Ambassadors on a Mission for Lululemon
By Tom Ryan
While Lululemon Athletica eschews big-time celebrity endorsees,
it’s a big believer in the local celebrity.
Part of the yoga-themed retailer’s
success is traced to its efforts to turn fitness instructors within each community
into brand advocates. Those deemed “ambassadors” — who
often lead local yoga, spinning, Pilates and running classes — are given up
to $1,000 of free apparel a year in exchange for their input into the design
of new clothing. The ambassadors are also featured in communication material
such as posters inside each store, as well as in bios and blogs on the Lululemon
website. Since they’ll likely be wearing Lululemon when they teach, they are
also expected to serve as community models for the brand.
“I wear Lululemon, and I’d estimate that 90 percent of my clientele has
switched to Lululemon,” Michelle Cushing, owner of the Chicago fitness studio,
Dare to be Fit, told The Wall Street Journal.
Ambassadors also conduct free yoga, Pilate or conditioning sessions held
inside Lululemon stores, or lead many group runs orchestrated at each store.
While unpaid, leading such classes helps personal trainers find regular clients.
grassroots’ efforts — including a community board within
each store promoting local yoga classes and run groups, as well as the free
classes and ambassador efforts — are seen as integral in supporting the
retailer’s premium pricing despite minimal advertising. The average ticket
price is about $100.
Elena Gallo, a Chicago attorney who takes Pilates and boot-camp
classes with Ms. Cushing, told the Journal she only began buying Lululemon
merchandise after seeing her instructor wearing it. “I was always adamant
that I wouldn’t spend a fortune on workout clothes. … Now Lululemon is all
Lululemon last week reported second-quarter earnings more than
doubled on a 31 percent jump in comparable-store sales. Sales per square foot
are now over $1,530. It expects to open 20 to 25 new stores in 2011, up from
14 planned for this year. It ended the quarter with 130 in North American and
The Journal listed a number of challenges to Lululemon’s
future success. Besides establishing an infrastructure to support aggressive
expansion, the market for higher-price fitness apparel may be more limited
than projected, lower-priced imitators may arrive, and a backlash against Lululemon’s
success may occur within the yoga community. Bigger sporting goods players
like Nike or Adidas that spend millions marketing and locking up endorsements
from celebrity athletes are also pursuing the emerging women’s fitness opportunity.
Discussion Questions: How much of a competitive advantage does Lululemon
gain from initiatives such as its ambassador program, free classes, etc.? What
are the main challenges going forward as Lululemon ramps up expansion efforts?
- Lululemon Grows Fast on a Slim Budget – The Wall Street Journal
- Fitness community buy-in works for Lululemon – The Tampa Tribune
- Behind the Lululemon phenomenon – The Toronto Star
- Lululemon Athletica CEO Discusses Q2 2010 – Seeking Alpha
- Lululemon Athletica inc. Announces Second Quarter Fiscal 2010 Results – Lululemon