Free People wants to be a serious wellness brand.
Starting this fall, the brand will ramp up its activewear line, FP Movement, launched in 2012, and also start carrying more wellness products in stores and online. In addition, it plans to bring a wellness focus to most of its 136 stores and ensure that any new stores have space for workout classes.
The brand’s three new retail locations launched in 2019 were all designed to include dedicated space for fitness classes and community events.
“A lot of our spaces have been designed so that you can clear away the product and open up the space to allow some of these events to happen, but every store is so different,” said Ana Hartl, senior managing director of creative at Free People. The brand has also installed in select stores curtains that can be drawn to make the workout space feel more private and to allow regular customers to shop sans distractions. For stores smaller in size, like its Santa Monica location, Free People is focusing more on events that can take place outside of the store — like surf outings at the beach, but with the store as the meeting point.
Free People isn’t hiring a whole new team to help implement this wellness-centered strategy, said Hartl. Instead, it’s relying internally on its existing employees, who Hartl said are already passionate about fitness and wellness, to help push the agenda forward. Events are promoted to customers in stores, as well as on the brand’s website and through emails.
Adding workout space into a store isn’t new in the brand retail playbook; doing so is becoming table stakes for activewear brands.
Athleta built one of its New York City locations in Flatiron around a workout space in 2015. It now hosts more than 30 classes a week in the store’s lower-level studio, including barre, yoga and HIIT. And this month, the brand re-opened the Flatiron studio with a fresh design, to include a full workout studio that can host multiple classes a day and a co-working space.
“Our new space is meant to allow women to come together, learn and grow,” said Sheila Shekar Pollak, chief marketing officer at Athleta. “This studio is also where we host our monthly Wellness Collective series, led by women in the community, aimed at making holistic wellness more accessible and actionable than ever before.”
For Athleta, community is a big part of its push around building studios and hosting workout classes, but it’s also a source of revenue. Customers can buy class packages, as with any boutique fitness studio, to workout at Athleta. Ten classes cost $200, or customers can buy five for $95. Through September, customers can buy a monthly unlimited membership for $99 and receive $25 to spend in stores, which they walk through to get to the downstairs studio.
Likewise, in July Lululemon opened a meditation studio in its 20,000-square-foot Chicago location, also to build a community, but hopefully boost sales at the same time. It has offered community yoga classes since the brand was founded in 1998, and soon after started hosting running groups.
Free People said driving sales isn’t a main focus with its fitness programming — although on the brand’s online schedule of events, where customers can RSVP for classes, several descriptions mention shopping the newest FP Movement styles after class. Hartl said the goal is to build a relationship with the customer by inviting her to the store to workout, and meet different instructors and store employees. Maybe she’ll come back and buy something down the line, but the brand doesn’t expect her to transact right away. Classes, at this point, are free to take.
“We are really more focused on engaging our customer. The hope is, as we engage with her, she comes back to us — but our first thought is to engage and get to know her more,” said Hartl.
Free People declined to share any financial specifics around its FP Movement activewear line or its investment in the new retail spaces. In the second quarter of 2019, net sales for Free People increased 6% from the previous year.