Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Zen = lululemon

While Christmas shopping at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., bright and early Saturday morning, I passed lululemon Athletica and received my first holiday gift—an invitation to a free open yoga class.

A yoga enthusiast for 10 years, I look forward to taking “formal” classes led by knowledgeable teachers. With two kids and a full-time job, however, I don’t get to take advantage as often as I would like. lululemon may be just what I need to change that.

The first time I heard about lululemon was at the Technology and Operations Store Summit (TOPSS), sponsored by Chain Store Age and Retail Technology Quarterly in June. This Canadian company opened one store in 1998, with the intention of becoming a “community” where yoga enthusiasts could meet and discuss the benefits of yoga, as well as other aspects of living a healthy lifestyle.

Then a funny thing happened—consumers began flooding the store looking for apparel and accessories to help them pursue their passion for yoga. The chain began expanding, and today it is a 100-plus-store chain with locations in Canada, Australia and the United States.

The chain keeps its passion for yoga at the core of its business model. It offers free yoga classes to employees during their breaks and off-hours. They also give them the opportunity to try out lululemon merchandise, from apparel to accessories, such as mats and blocks.

Keeping true to this spirit, the open yoga classes are helping this lululemon location recreate that feeling of “community” among its shoppers. The Roosevelt Field store features a “Community Board,” which displays local yoga schools, class schedules and discounts. It also features a “Studio of the Month,” and invites teachers from the “honored” studio to lead these weekly classes.

The class I attended attracted 20 students. By moving merchandise displays to the back of the store, the selling floor was transformed into a yoga studio. The store provided the yoga mats, props and even filtered water, available from a water fountain displayed against a floor-to-ceiling sea-foam green tile back splash. Dimly lit track lighting, inspirational music, and statues of Buddhist frogs (which symbolize prosperity) and elephants (strength of the mind) added to the pleasant Zen-like atmosphere—something much-needed this time of year.

While the classes are a nice feature, I’m willing to bet they are helping to increase the store’s holiday traffic. Once the class was over, for example, I saw at least three people stay behind and browse the store.

I had to leave before enjoying everything the store had to offer—I only get so much free time without children these days! But I will definitely go back—for another class as well as to shop. And who knows. If my loved ones read my holiday wish list, I might even find a holiday treat from lululemon in my Christmas stocking.

—Deena M. Amato-McCoy

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