Lululemon Looks to Get 40% of Sales From Men as Chain Expands

  • Retailer can be positioned as dual-gender brand in new markets
  • Company’s CEO sees men’s clothing as $1 billion opportunity

A customer holding a smartphone browses athletic apparel inside a Lululemon Athletica Inc. store in Hong Kong.

Photographer: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg

Lululemon Athletica Inc. Chief Executive Officer Laurent Potdevin sees a future where almost half the company’s customers are men.

Helped by an expansion overseas -- where customers don’t necessarily associate Lululemon with women -- the apparel chain could eventually get 40 percent of its business from male shoppers, Potdevin said in an interview. Currently, about 80 percent of the yogawear retailer’s shoppers are female, he said.

Laurent Potdevin

Photographer: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg

Hitting that target would be a major feat for a company that only began seriously pursuing men a few years ago. But male customers are easy to win over once they try Lululemon’s clothes and get over preconceived notions about the brand, he said. The challenge is convincing men to abandon Y-chromosome mainstays like Nike Inc. and Under Armour Inc.

“Our men’s business is certainly a billion-dollar franchise,” said Potdevin, 49. “There is plenty of room for us to grow.”

Potdevin helped cross the gender divide at his previous two companies. He worked to bring more men to Toms Shoes, where he was president until 2013, and more women to Burton Snowboards, where he was CEO until 2010. Now he’s pitching Lululemon apparel to men by telling them they can wear it during work and athletic activities. The chain also has made inroads with its wrinkle-resistant ABC pants. ABC, short for anti-ball crushing, refers to a design that “gives the boys some room,” Lululemon says. The product’s marketing includes a suggestive video involving nuts, fruits and eggs.

Faster Growth

The ABC pants helped fuel growth last quarter, the Vancouver-based company said earlier this month. Same-store sales for its men’s category increased by a percentage in the mid-teens during the period. Total sales by that measure rose about 4 percent. If men’s apparel can generate revenue of $1 billion a year, that would be almost half the $2.06 billion Lululemon posted in its most recent fiscal year. But Potdevin is more focused on growth than the gender breakdown.

“The size is growing very quickly for both men and women,” he said.

Lululemon’s expansion into girls’ apparel, meanwhile, may be less of a blockbuster opportunity. Its girl-focused chain, Ivivva, is performing well, but it’s more about cultivating innovation and finding future customers, Potdevin said. The brand isn’t a “billion-dollar bucket,” he said.

Lululemon’s international push also may attract more men. The company is adding locations in Seoul and London and opening its first store in Beijing. That’s giving Lululemon a chance to shake its North American heritage as a women’s yoga brand, Potdevin said.

“As we grow the international business, we don’t have to rewrite the history,” he said. “We come into the market as a men’s and women’s athletic brand.”

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