They stand at the moment of truth, listening to and managing the customer, day in and day out. They often understand intimately the pedals and breaks to a customer sale or a great customer experience. Their buy in to the brand is critical for its successful execution. All this and still, many businesses fail to include the frontline in the creation of their brand.
One reason that the frontline, are overlooked in brand creation, is because of the limited understanding of what a brand is. Too many businesses today see their brand as a promise that lives in marketing communications, not as a set of guiding principles that define and differentiate the experiences, products and solutions of the business.
Lululemon, a yoga apparel chain in Vancouver, with sales of $712 million last year, has found the power of brand creation through their frontline. Over the past three years, the company has posted nine quarters in which sales rose 30% or more from the year before.
They keep a culture of scarcity by being light on with inventory, 95% of their stock never goes on sale. Items have a 6 to 12 week shelf life, keeping the range fresh and a sense of urgency to buy now. They also design their stores so employees can keep close to the customer, this includes the CEO, who spends hours every week observing and talking to customers in store.
Lululemon trains its frontline to eavesdrop, with clothes-folding tables within ear shot on the sales floor rather than in a back room. A large in store chalkboard encourages customers to write suggestions or complaints that are sent back to headquarters. Customer insights become action and brand margin. On the Lululemon web site, they state their design philosophy for each item of clothing, with a “why we designed this” explanation.
Amongst its claims to fame, Lululemon worked out how to charge $98 for yoga pants while competitors can only charge $58. Lululemon’s brand margin came from actioning the simple insight: “we wanted a pair of yoga pants we could go to dinner in”.
Lululemon gets its frontline out into the community. Lululemon ambassadors regularly meet with influential yoga instructors in the community, and attend every yoga class it can find.
Lululemon don’t see their employees as sales people, but as life educators. Lululemon employees believe their goal is to educate others on how to reach their life goals. Employees are trained in philosophies of success including Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Tracy’s The Phoenix Seminar on the Psychology of Achievement.
You can get to meet some of Lululemon’s amazing people, and hear how they have a vision to change the world on the videos below.
Here is a little of the Lululemon brand philosophy and more on how the frontline bring it to life.
“Meet Julia – Communications Specialist. They say that in business, people are your greatest asset. We disagree. People are the greatest asset, period. During our renovation, we took some time to reconnect with each other. After all, Lululemon is not just about stretchy pants. It’s about real people working together to elevate the world, one story at a time.”
Christine Day, Lululemon Athletica CEO, tells how fostering the creative talent of the store, means “creating jobs big enough for people”. The brand principles empower individuals to generate their plans at the store level, creating community, blogs and facebook. Every employee is taught about goal setting, including self care, living their dreams and talking about themselves beyond their work, creating an amazing energy in every store.
Hearts and Minds