Lululemon is ramping up its presence at the Rio Olympics this summer, emphasizing the technical aspects of its gear in addition to its fashion style.
The retailer is endorsing the Canadian beach volleyball team (its first "team" endorsement at the games), cyclists, and other athletes, Fortune reports.
When its hometown Vancouver hosted the Olympics in 2010, Lululemon was a prominent sponsor, but it has has worked quietly since then with Olympic athletes, mostly behind the scenes.
Yoga, the fitness activity that Lululemon is most known for, isn’t exactly an Olympic event. But its gear is also favored by many other athletes, and the retailer aims to capitalize on that as much as it can.
Olympic sponsorships are largely seen as a marketing effort rather than one that leads directly to sales, and Lululemon appears to be well aware of its power. Company officials say that working with elite athletes leads to technical innovation of fabrics and gear, which is also a particular focus for Lululemon.
“What we really want to do is take advantage of this opportunity by building the most technical product,” Eric Petersen, who oversees Lululemon’s athlete program, told Fortune. “The goal for us is that the other athletes want to wear Lululemon. The demand will come from other teams because of performance gear on the athletes, rather than because it looks good.”
The focus on marketing and innovation for its Olympic push bodes well for Lululemon, which has been under pressure as retailers from Nike to Target have entered the so-called athleisure space, arguably Lululemon’s prime innovation and the source of its initial disruption of athletic, and even fashion, sales.
“I think it is smart of Lululemon to have a presence at the Games,” Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at research firm The NPD Group, told Fortune. “It enhances their athletic credibility.”
Lululemon seems to be recovering steadily from the hit it took after quality issues were raised by customers in 2013, and is seeing the benefits of cost-cutting and supply chain improvements.
Earlier this month Lululemon reported first quarter sales that beat expectations, rising 17% to $495.5 million in the quarter, past analysts' expectations of $487.6 million. Profit fell 5% to $45.3 million in the quarter on higher costs, beating the $42.7 million expected by analysts polled at S&P Global Market Intelligence.