Opinion
Ali Talks

Lululemon Brings Mindfulness (and Daily Workouts) to the Mall

The new “experiential store” concept is working in Chicago, but can lululemon convince people to take yoga and meditation classes at Mall of America?

Lululemon Brings Mindfulness (and Daily Workouts) to the Mall
Fitness studio at lululemon's new Mall of America experiential store.

Among the things you can do at Mall of America: snorkel with tropical fish, zip line over an amusement park, eat a bowl of cookie dough, get a flu shot, sleep over (under sharks at the aquarium, or in a hotel bed), shop at the Gap. Some things you couldn’t do until now? Power vinyasa yoga and meditation classes, followed by a eucalyptus shower.
 
On Wednesday (Nov. 20), lululemon opens its new “experiential store” at Mall of America, complete with fitness studio, meditation space, locker rooms, a coffee and smoothie bar with grab and go pastries and salads and a seating area, and the largest selection of lululemon apparel you’ll find beyond the website. At 19,700 square feet, it is the retailer’s second largest location, behind the experiential store that opened over the summer—to national buzz—in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. 

By any measure, Lincoln Park and Mall of America are two very different places. Lincoln Park, tucked along the shores of Lake Michigan on Chicago’s near north side, is a prime residential neighborhood for young professionals who flock to security high rises and families that can afford million-dollar brownstones. The streets are lined with local restaurants, coffee houses, bars and boutiques. Mall of America, the nation’s largest shopping center, is epitome of suburbia: surrounded by parking ramps and filled with chain stores and tourist attractions. A mall so big, it demands two Auntie Anne’s pretzel stands.

So how did lululemon pick MOA as a follow up to Lincoln Park, where its super store is touted as a community hub for workouts, private events, and lunch dates? It’s a test. One that could prove more impactful to the future of American retail than opening an experiential store in an upscale urban neighborhood. “We’re excited to test what’s possible from a community perspective within Mall of America,” says Maureen Erickson, lululemon’s vice president of experiential retail.  

The big question, that will no doubt have other retail brands watching closely: can you create a community hub within a megamall on I-494? Will locals buy a class pack to do yoga and interval training at the mall? Will tourists want to meditate after a ride on the rollercoaster? 

“We want to create a hub for the whole city,” Erickson says.

Of course, exercising at the mall is not a new idea: show up at 6 a.m. any day of the week and you’ll see packs of mall walkers rounding the food court. (A lap around one level of MOA is 1.15 miles.) But with all the crazy concepts that have been attempted at MOA through its 27 years—a line dancing bar, nap pods, a college, a spa for teens—there’s never really been a fitness studio.

Service businesses that rely on building clientele have always struggled at MOA. That teen spa closed, as did the blow dry bar and a full service hair salon. But lululemon is a different story. For starters, it’s an internationally recognized brand with that increasingly rare magnetic power—like Apple and Nordstrom—to draw shoppers. Lululemon has had a presence at MOA for a decade, and MOA is one of its top performing stores in a market that has been a mainstay for the company. Lululemon will leverage its local ambassadors—fitness instructors and influencers—to teach classes and do appearances at the new store. Add to that MOA’s 40 million annual visitors, nearly 40 percent of whom are tourists, and MOA is one of the best billboards for a brand looking to showcase much more than leggings.

The shiny new store is likely to sell enough yoga pants alone to pay MOA’s steep rent, but the studio fitness component, with classes priced at $25 per, has a couple of other pluses going for it. For one, lululemon will offer gear rentals, as it does in Chicago. So any passerby who spontaneously decided to stay for a workout can easily slip into workout clothes. Secondly, lululemon hopes to create community not only among those visiting the mall, but among the 11,000 people who work in it. “There aren’t a ton of places to work out if you work at the mall or nearby,” Erickson says, and she has a point. “We expect to have strong usage within MOA and we know the hotels are so excited.” Radisson Blu and JW Marriott are connected to the mall; many others surround it.

Lululemon wouldn’t be a bad place to get ready for work, either. The bright white locker rooms rival those of any boutique fitness studio. Eucalyptus leaves dangle from the premium shower heads. The shelves are stocked with lululemon’s own skincare products, fluffy towels, and top-of-the-line Dyson hair dryers. 

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Meditation room at lululemon Mall of America.

And then there’s the “grow” room, with its soft lighting, comfy seating and inspirational quotes on the wall. It will be utilized for guided meditation, available for group rentals, and open to the public the rest of the time—rendering the old coin operated mall massage chairs utterly irrelevant.

“People are time starved,” Erickson says. “This is built to be a mindful space, whether you come sweat with us, meditate or hang out. We are building a cool strategy around how people experience our products.” Eventually, 10 percent of lululemon’s stores could become experience centers like Lincoln Park and MOA, she says. For now, lululemon will continue to incorporate pieces of the experience in other locations—like the meditation area at its Galleria store in Edina. 

Of course, “experience” may be the current buzz word in retail, but in a sense, this super store brings lululemon full circle. Years ago–before yoga pants were a daily uniform and paying $128 for a stretchy zip-up seemed normal—lululemon would enter new markets with sun salutations. It was showroom/studio first to prove the products in the environment they were intended to be used, and once the brand caught fire, lululemon would move to a full store. 

“Back in the day, showrooms were a way to introduce ourselves to a market, and build the community,” Erickson says. “Now, we’re thinking about how we lean in to the things that have made us successful and go even deeper.” 

Workout classes at lululemon MOA start on Dec. 2. You can view the schedule online now, and shop the full collection, including the unisex Lab collection in store. The coffee bar, roasting beans from Penny’s, is now open as well. 

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