Sarah Clark on Lululemon's goals for the future
On the occasion of Lululemon's long-awaited store opening on the Champs-Elysées, FashionNetwork.com interviewed the brand's newly appointed senior vice president for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, Sarah Clarke. The London-based executive is leading the Canadian athletic apparel retailer's development in the region, following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Gareth Pope. The former Rapha and Procter & Gamble executive travelled to Paris to celebrate the inauguration of the new flagship store, open to the public on Friday, December 2, and to give more details about the brand's evolution in the French market and its goals for the future on a global level.
FashionNetwork.com: How have the first few weeks since your arrival at Lululemon been? What have been your main responsibilities in this new role?
Sarah Clark: As the company's senior vice president for the EMEA region, I deal with a wide range of markets that are very different from each other. My role involves being responsible for all teams working across all channels. Today, we operate in nine different countries, have five local language websites, 50 company-owned stores and a team of 900 employees, including in retail. It is a region where we are always busy and my job is to determine the direction we take in terms of where we want to go, when we want to go and how we want to go. Our main objective is to always maintain the essence of a brand as special as this one, which has such clearly defined principles and goals. We want to deliver the Lululemon experience in the best possible way to each market.
FNW: What does the opening of the new flagship store on the Champs-Elysées mean for the brand and why is it happening now?
S.C: It's a very exciting moment. Lululemon has been present in France for the past seven years and already has four other stores in prime locations such as Le Marais and Le Bon Marché. Having had so many years of activity in France, we felt that now was the perfect time to open a large flagship store in celebration of the city and our local community. It is an iconic space that serves as a mission statement about our commitment to the French market. What is special about this store is that it targets foreign tourists and French customers alike. It showcases the brand's complete identity, including all of our products, as well as a larger space to host events for our local community.
FNW: What does it represent and what is the importance of the French market for the brand in Europe?
S.C: Paris is obviously a fashion hotspot. However, it is also a key location in terms of innovation and sports, with the imminent arrival of the Olympic Games. I think our garments resonate with customers who are increasingly concerned with finding a balanced and active lifestyle. The demand for adaptable garments suitable for many different occasions throughout the day has increased, if anything, due to covid-19's impact. We clearly saw this in Paris. Everyone's style has evolved and people are looking for more versatility. Lululemon offers a complete range that responds to these needs, while maintaining a sense of community.
FNW: Where does the country rank in terms of sales?
S.C: Lululemon does not provide a detailed breakdown of sales by market. But France is undoubtedly one of our most important markets.
FNW: Do you plan to continue expanding the brand to other French cities or, for the time being, only in the French capital?
S.C: We currently operate 50 stores in the EMEA region, 12 of which are in London. So having five in Paris makes sense for us. For the moment, we are meeting the demand of the French market through our French-language online store. But of course we are looking at the possibility of opening locations in other cities, either as physical stores or as pop ups.
FNW: What has been the evolution of online sales and their share in the company's global turnover?
S.C: As a company, we are noticing a rapid shift towards omnichannel retail, which merges the online and in-store shopping experiences as well as home deliveries. It is clearly a trend and we are seeing a 40% digital market penetration, so we do see a customer interest in both in-store and online shopping. In cities where we have physical stores, online sales are higher, which is completely in line with omnichannel customer behaviour.
FNW: What is your best-selling product?
S.C: Our best-selling product is our "Align" leggings, which we launched in 2015. Made with Nulu fabric, they provide a soft, lightweight feel and are very well suited for technical sports. They are well known for their technical performance.
FNW: Does the new flagship store offer anything new?
S.C: Our new footwear line designed in Portland (Oregon), which we worked on for about four years. It required a long time to develop since we wanted to perfectly understand the female foot. In the past, women's footwear was adapted from men's shoes. We wanted to create a specific shoe suitable for a wide range of activities. Our goal is to continue to expand this line. We will launch the footwear line online eventually, but for now, it will only be available in our physical stores.
FNW: Do you plan to expand into other product segments in the future?
S.C: We are always on the lookout for new product categories. We want our customers to be able to practice all kinds of sports, so it is always something we keep in mind.
FNW: What about the surge in sales of loungewear and athleisure wear experienced during the coronavirus lockdowns? How did this affect Lululemon?
S.C: I believe that the wellness trend is definitely here to stay. During Covid-19, people understood the importance of being active and exercising. There was a shift in mentality and I think this trend will continue. Our role is to support our customers and to not reduce exercise to just intense physical activity, but to encourage people to stay active. We would like to offer a complete range of products that are designed to meet this need.
FNW: How has Lululemon been affected by the supply chain crisis?
S.C: Considering the magnitude of the situation, we have made a significant inventory investment, so I don't think our customers will experience any issues with supply.
FNW: The global economy has also been plagued by pandemics, war and inflation. What is the company's outlook for the future?
S.C: I think a lot of these macro factors bring people to focus on things that they can control, and right now the health, wellness and fitness world sounds like a good area for people to focus on. We're not a frivolous disposable product, people take care of our garments and wear them over a long period of time. In that sense, I think we are very well positioned to deal with this situation.
And from a business model point of view, I think we are very well diversified. EMEA posted excellent results in fiscal year 2021 and in the second quarter of this year. I think we are well positioned for the future as we have an established physical store network, the online channel, wholesale, franchise partners, as well as opportunities in new markets. Our business has great growth potential, whether in terms of sales, channels or product categories. The world is changing, but we are in a very good position to face these changes.
FNW: What will be the company's biggest challenge going forward?
S.C: Our community is back physically and it is a great opportunity to keep it at the center of our objectives, something that we apply not only to our customers but also to our own team. Our biggest challenge is to see how we can grow this community globally. In many countries, we are still beginning to scratch the surface, like in Paris even after seven years. We have a lot of opportunities ahead of us in the EMEA region.
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