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On the corporate page of Lululemon there is a statement that is both timely and telling…..”Success is determined by how you handle setbacks”. The irony of these words and their meaning probably resonate with many Lululemon staff members, shareholders and customers of late.
Like most women, I am a fan of Lululemon. I like their clothes from both a comfort and style perspective. I also appreciate how they can accentuate certain “assets” on a woman (so do most of the male population). Lululemon is a company with strong Canadian roots and as a passionate supporter of Canadian business success I am willing to stand by this company during good times and bad. I’ve rode the wave with the likes of Nortel, Canwest and Research in Motion and while I have loved my Blackberry……my Lululemon’s have supported me in ways no mobile device can. So as a friend and a loyal customer, I am hoping that Lululemon leadership will embrace some of the principles of their much touted Manifesto.
Media missteps, although not uncommon, are now items that can go viral and go global in a manner of minutes. In many cases, consumers rely on what is in a headline or blog more often than taking the time to truly understand the issue or factors at hand. Lululemon as a company has received some negative media attention over the past year. There are some key lessons related to executive messaging and corporate policies that have come to light but if they embrace a part of their manifesto which states “listen, listen, listen then ask strategic questions” they will realize this is a time to reach out and engage not detract or deflect .
Listen and Learn
Companies who grow as quickly as Lululemon are always bound to experience the aftershock of such rapid uptake. Many times, the company adapts to managing and making quick decisions in order to meet the demand without having the luxury of assessing risk factors or long-term impacts. The return policy in this story is a prime example of this. The messaging to the customer and subsequent backlash also indicate a disconnect between the company and the customer base. Despite the media attention, this is a great opportunity for Lululemon’s leadership team to draw itself closer to its customers by engaging them in discussions and as a result, developing a better understanding of how the company is perceived and hopefully, accepted.
Man vs. Brand
Chip Wilson's 5 most controversial quotes
There is no doubt that Chip Wilson is a passionate and committed entrepreneur. The success he has achieved in his professional career has been based on bold risks and big ideas. But like many visionaries, sometimes this ability to push limits sometimes far exceeds them. Mr. Wilson has done that on a few occasions and as a result, Lululemon has felt the impact.
Several years ago I had the pleasure of speaking with John Sleeman, founder and namesake of Sleeman Breweries about succession planning. He was very resolute that he did not want to be the face or voice of the company as he understood that he was not the brand and at some point the company would need someone else’s ideas and vision to push it to the next level. This is a very difficult realization for any entrepreneur as the relationship with the business or “baby” is quite paternal.
Mr. Wilson and Lululemon have learned the hard way that a CEO’s comments or beliefs are not always for public consumption and sometimes do not align well with the brand or the consumer base.
A recent study by Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm highlighted a shocking decline in consumer trust as it relates to CEO’s. The Edelman Trust barometer notes the following:
Only one-third of respondents trust CEOs. It gets worse. Just 9 per cent of respondents trust business leaders to tell the truth, while only 11 per cent trust business leaders to make ethical and moral decisions.
So how important is trust for a company like Lululemon right now? In my opinion, it’s critical. Companies while in damage mitigation tend to deal with the matter at hand over the residual issues and perceptions that remain. These items can usually be more damaging and costly in the long run and will have a direct impact on a customer’s perception of the company and level of trust.
In the world of yoga, the “Absolute” is the state of highest reality, supreme consciousness and pure, untainted truth. A path many, including Lululemon, should aspire to.