Even if you’ve never stepped inside of one of their stores or bought a pair of their yoga pants, the name lululemon likely makes you feel a certain way. You might not know what their latest product or line is, but you know the type of person who shops there. The retailer forgoes following fashion cycles or trends, choosing to embody a lifestyle above all else. Like Live in the Grey, it rests on an aspirational philosophy that evokes the ideal life. And it’s not just their customers who believe in the mantra found on their ubiquitous red bags. Employees live and breathe it. Which makes for a rare occurrence in the retail store landscape: people are proud to work there.
Why not now? #givepresence pic.twitter.com/FZkyBan7hR
— lululemon athletica (@lululemon) November 27, 2014
To better understand what it’s like to work for lululemon, I’ve talked to employees from across their New York City stores. Our conversations make one thing clear: lululemon knows how to find their people. Employees believe in their stores just as much as their stores believe in them. Here, in their words, is what makes lululemon company culture so unique:
1. They attract the right people
There’s a long list of characteristics that everyone we talk to shares. Almost all of them tell me they were customers at lululemon before working for the company. They tend to be incredibly active; the group includes a former competitive gymnast, dancers, runners and many avid yogis. They are in tune with their health—both physical and mental. They are energetic and social. They feel like they could all be in the same friend group. It might seem obvious for a store to hire people who would actually wear their clothes and would therefore advocate for their brand. But there aren’t that many retailers with such strong customer affiliation and such a clear point of view. This, combined with their stronghold in the health and fitness community, helps draw out those who self-identify with the lululemon lifestyle: in short, the perfect employees.
Store educator Ashley Z & local ambassador Will Lanier at Brick Crossfit
2. They encourage employees to be involved in the local community
Perhaps the most obvious “perk” lululemon offers employees is the opportunity to attend local fitness classes — spinning, CrossFit, yoga, you name it — on the company’s dime. Not only is it great to have healthy behavior paid for; it also allows employees to “create authentic relationships“ with potential customers, as key leader Alexa Savitz explained. By working out with the local fitness community, employees can spread the word about lululemon much more organically. ”It’s not required,” Emma Dinzebach of the Union Square location told me, “but you want to be in the community. That’s why you are there.” As employees build relationships with leaders in the fitness community, they can also connect with and recruit “ambassadors.” These chosen liaisons receive special discounts in exchange for representing the brand in the community. So, instead of feeling like their job is to push sales onto unsuspecting customers, lululemon employees are encouraged to form relationships and activate brand advocates. Sounds much more engaging, doesn’t it?
Today we’re celebrating this guy on our L&D team crushin his goals #joblove #lululemon pic.twitter.com/GomsQjnHn1 — lululemonpeople (@lululemonpeople) December 26, 2014
3. They invest in the growth of their employees
From the outset, lululemon encourages employee growth. Many stores have resource libraries filled with professional development books that are lent out to new employees. Goal-setting is another must. All employees are asked to share short- and long-term goals relating to their careers, but also to their health and personal growth. Right off the bat, co-workers learn more about each other than months of small talk might provide. Stores even display employee goals so team members can keep each other on track. “Your co-workers are invested in your goals, and they keep you accountable!” explains marketing community connector Julie Anderson. Supportive managers clearly play a huge role in bringing to life this environment. Mikaila Roberts, key leader and community lead at the SoHo store, describes her responsibility as a manager: “We’re here to help find people’s natural strengths and passions, and clear out habits that are in their way.” Even employees’ role names reflect a different approach and higher expectations. Instead of sales associates, lululemon has “educators” who study the benefits of products and teach customers about them. Instead of managers, lululemon has leaders. In fact, at least a third of any given store might consist of leaders. “Everyone has the capacity to be a leader,” Mikaila explains to me. “To see the change you want, you have to rise to the occasion.”
4. Their employees believe in the company mission
I lost count of the number of times someone told me their job involves “elevating the world from mediocrity to greatness.” It’s a core lululemon mantra that redefines the retail experience. As such, I’ve learned that the roles of lululemon employees include things like: making someone’s day better; suggesting a new workout routine; motivating someone to achieve their goals; and offering a supportive environment where “you don’t have to pretend with me.” This lofty vision of the importance of retail experiences motivates employees to give themselves more fully to their work. After all, they’re a part of something that matters. It’s especially clear through these interactions that the company’s internal culture translates into positive customer experiences and a better bottom line.
#meditation at work #youshouldtryit RT @lululemonnyc: Closing out #lifeinluon with a brief meditation #joblove pic.twitter.com/iaRfku1pd2
— lululemonpeople (@lululemonpeople) September 29, 2014
A meditation class takes place inside a lululemon NYC store
5. They give individual stores autonomy
One of the most common job complaints is feeling micromanaged, but it’s not one you’ll ever hear from lululemon employees. Stores are given “the power to make business, creative and even educational decisions,” Julie tells me. That means things like defining how new employees are trained or creating programming for the local community. It’s not that stores receive no direction at all. They’re given content, information, and even specific goals. “But you can achieve it however you want,” explains Mikaila.
By turning employees into co-creators of the brand, lululemon pushes them to deliver and invest more in the space they work in. Employees, in turn, feel empowered and like their opinions matter.
6. They encourage honesty and vulnerability
One of the most unique characteristics of lululemon’s culture is the value placed on honesty and vulnerability. In practice, this manifests itself in the feedback team members give to help each other improve. “There’s an expectation that you share feedback from a place of kindness, but you’re direct,” regional community leader Heather Colvin shares. When you see someone else interacting with a customer, for example, but not “being there for them,” you’ll let them know afterward.
