Yesterday (12 January) saw Lululemon – the Canadian athleisure brand famed for its yoga pants – put its biggest stamp on the European market yet, with the opening of a two-storey 6,344 square foot flagship store on London’s Regent Street.
The shop is a physical manifestation of Lululemon’s high-end endorsement of both mindfulness and sweatiness. There’s a ‘community space’ that will host complementary exercise classes situated next to the Neat Nutrition café (which, naturally, serves up protein-heavy snacks laden with buckwheat and flax seed); there’s an interactive light installation that rewards visitors for both movement and stillness with dynamic artwork; and there’s a photobooth designed to help shoppers with their personal goals – goal-setting being a core principle of the Lululemon brand.
Designed by Dalziel & Pow, the European flagship is an impressive and clearly not inexpensive venture for the label, however it’s also one that is clearly important to the brand’s strategy. “Our stores are really the heart of Lululemon,” said Lindsay Claydon, its director of brand and community in Europe. “We feel this is how we started and also how we show our commitment to the community and our personality.
“It’s not just a retail store … it's a place to connect, and sweat. We would never get rid of [our bricks and mortar outlets].”
A slow set-up
Lululemon didn’t drop into the UK market – it rose up from it. Its entry was appropriately mindful and brand awareness has been formed in the grassroots of the affluent athletic community, with seeds planted in the form of its ambassadors long before Regent Street’s opening party.
“Our ambassador programme features [the likes of] yoga teachers, spin instructors and meditation experts in the local community,” explained Claydon. “We choose to support local talent and help to build their businesses … and then in turn they help us by giving us product feedback.
“We know that when we have an incredible relationship with someone, they're probably going to tell someone about it. Word of mouth seems to be the strongest form of communication and influence. I wouldn't say [the ambassador programme] is our marketing strategy because it just doesn't feel like the right word, but we definitely know it helps build our brand and get more people in the store and sweating, which then helps us achieve our goal.”
Logistically setting up shop in the UK was a slow process too, but one that was – again – forward-thinking and deliberate. Indeed Lululemon’s entry into any new country involves “a very cool” approach, according to Claydon.
“We have people show up on the ground to get a sense of where the best location to open is, and find and hire local people who can build the brand and really teach us where we should be and what we should do. That’s a really slow process. From there we open what we call a showroom – a really small store that gives us time to find the perfect store location like Regent Street.
She added: “It also lets us get to know the community, which allows us to not make as many mistakes as we could if we came over as North Americans thinking we knew exactly what London or the UK needed. It’s really helped us with our strategy.”
Beyond ambassadorship and a social media focus on content that can be shared “really easily” among the Lululemon shopper, the brand’s marketing has so far been pretty experiential. It plans to follow up its 2016 Sweatlife festival with another mass cardio and yoga event in July, and earlier this week launched a ‘Mediation bus’ onto the streets of London, giving commuters the chance to mediate on their journey to work.
Lululemon has also managed to embody a spirit of community in its above the line work, shunning the celebrity endorsements prolific in the athleisure in favour of featuring its ambassadors. Earlier this year the brand selected the Neat Nutrition founders and retired professional swimmers, Lee Forster and Charlie Turner, to star in the UK chapter of its ‘Success is yours’ campaign.
“We'll continue to invest in the constant quest for innovation and design … and what’s really important is that we talk to our guests and our ambassadors,” said Claydon. “We always ask: ‘What does the community need?’”