With the majority of news programs putting a negative lens on the world (i.e., mass shootings in schools and concerts, Donald Trump's actions in the White House, the environmental crisis, etc.) it's easy to adopt a skeptical view on things. At a time where I, myself, was faced with tough choices and feeling uncertain about my future, one company helped me believe in the power of people and human kindness (again) ... lululemon.
When most people hear the name "lululemon", they typically envision black leggings and yoga mats. Over the years, I have come to see the company and brand as so much more! With over twenty years of experience in sales and marketing leadership (primarily in service-based industries), I'm a stickler for details, and I have been known to forgive ... but NEVER forget. So, when a company consistently exceeds my expectations, time and time again, for over ten years (including multiple locations throughout North America) ... it's NOT an accident.
You Had Me at "Hello"
I clearly remember the first time I walked into the lululemon athletica on Queen Street West. When I moved to Toronto in 2001, I had heard the hype about the "hundred dollar stretchy pants" but wasn't one for following fads or trends. Every day I would ride the streetcar past the lululemon, catching a glimpse of the red and white stylized "a" in my periphery. It wasn't until the streetcar broke down one summer that I ended up walking by the store and getting lured in by the elegant white Define Jacket displayed in the window.
The moment I entered the vintage door, I felt like an honoured guest in someone's beautifully fashioned home. Every part of the store was bright, colourful, and pristine ... genuinely cared for by each of the lululemon associates. The staff treated me with respect and never made me feel pressured, watched, or like "a paycheque". They made efforts to get to know me, my hobbies and physical pursuits, and succeeded in making me feel valued. In the end, I didn't hesitate to invest in the jacket and a pair of those famous pants, both of which stayed with me for many years.
Since then, I have purchased thousands of dollars of merchandise from lululemon, including the technical apparel for the fitness companies I represented, proudly participated in their Research and Development program, and have been a devout ambassador and brand advocate. Despite any negative press they may have received over the years, I have always admired and respected the company and their continued commitment to quality. So ... when I had the opportunity to work for lululemon, as a Seasonal Educator at the Southcentre location, I jumped at the chance.
More Than Just "Stretchy Pants"
I have to admit, I wasn't sure if I would enjoy working for lululemon. I was apprehensive wondering if, after seeing behind the "curtain", I would be disappointed knowing the incredible experiences I had over the years were merely a fabrication. Luckily, after just a few hours, I came to realize the company met my high expectations and that I was blessed to be a part of an organization that places honesty and integrity above profitability.
From the first days of training, the leadership were present and available, cultivating each new member of the team, listening to our thoughts and goals, sharing their experiences, and showing the utmost in respect. The leadership at the Southcentre store, led by Natalie Westerbeek, truly understand and represent:
- A corporate culture focused on people,
- Compassionate management and leadership,
- The power of teamwork,
- The importance of friendships and connections,
- The art of cultivating memorable guest experiences,
- What it takes to earn respect and loyalty.
Even more impressive was the collection of beautiful souls I got to share the floor with, a testament to the careful interview and selection process lululemon goes through to find the "right" people. Soon my fellow Educators became my extended family as we spent countless hours in the store, creating memorable experiences for holiday shoppers, and gathering on a regular basis to workout, sweat, volunteer our time to help others, prepare meals for one another, and share in the spirit of the holidays.
Fuelled by Kindness
Although lululemon may be best known for "stretchy pants", I have come to see the company as a place where the power of community truly thrives. As a company, lululemon encourages its leadership and staff to give back to those around them and to cultivate togetherness through its words, actions, and ongoing initiatives. In my short time with the company (a mere ten weeks), I was proud to be a part of (and support) the following acts of kindness spearheaded by the lululemon team:
- Inviting lululemon guests to YYC Cycle Avenida for a FREE community spin class,
- Collecting funds (from caring staff and leadership) for a local yoga instructor to help her get the MRI she needed,
- Hosting a local ringuette club (and their families) for an empowering event in our store,
- Wrapping presents for deserving families at Ronald McDonald House,
- Giving out lululemon gift cards to hard working patrons at Orangetheory Fitness participants deserving of some holiday cheer,
- Supporting a wide variety of local studios and fitness facilities across the city as we helped one another stay motivated, reach personal goals, and sweat together!
For the first time, since my years playing volleyball for the University of Alberta, I was truly excited to be a part of a team again! Not only was the job fun and challenging, I looked forward to the camaraderie and unexpected adventures with my colleagues outside the retail environment. In such a short amount of time, I came to realize I was in the company of some of the most incredible and accomplished human beings I have ever known. As a collection of the most humble people I know, I shared moments and memories with high profile athletes, humanitarians, philanthropists, leaders in their respective communities, and highly admirable individuals. I was in awe of the quality of people collected in our little lululemon store ... and proud to be a part of the group.
Making Lemonade Out of (lulu)lemons
The state of the world around us may seem as though it's in disarray, but working with an organization like lululemon has made me hopeful for the future. With what I've experienced in just one of the 360+ lululemon stores around the world, and with a collection of just 50 people of the thousands employed by a company dedicated to "doing good", my faith in people has been restored. If the ten weeks I've spent in our one store is an indication of the power of lululemon across the globe, I am overjoyed knowing the capacity for goodness that can be cultivated by making "lemonade out of lululemons" ... one store at a time!
Finally, I'd like to send a big, heartfelt "THANK YOU!" to Natalie, Cori, Krissy, Adrian, Meg, Sydney, Holly, Vanessa, Sam, Liz, and all the beautiful "lemons" who made my holiday season memorable and unforgettable. I look forward to continuing the journey with you all ... wherever our paths may cross (in the store or around the world)!