The Vuori COVID-19 story: Closed stores and open minds
When we were forced to temporarily close Vuori’s five activewear stores in Encinitas, Del Mar, Newport Beach, Manhattan Beach and San Francisco on March 13 due to the coronavirus outbreak, I had two main questions around what the closures would mean for our associates and the future of our physical retail business.
First, how could we leverage this time to emerge on the other side a stronger business? Second, was there an opportunity for our 41 retail associates, now unable to physically enter their places of work, to expand their skills and support our other departments?
By Monday, March 16th we launched a three-pronged program to provide retail associates with a mix of training, project work and organization-wide redeployment. The plan was designed to enable our retail staff to meet their hourly averages during store closures, but also put our company in a unique position to eventually reopen our stores with a heightened level of service.
As for training, associates each spend 15 hours weekly to become experts across five focus areas: product, brand and culture, sales and service, operations and community. During training sessions, associates partake in in-depth product lessons with our design team, one-on-one conversations with founder/CEO Joe Kudla, and sessions covering storewide roles and operations. Every morning, associates join Vuori’s Active Club, daily fitness classes broadcast on Instagram Live spanning breathwork, yoga and other activities that provide an authentic product experience. Last but not least, associates have been enrolled in Yale’s “The Science of Wellbeing” course.
For our redeployment efforts, our retail team is working closely with leadership to identify departments that could benefit from boosted manpower. These departments have included: marketing, which now has five retail associates assisting with social media strategies; customer service, where four associates are supporting the explosive uptick in e-commerce transactions; and product, where associates are testing product and reporting feedback to the design team.
Each day, our retail associates are challenged to brainstorm on how things might unravel during the coming months across in-store technology, the omnichannel shopping experience, events and activations, and customer experience. Through this uncertain time, after all, our core belief has been that we must remain nimble, willing and able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. As we strive to meet each day’s challenges and encourage innovation within one another, I look forward to the day we can safely reopen our stores stronger than ever.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of Vuori’s decision to train and deploy its retail staff in new areas after closing its stores due to COVID-19? Which of the five areas of its associate training program — product, brand and culture, sales and service, operations or community — are most commonly lacking in other retail businesses?