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Luck or Strategy? The Case of Lululemon

December 05, 2020


Luck or Strategy? The Case of Lululemon

There is no doubt this year has been a tough one for so many organizations. Think forced closures and staged reopenings, limited capacity, extra safety precautions, customer concerns. We’ve had a lot to navigate!

At the end of the year, people like to take a bit of a retrospective. We like to do “best of” lists and “worst of” entries. We like being able to draw lessons from examples. That lets us avoid mistakes and draw on best practices in our own strategies.

Recently, Strategy named Lululemon as one of its top brands of the year—which got me thinking. Was the sports apparel giant’s success down to its strategy, or did it just get lucky? Let’s take a look.

A Community-Focused Strategy

Lululemon was founded 20 years ago, in Vancouver, BC. It’s since gone on to become thename in yoga-wear. We can say that’s strategy, or we can call it a little bit of luck. There’s been a huge boom in mindfulness, meditation, and fitness in the past decade or so. That has no doubt contributed to yoga’s popularity. That, in turn, has made Lululemon into a household name.

The brand’s made its missteps over the years as well. One of its founders insulted many customers by implying they were the problem when products were of poor quality.

At the same time, this Canadian atheleisure company has done a lot to grow a grassroots movement around the brand. That could be one reason it’s become the name in yoga apparel. From the start, the company has avoided celebrity endorsements. They chose to focus less on famous faces and more on familiar ones—local brand ambassadors.

Retail stores worked as “community hubs,” to a degree. There were yoga classes to sign up for. You could join other brand enthusiasts on weekend mornings as an instructor led you through sun salutations.

A Brand Poised for a Pandemic

This focus on community—and the fact these initiatives have already started bearing fruit—is likely the foundation for success.

While Lululemon shuttered retail locations during lockdowns, the community concept travelled easily online. The company started a virtual program, where customers could connect with each other, brand ambassadors, and employees and instructors. And yes, they could still get their workout routine in.

People already had these connections. They didn’t need to ask where to turn when their local gym had to close down or they were under stay-at-home orders. They popped over to the Lululemon website to see what the company was doing. While they were there, they might have ordered a new yoga mat for home use—since they couldn’t get to the gym any longer.

If they were already in yoga classes, they might have received an email or a message from their favourite instructor.

The company’s acquisition of Mirror, a product that provides feedback while you train in front of it and even lets you join virtual classes, in July this year makes a lot of sense. It ups the ante on home workouts, as well as giving people better access to those virtual classes. Lululemon has also signalled it will integrate features that make it possible for class participants to buy items the instructor is wearing. That's a seamless blend of sales and marketing with fitness tech.

This sure seems like Lululemon was almost ready for the pandemic. They had answers to everything from “what do I do in lockdown” to “how can I stay connected while I’m stuck at home?” Given the community-mindedness of lockdowns, it’s not surprising they posted increased sales in Q2.

Is It Strategy or Is It Luck?

It sure seems like Lululemon’s strategy paid off. Just last year, CEO Calvin McDonald introduced a new, three-pronged strategy. The building blocks are innovation, new markets, and omnichannel experiences.

Going virtual lined up with that “omnichannel” experience. It’s now possible for people to access free workouts and stay connected via the brand’s own community-hub, as well as social media. They used the popular app Strava to let people track workouts together, so the community could motivate each other. They also took their SeaWheeze half-marathonvirtual. They even sponsored community-led events in new-to-the-retailer markets, like local grassroots triathlon events.

At first glance, it might seem like Lululemon just “got lucky” here. What other brand was so perfectly poised with a combination of mindfulness for mental health, a desire to go digital and omnichannel with fitness, and community and grassroots focuses? It’s like a perfect storm of all the things the retailer’s known for.

We can also see this as the result of careful strategy. It's one that’s been growing for the last 20 years, and one that speaks deeply to the brand’s core. Lululemon has always been community-focused. Extending their existing community from in-store to a variety of online channels was like second nature. What’s more is brand enthusiasts no doubt eagerly looked to the company for guidance. They almost undoubtedly brought in new folks. There were plenty of people who were stuck in lockdown, bored, and wondering what to do or how to get started with a fitness routine.

In a sense, it’s luck that everything Lululemon is good at, everything they’ve built over the last 20 years, is so perfectly suited for the situation we’ve found ourselves in. But it’s also the reward of a strategy that’s seen the brand stay (largely) true to its values over the years.

Other brands may have tried launching a community hub or translating their message to be more community-minded. It may not have felt organic to those brands—not the way Lululemon’s efforts felt.

That might seem like dumb luck. But if we look at the longer trajectory, it’s because the brand has always been about community. So this move is absolutely organic to them. And we can call it luck, but it’s actually the result of years of strategy, of staying true to values.

Success is often like that—people see the “overnight” success, without recognizing the longer history there.

The lesson for us Marketers is that we have to work with strategies that are organic to our brands. If we do that, we might just get lucky too.

So remember—always start with the why!


Here to inspire!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing is inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others.

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