benefits are table stakes. The design, material and technology used to create and improve sport apparel differ slightly from one brand to another. You may get varied colors and alternative cuts, and the name on the label may read differently, but fundamentally consumers expect such products to perform at a standard level.
Lululemon is an example of a company that has moved from being a brand to dominating Lovemarks territory in its market. Let’s look at some ways in which it’s won Respect and used Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy to create a brand that is irresistible.
A current issue in retailing is the affect that variable pricing has on consumer loyalty. Constant sales and regular discounting has been found to not endear a brand any more to a shopper and sometimes can even have an adverse effect on brand equity. Unlike other brands in its market, Lululemon sells 95% of its stock at full price – and at a price that is often higher. The company’s dedication to the quality of its products seems to have earned the respect of its consumers and is reflected in Lululemon’s belief that women will pay for priceless value. Lululemon customers want great products and the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
When Lululemon was first established, it worked towards providing people with the “knowledge, tools and the components for people to live longer, healthier and more fun lives”. It was a mission statement that the company found unachievable; a goal that focused on the brand itself. With this realization, Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson, revised Lululemon’s mission and replaced it with a dream: To elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness. It was a dream not only for the company and its employees, but a dream that connected with women everywhere who desired only the best from themselves and their lives.
A key differentiator between Lululemon and its competitors is that its retail stores are designed to be a hub of activity and action with the desire to positively influence the health of local communities. During the week, Lululemon retail stores across the globe roll away their merchandise and displays to offer yoga classes to the public, and hold events in-store for other athletic groups. Besides the brightly colored merchandise and earthy decorative design, using its retail space in alternative ways introduces a whole new tier of sensory experience to the Lululemon brand. A richer and deeper brand association is created by reaching the senses beyond retail design, ambience and packaging. A participant in a yoga class may walk away feeling energized, with a sense of calm and an endorphin buzz.
The walls of Lululemon stores are graced with staff profiles that not only help customers identify a sales representative by name, but visitors can familiarize themselves with an employee’s personal goals. It’s an unusual approach to creating customer intimacy, but Lululemon is a believer that strong brand relationships are grown from the inside out. By providing goal setting and coaching guidance, the company empowers its staff to live the Lululemon dream – and at a point of sale what better strategy could there be than sending a brand advocate onto the shop floor?