Rethinking Retail: Lole brand’s ‘workshop’ locations aim to promote lifestyle over product

Lole, the maker of women’s technical and lifestyle apparel, is looking to turn retail on its head by opening so-called “ateliers” -- literally “workshops” in French -- across North America where it will be more about promoting lifestyle rather than selling product. SNEWS takes a look at how the brand is rethinking retail by shunning the usual conventions of a retail store.
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Lole, the maker of women’s technical and lifestyle apparel, is looking to turn retail on its head by opening so-called “ateliers” -- literally “workshops” in French -- across North America. There, the brand will be more about promoting lifestyle rather than doing a full-court press on selling product, for example by holding weekly fitness activities in local parks to promote the brand’s central theme of living an active lifestyle.

The first “Atelier Lole” opened in Montreal in Quebec, Canada, in mid-September -- and Lole is using this first location as the model -- and laboratory -- for future expansion in North America.

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“I really believe Lole must be -- has to be -- a lifestyle brand,” Bernard Mariette, president and CEO of Lole, told SNEWS® (picture, right, in front of the Atelier entrance). “For that reason, when you are a lifestyle brand, you have to have a place where you express your lifestyle. You need to have a home.”

The notion of home is a central theme in the 1,500-square-foot workshop and uses the kitchen as its central model, as evidenced by the long wood kitchen-like tables and stools in the center of the space.

“In the house, the place you feel the most comfortable is the kitchen. You have the best times with family and friends at dinner in the kitchen. It’s the place for social relations,” Mariette said.

Blending retail and social media is another theme of the workshop. Fifteen iPads have been integrated into the Atelier’s design to help promote the workshop’s concept. A large part of one wall -- the “social media wall” -- is covered with blown-up photos of active women outdoors and various iPads showing up-to-the-minute photos sent in via the Lole Pop app. The app allows users to take pictures of special moments while they are out and about, then “flip” them directly to the iPads located on the Atelier’s social wall.

Yes, yes, product too

Amid all this, you will also find product. There is a large shelving unit aptly named “the pantry,” which holds smaller items for sale, and Lole apparel is merchandised on the remaining wall space (see photo, right).

Mariette said he doesn’t want people just to shop; he wants the workshop to be a place for socializing, working, fitness activities and more. “In order to do this,” he said, “you have to first of all, make a very intimate place.”



To accomplish this, Lole (www.lolewomen.com) is seemingly shunning many standard principles in store design. It has foregone the front window showcase and replaced its exterior windows with three large, green wall panels covered with shrub-like material. This unique storefront has drawn in many a curious passer-by trying to figure out what’s behind them, Mariette said.



“We decided in order to be true to what we say and not be commercial -- be Lole first -- we have to close the window,” he said. “We built the green walls with two functions: One, was to close our space, our workshop from the outside, and the second was to express what we love in town, which is nature.”

Another aspect that seems to go against Retail 101 is the exclusion of registers in a centralized cash wrap area. Instead, Lole is using iPod Touches for all its transactions, using specially designed software to scan products and credit cards, and then email receipts to customers.

“If you want this place to be comfortable and not commercial, you have to get rid of the register. It means ‘show me your money,’ and I hate that,” Mariette told SNEWS. “I feel so uncomfortable when you have the register.”

While that seems like the anti-thesis of any for-profit business, Mariette said Lole’s philosophy for the workshop is a showcase to express the company’s lifestyle from A to Z. The goal is not to compete with its retailers, but use the space as a laboratory to experiment with concepts.

“If you go to other stores (that sell Lole), they will express more the product category. In our case, we spread the lifestyle first and then we showcase our product,” he said.

“To be honest, I don’t mind if they don’t buy in our workshop. As long as they experience Lole and when they go to one of our customers, they buy. It gives us a perspective on the participant of our lifestyle, our consumers. That’s very very important. We get fantastic feedback from that kind of experience,” he added.

Get moving

In addition to the workshops, Lole has been working to get women moving and active through free activities organized in local parks. In addition to Montreal, it’s held these “meet-ups” in Portland, Ore., and New York City, and the brand has plans for other areas, including Boulder, Colo. The bi-weekly classes are led by Lole ambassadors, leading groups in outdoor fitness, yoga and even hula hoop (see photo, right).

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“(We want to) practice what we say: Let’s go outside in the park, do some yoga, exercise, bicycle -- let’s enjoy the town as a place where we can express ourselves outside.”

The first Atelier Lole in Montreal is part of a larger plan to open more than 30 workshops in North America in the next three years. Mariette said he is eyeing Boston, Chicago and Denver as possible locations. The company recently opened another workshop in Zurich, Switzerland, and is opening a “shortique” -- a combination showroom and boutique -- in the trendy Tribeca area of New York City in early 2011.

Mariette said he is optimistic, saying he believes in brick-and-mortar, online stores and social media -- “all these things are going to be very very strong” -- and blending all these ideas into one. By tapping into a model unifying all the concepts, he said he hopes to regain the closeness to the consumer that retail has lost in the rise of commoditized online sales.

“I think people are getting bored buying the way they buy. I believe if you blend the whole story, you share the lifestyle. By doing this, it replaces an older concept of buying and selling,” Mariette said. “When you have a place where the staff lives and breathes your lifestyle, when you have a place where you can express your lifestyle, and encourage people to be included in your lifestyle, then you grow the lifestyle.”

And, ultimately, by sharing the lifestyle, consumers will experience the product and that will entice them to buy as a result of it.

“I don’t want to sell many, many, many products to one person,” Mariette said. “I want to sell one to two products to many, many, many people.”

--Wendy Geister

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