Even if you’re not a person who works out regularly, you’ve likely heard the story about lululemon athletica and their “see through” pants. As a long-time customer, I followed this story with interest. For one, I just couldn’t believe the company whose workout pants I adore could have possibly sold a shoddy product. But, hundreds of longtime loyal customers (mostly women) have complained about the seat of their most popular workout pants being so sheer that their yoga mat neighbors could tell what color underwear they wore. Then there was the very public resignation of their CEO, Christine Day. This was followed by very public, unflattering soundbites from co-founder Chip Wilson. Then, more anger about see-through bottoms and, quite frankly, unsatisfying responses to those angry comments on Facebook.
What I don’t understand is why? Why would a company with a near-cult following fall into such a PR morass?
If they asked me (and they haven’t), this is what I’d tell them to get back on track.
1. First, conduct an honest assessment about the quality of lululemon products. If that’s not on your “do today list,” no public relations in the world will help. But, if it is, get your customers involved. Find the most brutally honest but seemingly fair customers and invite them to sit in on a few quality meetings, discussions about the quality they expect and more. You needn’t go farther than Facebook and Twitter for identifying these partners. Don’t just turn to your current ambassadors. But, hey, maybe team them up with a local ambassador.
2. Film a video of your manufacturing facilities. Show us how lululemon products are made, the people behind the products and the quality checks they go through. Share that video everywhere. Heck, invite your customer quality team (see number one) to be in at least one of these. Yes, you’ll want to do more than one.
3. Film testimonials of people who were once disappointed and now are overjoyed at the turnaround they experience in your newly-vetted product line. And, it should go without saying you’ll share these videos everywhere.
4. Invite anyone who was disappointed with a past product (and can reasonably prove they have the defect) to bring them to a lululemon store or ship it back. Let them download a free shipping label off your site. Replace the defective product along with an additional donation to lululemon’s Metta Movement, your grassroots community philanthropy program. Be unafraid to ask for this recall; if my dozens of lulu-loving friends are any indication, none of us would give up our lululemon pants if they were okay.
5. Mr. Wilson, say you are sorry for saying certain women “weren’t meant” for your products. I don’t care if you were misquoted, didn’t mean it like that, or someone impersonated you and really said it. Just apologize for the miscommunication, the carelessness, or the misquote. Explain what you’re going to do to next (see ideas above). Then, move on. The public has an enormous capacity to forgive in the face of sincerity.
Okay, I’m off to the gym now in my lululemon pants bought five years ago, and in which I am unafraid of bending over. I look forward to buying more of your products if their quality matches what I’m wearing right now. I also hope you’ll take my advice to heart. Because, there’s nothing worse than a company who seemed to be doing all the right things to lose a chance to correct their course when they went off the rails for a bit.