Monday, December 22, 2008

Lululemon, or: The Story Of A Brand

At first I thought I would bake my yoga teacher a loaf of bread.

I baked my boss a loaf of bread, and she liked it; and I baked the rest of the office a loaf of bread, and they liked it. Giving bread is successful and cost-effective and tasty!

But last week everyone else in the yoga studio showed up with baked goods. The place was overflowing with them, to the point where my yoga teacher, after last week's class, invited me to pick and choose a sampler platter of cookies and muffins to take back with me.

So... bringing bread would probably be one baked good too much.

From my (and my mother's) experience as a piano teacher, I knew what it was like to get inundated with trinkets and tchotchkes and peppermint-scented hand lotion at Christmas time. I think my mom received, at some point or another, every possible thing that could be shaped like a piano. So I couldn't possibly insult my yoga teacher by going that route.

Then I thought "well, what would my teacher need?" The first thing that came to mind was cash; she is running a small business, after all, and we are living in hard economic times. I thought about giving her a Christmas bonus like one would give a hairdresser or doorman (this from a person who's never had either), but didn't know how to frame it without seeming tacky. Dear Yoga Teacher: Thanks for all your help. Here is a $20. It's intended for you to use on studio expenses but I suppose I can't stop you from blowing it on pizza if that's what you really want. Merry Christmas!

Then, in class, I noticed something. Lots of the stuff in the yoga studio had the same little symbol on it. It looked kind of like the silhouette of a woman with flipped-up hair. Okay, I thought. She must like that store. I need to get her a gift card for that place.

The trouble was that I couldn't exactly google "woman flipped-up hair" and try to find out what this place was. (Note to Gaurav and other marketers: this is an epic brand fail, no?) But, like a true Christmas miracle, I happened to pass a woman on the street this morning who was carrying a shopping bag. A shopping bag with that mysterious flippy-haired lady on it. The bag also had two words: Lululemon Athletica.

A quick googlemaps later, and I set off over my lunch break to visit my first Lululemon.

If the salesladies of Lush are like goth Hello Kitties, the salesgirls at Lululemon are like incredibly athletic Jack Russell Terriers. I stepped into the store, paused by the yoga mat section for the briefest instant, and was suddenly assaulted by an overwhelmingly cheerful "Do you like mats? I like mats! Look at all these mats! This one is my favorite mat, but this one is good too, and I really like this one, and this one is like the best mat ever, but it's super expensive. What kind of mat do you use?"

"I don't know," I told her. "I got mine for free when I bought a pair of shoes." (This is true. I've also had the same mat since high school.)

Now, I probably shouldn't rag on Lululemon too much for having enthusiastic salespeople. But Lululemon and Lush both seem to have the same problem: salespeople who talk and talk so much about the product that they don't take the time to listen -- or even ask -- what you need. At Lush it's all soap, but at Lululemon they have a sports bra aisle. And as enthusiastic as she was, I was not interested in hearing a stranger (even a trained one) give me unsolicited advice on how to handle "my ladies."

They've got good products in there, no doubt; and a staff eager and willing to help you find them (or, if that fails, shove them directly into your hands). But the most telling part of the Lululemon brand came at the end, when I was buying my gift card. You see, all around the store were these signs with these fill-in-the-blank inspirational goals: I will _______ by _______. I will skydive by this summer, I will switch to organic food by January, etc.

The woman who rung me up was wearing a fill-in-the-blank shirt. Hers said I will move out of my parents' house by May 2009.

I wish her the best.

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