Yoga Journal: I’ve listened to Chip’s podcast. (The original founder of Lululemon.) It sounds like Australia featured early in the brand’s growth. Is that correct?
Paul Tinkler: The brand was started in 1998 in Vancouver. We launched our first store in Australia in 2004. A gentlemen by the name of David Lawn started the brand here as a franchise model. He backed it himself and we (LLL) acquired the business back in 2014. He is really responsible for having the vision to see what the potential was here in the local market. I think David had an incredible foresight to see what the brand was capable of in AUSNZ and how it would resonate.
YJ: So Australia was one of the first store outside the US?
PT: Yes, Australia was the first international market, which is unusual outside North America. Normally when you have the US-born brand, you see the first forays into Europe or UK, or Asia, but in Lulu’s case, Australia was first.
YJ: You say that Lululemon is a leadership and people development company. Can you explain what this means and how that comes into practice?
PT: We are a company that has its core in Yoga and that is true in its physical practice but I think it is the principles of Yoga that we apply to the organisational culture of Lululemon. Our company’s purpose is to elevate the world to the power of practice. What that means in layman’s terms is to leave the world in a better place. One of the primary ways we do that is to create better leaders in the world. That is something we can control in our organisational culture and a lot of our training, a lot of our internal content a lot of culture is driven towards creating better leaders. So I’d say that more than any company that I have worked for in the past, there is a huge focus and constant coaching and training on how to be a better leader and how to lead your teams to greatness. That is something which is very present in the culture, something that we take into the community through our ambassadors through our stores so that is probably the best way to describe it.
YJ: We have seen through your recent events like SeeWheeze and Run Melbourne that Lululemon is a very community focussed organisation. It’s appears to be a core element of the brand’s DNA. Can you explain how this comes in to practice?
PT: Community is based in our stores. That’s where the nucleus of community is for us and we very much adhere to the mantra of thinking global and acting hyper local. We treat the stores and the store managers like small-business owners. So they are responsible for and empowered to create their own networks around their stores. They appoint all of their own ambassadors that are local to their store and get into a relationship with them, and that is how they build their own network and create their own marketing. But it is really a strategy that is based on authenticity. It is because they visit people that are part of a tribe and they are active, or they are Yogi’s or runners or Crossfitters. It is people who can speak in that language and are motivated towards similar sort of goals to the guys that work in our stores are. The stores are very empowered to make all of these decisions themselves. We give them budgets to spend that is going to best support their own business and they feel very empowered. That is the way they can best respond to what their local communities are going to need and make it relevant to their guest whether it’s in Brighton or Camberwell or Shanghai or Tokyo or Hong Kong. They are creating what is most relevant and is most appealing to their ambassador network and community network and for their guests coming into the store.
YJ: It is interesting you say that, you mention in recent press releases that your e-commerce side is rapidly expanding. How do you keep a community strong when that is growing? Is there any conflict, how are you managing that challenge?
PT: It’s a beautiful synergy for us and I think that it is not a balancing act and one doesn’t take precedence over the other. In fact, we try and lead with a digital strategy because we know that’s where our guest are increasingly finding us, whether its existing guests or new guests. That is where they are really coming in contact with the brand and often their first experience with us is in a digital channel, whether it is social, e-commerce presence or via email. What we do see is that the offline and the online channels work hand in hand and its very common for our guests to come in store with something from instagram or FB or an email they received saying “I want this”. So it happens daily and we are very cognisant that that guest is the same guest, it isn’t an online or an offline guest, it is the same person. So we try and create the most seamless, consistent, premium experience for them that does all of the things you would experience in store. You want that community to come through online, you want the assortment to be the same, you want all that engaging content and material to be present in an online experience just like it is in offline. There are certain challenges that come with that, but that is our goal is it to be absolutely “omnichannel”, it needs to be a one channel type experience, because from a guest point of view they don’t care whether they see you in store or shop via insta or shop via traditional e-comm sites they want the same experience and that is our goal.
YJ:There is still the perception that Lululemon is for female Yogi’s, (in Australia perhaps) do you acknowledge that. If that is happening how are you changing that?
PT: Our history and our core is women’s Yoga and that is where our awareness is really high. The men’s business is a big opportunity for us. What we do know to be true, is that when a male guest experiences the brand, especially from a product point of view, the engagement is very high. So the product is of such a high level and it is designed so specifically for our male guest, so that once they try it on, they are usually going to be fans of the brand. Usually a lot of our engagement is around getting our products on that male guest and we are driving partnership where we can facilitate that and it makes sense in that space. The AFL is certainly one of those, as is crossfit and I am a crossfitter myself. We sometimes offer (we call it product testing) some product to the guys in the gym, and just ask them to tell us what they think, and it blows peoples minds. And you increasingly see that, particularly in the crossfit community where the product gets a bit of a beating from bar bells and kettle bells and the rest, the product does stand up, and it gets a cult following in crossfit because the product is so strong. So our opportunity and our obligation is to get the product on as many male guests as we can because we know that is what will engage them and a lot of our strategy is based on that.
YJ:On a personal level, you are a cross fitter, do Yoga, is that your two things what are you into?
PT: I will give anything a go and I am so fortunate working for a company like this. I get a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things. My go-to is crossfit, it is a very intense and punishing workout, but also very technical, I love the balance of that. It is a workout that makes me quite uncomfortable, I often get into the box and they run through the workout and I say to myself “I don’t want to do this, it sounds horrible” so it is a great exercise as in getting uncomfortable and getting past that. I grew up playing football, I love to surf and run, I cant sit still for very long, so as I said I get to experience a lot of things working for this company. Yoga is something that I have gotten deeper into working for Lululemon. I always underestimated the mobility, meditative and mindfulness side to Yoga and that has really helped with the pressures of work and family, so I have got a new appreciation of that. I guess if I had my choice and if I had an hour to spend each day, I’d say CF would be my choice.
YJ: What are you reading at the moment?
I’m into audio books. I don’t get a lot of opportunity to read with three kids under the age of 5. By the time I do a work day, fit a workout in, by the time I get into the house, books are a luxury I cannot afford. I use my commute time to get into books. The one I am reading at the moment is called, Factfulness and it is written by a Swedish author who is very connected to how the world is becoming a better place and he bases all of that in data, whether it is girls education or the poverty line, or it is access to clean water he walks through how the world is evolving and how the actual facts, which is cool when the truth is open to interpretation. It is nice to have something like that which grounds you of what the truth is.