DUBAI — Lululemon Athletica views the Middle East as a prime territory for expansion.
The activewear company on Monday unveiled its first store in the region at the Mall of the Emirates here. The plan is to open 15 to 20 stores in the Middle East over the next five years as part of a licensing agreement with United Arab Emirates-based Majid Al Futtaim.
Lululemon’s chief executive officer Laurent Potdevin is bullish generally on international expansion with other key markets being Europe and Asia-Pacific. In addition to the Middle East, the company plans to focus on major population centers for future stores including London, Paris, Munich, Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing.
“The one thing I was most passionate about when I joined Lululemon a year and a half ago was the global potential for the brand,” he said. “I look at the rest of the world as having the potential to be bigger for us than the North American market is today.”
Two more stores are in the pipeline to open in Dubai by early 2016.
But as the company grows, it remains community-minded in execution. “We are focused on local communities when we open new stores, which makes each of our 300 stores unique,” said Potdevin. The first store in the Middle East reflects the region’s love of falconry, with a large falcon art installation hanging prominently in the front of the store. “This store is an expression of being in the Middle East, with a theme that reflects local creative inspiration,” the ceo said. “When it comes to guest experience we are incredibly local. But from a product standpoint, 80 percent of what customers will find is available in all of our stores internationally, with some localized assortment based on activities and climate.”
Potdevin said the brand is still very much rooted in yoga, but has expanded to a core following in other activities like cross fit, barre, running and cycling. “What we’ve discovered in the past 12 years is that yoga has brought us to different activities because our yogis are taking us towards running and CrossFit and our runners are discovering yoga. It’s been very much a two-way street,” he said.
Lululemon has chosen five athlete ambassadors in Dubai to help them connect with the region’s consumers and identify changing interests and tastes. The ambassadors are part of a global team of 1,500 Lululemon community ambassadors around the world that Potdevin describes as their most underused asset, which he aims to change. “We partner with ambassadors to learn about the community and they are also an integral part of designing product, looking at function and innovation and working closely with our global R&D teams,” he said.
As competition globally in the ath-lesiure market grows, Potdevin said the company remains focused on form and function and activity-oriented athletic wear as the primary driver. “As long as we bring innovation and function to each product, the design ethos and the aesthetic that we layer on top is really what makes us unique,” he said. “But it always starts with function. If an item doesn’t have a function, it’s not a product or category we should be in. We have to deliver a product that our global community needs,” the ceo said.
While Lululemon doesn’t focus on localized products for different markets, Potdevin said it does learn and innovate new products based on its experiences around the world. “From Australia we learned a lot about performance in hot and humid climate and brought that product innovation back to the rest of the world,” he explained.