The popular catalog- and web-based company just opened its first brick-and-mortar store this January in San Francisco (after testing a smaller shop in Marin County). Anyone who shops for yoga pants or bathing suits that won’t fall down knows Athleta has been revving up its reputation as a serious fitness-apparel contender. But is the brand ready for the serious New York fitness scene—and the competition of five Lululemon stores?
From a business perspective, the expansion to New York City seems strategically right on, says Caroline Limpert, a former Victoria’s Secret executive and co-founder of Fitist.com, a new boutique fitness and wellness site, launching in May. “Obviously the amount of money that people spend on fitness in the top zip codes of New York is enormous,” she says.
Manhattanites are no stranger to Athleta and apparently have been ordering signature Kickbooty yoga pants by the buttload. “New York City is a very strong sales market for us,” says Callie Canfield, PR and Retail Marketing Manager, so the numbers supported the decision to open two stores here.
Athleta’s price point is also recognizably lower than Lululemon: Athleta Kickbooty pants cost $79 to Lululemon’s $98 Groove pants. But will that make a difference to devoted Luluheads who’d rather shell out $20 more for Luon (Lululemon’s house fabric) and the lifestyle?
Building a relationship with the fitness community in New York like Lululemon has will be a huge obstacle for Athleta, Limpert predicts. “You can’t corporately mimic Lululemon’s community store feel—it’s grass roots and authentic. I was part of the team that launched Victoria Secret Sport and we tried.”
But perhaps the effort is a necessary one?
With the new stores Canfield says Athleta is considering all the things that are important to New Yorkers, like hosting yoga classes and run clubs, as well as promoting top local teachers. “We will want our stores to feel like part of the community,” says Canfield. The company already hosts yoga classes in its San Fran store.
While Lululemon has its fitness ambassadors comprised of local yogis and boutique studio instructors or owners, each year Athleta selects a handful of featured female athletes, some of whom serve as models for the catalog. The company is also a generous event sponsor, underwriting the recent More/Fitness Women’s Half-Marathon and the Self Workout in the Park in May. Given the growing numbers of wellness-obsessed New Yorkers, we suspect there are enough city yogis and athletes to keep both companies in business. —Melisse Gelula