Failure isn’t necessarily frowned down upon, either, and managers like Mikaila like to give their teams permission to fail. “As a leader, I admit that I make mistakes. I share my vulnerability,” she explains.
In this environment, forming close bonds is natural. It’s no surprise when I hear something like, “I’m a completely different person for having worked for lululemon – and everyone I work with feels the same.”
This is part of our series on companies with exemplary company culture. Read more here. Feature image via @lululemonpeople.
My daughter is an Assistant Manager at the Westport, CT store. After graduation from Miami University with a degree in Communications she worked for a large PR firm in NYC. It was not what she had thought it would be. She left and took a part-time holiday job at lululemon which turned into a full-time job and soon Assistant Manager. It has been an amazing journey for her with the Company. The company values are a great match for her and her passion for the brand and company is contagious! Keep up the good work. lululemon is a unique brand and company which truly seems to care about their employees and their personal growth. Not something that most companies seem to care about these days………..
i believe you need to do a bit more research because Lululemon also makes/strongly encourages their staff to attend landmark which is globally recognized as a cult. Not sure how that makes for a great company culture?
Actually, Pat, lululemon does not require their employees to attend Landmark seminars. They pay for their tuition, but it is always the choice of the individual whether to attend. In addition, Landmark is far from “globally recognized as a cult.” The company is highly regarded as one of the most effective training programs in the industry and has been a part of many studies. Big name companies hire Landmark trainers to come in and do organizational training and programs. I encourage you to do your own research (real research, not looking up internet rumors) on Landmark. You may be surprised at what you are categorically rejecting. Best, Jenni
Landmark is not a cult. Landmark is personal growth, you take what you want and leave what you want. lululemon does pay for their employees to go but it is up to you to attend if you wish it is not mandatory. I will be honest I have attend landmark, I took what I wanted and left what I didn’t it hasn’t changed who I am. However having that said it did provide me the tools to close some chapters in my personal life that were not serving me. It helped me realize that I am in control of how I feel, and that I am responsible for ME. Have you attended landmark? If you haven’t you cant say what or what is or isn’t. You can’t go by what other people say until you have done it yourself.
Just a thought.
While I can’t attest to what lululemon does, Pat is pretty much correct in one respect. “Landmark Training”, “Landmark Forum” are globally recognized as rebranded EST “technology” from Werner Erhard (Erhard Seminars Training)… While Werner Erhard is somewhat of an interesting study, his EST sessions were and are WIDELY, ULTIMATELY, AND CONCLUSIVELY recognized by the scientific community as intentional brainwashing with little to no actual value for those outside the investors profiting on the events themselves. I have no clue why any company would publicly promote an affiliation with Landmark unless they have a vested interest in its success. Follow the money trail. Sadly, it never lies.
This is addressed to Pat Weaver, who ironically missed the connection between “cult” and “culture.” Pat, have you attended a Landmark seminar? Do you know anyone who has? Have you investigated the group for yourself to make an informed opinion? “Globally recognized as a cult” (??) Is their a website for global cults I should check into? Did you attend the Global Cult Summit and Landmark was recognized as such? Hey Pat, I guess it’s OK (for you) to take a swipe at an organization b/c you don’t understand it, it’s another to decide that the entire global community feels the same way as you do. Happy New Year Pat, I hope that open mind of yours is functioning at “half open”….Will I see you at the Cult Haters United Global Summit (CHUGS). Hugs, not CHUGS Pat…..
I have often called my time at lululemon “MBA number 2,” and refer to it as the house that built me. So much of what’s above is a beautiful illustration of the Company’s heartbeat and what has sustained its growth. The people are the best. part. of lululemon’s house. Of course, there are two sides to each story. My time was split between the SSC head office and two stores (one in Canada and one in the US). Not everything is roses, but is anything with rad life lessons every purely perfect?
Thank you for sharing.
I’ve worked for the company for about 4 years now and have seen hundreds of staff come and go. Lululemon doesn’t push their employees to participate in Landmark Education at all, in fact, over half the staff I’ve known have never taken it and have no desire to. What I love is that the option is there, silently, should you want he opportunity to learn something new 🙂
Yes, I used to work for Lululemon, I will say that it was NOT optional at my store to choose whether or not to attend fitness classes in the community. You were required to attend a minimum of three per month, and being someone who at the time relied on public transit, these locations all took at minimum one hour for me to reach - so we’re talking 9 hours (1 hr commute there, 1 hr class, 1 hr commute home) that was EXPECTED and not compensated.
We were also expected to always “look our best” and wear our Lulu when we attended t fitness classes in the community. I once paid for and attended a hot yoga class in an admittedly not so great outfit (sweats and a tank left at my bf’s) and received a reminder e-mail shortly after about the store’s policy.
Towards the end of my employment I started pointing out the amount of unpaid “work” that was being requested — we were expected to be on premises 1/2 hr before our paid shift to read the “communication binder”, which for many meant walking or biking as the buses were not yet running at that time), we have multiple e-mails daily that we were expected to read and often respond to, we were expected to fill out the goal sheets and keep a log of which personal improvement books/CDs we listed to in a week on our own time, in addition to the aforementioned requirement to attend community classes.
All together, I was working and paid minimum wage for 16 hours per week, and worked an average of 9 unpaid hours ontop of that.
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