Time was a company founder could be forced out of the corner office by flagging sales, tumbling stocks – the usual business problems. But with the advent of the Internet, one bad statement can take a company down fast. This is what Chip Wilson, founder and chairman of Lululemon Athletica, found out the hard way.
Yesterday the company announced that Wilson resigned as chairman of the board of directors after a series of PR gaffes that will make the textbooks. The upscale yoga and exercise apparel company initially irked its cult-like following with product issues. Wilson blamed some women’s bodies for not “working with” their designs.
His comments went viral and were met with demands for an apology. Wilson did apologize – to Lululemon staff for having to deal with the results of his actions. Insult, meet injury.
Lululemon was also a case study in crafting a devoted following. They felt betrayed. The logical solution was to serve a head on a platter. Wilson will remain on the board, but he’s been replaced by Laurent Potdevin, recent president of Toms Shoes. It’s suspected that Potdevin’s tenure with that socially conscious company will help put Lululemon back on track.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lululemon, for taking a drastic measure to calm some insulted customers.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Chivalry is not dead. At the heart of the Lululemon fiasco was a man who insulted his female constituency by blaming his product’s failure on their bodies. How to win them back? Show them that the company stands by its customers. Why, they’d sooner make their founder resign than let consumers feel bad! Desperate times call for drastic measures – none of which would have been necessary had Wilson not kept in mind the most basic principle of business: The customer is always right.