The home page for lululemon athletica, a chain of stores selling technical clothing for yoga, dancing and running, does not show any of its products. Instead it features rotating images of its customers talking about what what inspires them in life.  This type of relationship retailing, rather than hard sellling, is typical of the creative Vancouver-based lululemon.   

To quote their web site,  “The idea behind lululemon was to have the store be a community hub where people could learn and discuss the physical aspects of healthy living from yoga and diet to running and cycling as well as the mental aspects of living a powerful life of possibilities.  Unfortunately for this concept, the first store became so busy that it was impossible to help the customer in this way in addition to selling the product. 

So the focus of training shifted solely to the lululemon educator or staff person.  Our goal was to train our people so well that they could in fact positively influence their families, communities and the people walking into our stores.”

Lululemon has taken this emphasis on customer relationships, rather than just selling product, one step further. In addition to yoga happy hours in their stores, community bulletin boards for local groups, and a special fountain where shoppers can refill their water bottles, each location reaches out into its community through an innovative program called lululemon ambassadors.

“The lululemon ambassador program is extended to unique individuals in our store communities who embody the lululemon lifestyle and live our culture,”  according to the company.  “We value their community involvement and dedication to their area of expertise. We offer each ambassador an allowance of lululemon product for a year long period in exchange for their close involvement and input on our clothing designs.”

“We are certain that forming and celebrating such grass-roots relationships will ensure health and fitness in our store communities. We encourage our ambassadors to test the limits of our product and provide feedback to us to further develop the world’s best yoga-inspired athletic wear. We also use our ambassadors in all our communications materials, like store posters, website and postcards.”

One might think that all this emphasis on community involvement would result in a loss of sales, but the opposite is of course true. Shoppers love the fact that the store appears to care more about them than about their money.  This same approach is very effective in the Apple store, where there isn’t a cash register in site.

Today’s consumer has so many choices about where to spend each dollar. It makes sense that offering education, community involvement, support of charitable causes, and other non-material extras will give you an advantage in this challenging marketplace.  How can you turn your customers into ambassadors?  You might consider making it one of your New Year’s resolution to put a new emphasis on relationship building in your store.  

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder