Sorry…we took a deep breath, this one’s a bit long-winded. A lot to say.
It’d be hard to argue the success of goal-getting Lululemon’s clampdown on the yoga(inspired) market, with said proliferation due largely in part to the voracious cult-like culling of fanatics – everyone’s favorite luon-lemmings (lulu lollies!). A Fast Company article from yesterday examines the ‘great-based’ initiative, highlighting the essence of the lulu’s surreptitious approach, rather accurately, as “calculated nonchalance.” We may kid, but the lulus mean business, in every sense. With $340 million in annual revenue, and beating the odds to remain somewhat afloat in a sinking stock market, the brand has attracted some hefty attention lately (for instance, Fast Company is writing about them). So how do they pull it off? What’s the Secret? We’ll call it the cult of commerciality.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone almost directly using the techniques of cults and applying them to their business,” says Douglas Atkin, author of The Culting of Brands.
[Chip] Wilson has mixed a heady self-actualizing cocktail from equal parts Landmark Forum (seminars developed by an ex-Scientologist), the books of motivational business guru Brian Tracy, and Oprah-endorsed best seller The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. He is now hard at work formalizing them in a Lululemon “internal constitution.”
Well, we know many a skeeved out yog who’ve shuddered at the Scientology connection (and we all know how good they are at recruiting, thanks to messiah Tom Cruise! bless his heart). And that “internal constitution” sure does sound like some fun reading. Strap on your e-meters! But we can’t help turning our thoughts to those fervent propagators. Lately, Yoga as a practice itself has flourished in the West, and though some might not want to admit it, the philosophies attached to Yoga can sorta come off as a little brainwashy. You’ve been there: excitedly recounting the effects of yoga to your non-yogi friends as their eyes glaze over, responding with the concerned look as if to say, “have you drunk the kool-aid?-you’re kind of a freak”.
So how has Lululemon gotten so popular? By melding yoga fervor with Chip Wilson’s own brand of self-help propaganda. And stealthily building an ambassador program with a fleet of almost 900: The real “educators”. While Lululemon employees are “encouraged” to attend the Landmark Forum (even ex-Starbuck and CEO Christine Day has already been, since joining team lulu last year), “ambassadors” are actually just honest local yogis being played by the machine. And who would blame them? Just the other day we were discussing the growing glut of trainees being churned out into a pool of yoga teachers who, as it is now, can barely afford their breakfast. When there’s a millionaire yoga-inspired clothing company prowling for evangelists, offering spaces to teach and a platform to further pimp yourself would you not take that opportunity? Essentially, it’s a sponsorship, like pro athletes are privy to – endorse our garb and we’ll give you perks – which, in this case, doesn’t amount to a heck of a lot (discounts). But in a struggling yogi’s career it can be huge.
Says Chippy, “When we first started, we hired nothing but yogis. But it didn’t work because they were too slow. So we started hiring runners who like yoga. They’re more on the ball, more type A.”
Lululemon has big fat goals to tighten their grip even more on stamping out mediocrity in the swimming, triathlon and running markets, to stay in the game. If the yoga-craze sputters, you’re on your own, even more than you already are now.
Final Fun Facts:
“Chip Wilson’s net worth is reportedly close to $370 million. His inner voice urged him to dump almost 7 million shares when Lululemon held its U.S. IPO in the summer of 2007, earning him more than $100 million. He cashed in twice more, for almost $7 million, even as Lulu shares slid from $55 in October 2007 to $7 in February 2009.”
Read the whole article -> Lululemon’s Cult of Selling [Fast Company]
Further reading: A Cowgirl Yogi’s perspective on authenticity vs. growth.
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