Brad Bonner was in a panic that June morning in Victoria.
His luggage had been lost and he had an important meeting in a few hours. Getting up early he walked the downtown streets looking to see which store would be open the earliest where he could buy some suitable clothing. What he discovered was that lululemon opened at 9 while most other stores opened at 10 am. Going into lululemon, he searched for clothes that would be suitable for his meeting, he found a pair of pants, a shirt, underwear and socks. The pants needed to be hemmed, so he asked the sales associate if they could be done by 10 am. For sure Mr Bonner, go out get a coffee and come back in a half hour and we will have it all ready for you. You can pay for it all then.
As Brad told me the story, I rolled my eyes imagining this 6’1’ 200lb guy showing up in tight fitting lycra to an important business meeting. Sensing my dismay, Brad, quickly added “Dave, you would like the pants, they are loose fitting, stylish and suitable for business with the label sewn up where people wouldn’t notice.
The pants were hemmed when Brad returned, the package ready for him to take back to the hotel, so he could shower, and change for his meeting. As he put his credit card on the counter to pay, the Sales associate said, “No Mr Bonner, the clothes are on us. You have been put out because you have lost your luggage and we want to take care of you!”
Brad said he was dumbfounded. Never in a thousand years would he have expected a store like lululemon to give him what amounted to over nearly two hundred dollars in product for free, but here it was happening to him. Brad was truly grateful.
Did lululemon Make a Mistake in giving away Free Clothes? Was this sales associate acting independently or is that a store policy? Sure they had “clothed the naked” and helped a stranded traveller, but what about their other stakeholders? What would happen to the bottom line if all of a sudden people heard about Brad’s story and started rushing down to their local lululemon store with a sob story about losing their clothes too? Would share prices drop because they gave away inventory, or would they rise because of the goodwill?
In business we need to make decisions on the fly sometimes and hopefully we empower our staff to make similar decisions. This sales associate at lululemon made a decision to help Brad out with Free Product. They had no idea whether Brad was a frequent shopper at lululemon or not, there was no expectation that Brad would come back and buy more clothing, though he did later that afternoon. Usually decisions like the one this associate made go unnoticed in the media and unrecognized by anyone other than the recipient and their friends. It’s usually the head offices of corporations like lululemon that give away free product in the calculated attempt to gain goodwill and free publicity.
But perhaps small business could learn from this act of generosity from this lululemon associate. How much leeway do you give your employees to be generous with your products or services? Do you have a policy for gifting, for charity? How could you ensure that you are donating to the right causes and what limits do you need to set.
Every day in communities around North America, small businesses are bombarded for requests for money, product, advertising, and donations from charities, sports teams, and individuals. Thanks to their generosity, small business is the backbone of the fundraising efforts of most charitable and non-profit organizations in your community. However, without concrete policies on what is suitable for your organization, you could have your staff giving away free product, goods, services and even money for causes that you don’t support.
lululemon was indeed generous in their act of charity to Brad that morning in Victoria, but did they get it right or did they make a mistake? You be the judge!
Dave Fuller is a Certified Professional Business Coach and the author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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