The Vuori COVID-19 story: Closed stores and open minds

Discussion
Photo: Vuori
Apr 15, 2020
Catherine Pike

When we were forced to temporarily close Vuori’s five activewear stores in Encinitas, Del Mar, Newport Beach, Manhattan Beach and San Francisco on March 13 due to the coronavirus outbreak, I had two main questions around what the closures would mean for our associates and the future of our physical retail business.

First, how could we leverage this time to emerge on the other side a stronger business? Second, was there an opportunity for our 41 retail associates, now unable to physically enter their places of work, to expand their skills and support our other departments?

By Monday, March 16th we launched a three-pronged program to provide retail associates with a mix of training, project work and organization-wide redeployment. The plan was designed to enable our retail staff to meet their hourly averages during store closures, but also put our company in a unique position to eventually reopen our stores with a heightened level of service.

As for training, associates each spend 15 hours weekly to become experts across five focus areas: product, brand and culture, sales and service, operations and community. During training sessions, associates partake in in-depth product lessons with our design team, one-on-one conversations with founder/CEO Joe Kudla, and sessions covering storewide roles and operations. Every morning, associates join Vuori’s Active Club, daily fitness classes broadcast on Instagram Live spanning breathwork, yoga and other activities that provide an authentic product experience. Last but not least, associates have been enrolled in Yale’s “The Science of Wellbeing” course.

For our redeployment efforts, our retail team is working closely with leadership to identify departments that could benefit from boosted manpower. These departments have included: marketing, which now has five retail associates assisting with social media strategies; customer service, where four associates are supporting the explosive uptick in e-commerce transactions; and product, where associates are testing product and reporting feedback to the design team.

Each day, our retail associates are challenged to brainstorm on how things might unravel during the coming months across in-store technology, the omnichannel shopping experience, events and activations, and customer experience. Through this uncertain time, after all, our core belief has been that we must remain nimble, willing and able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. As we strive to meet each day’s challenges and encourage innovation within one another, I look forward to the day we can safely reopen our stores stronger than ever.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of Vuori’s decision to train and deploy its retail staff in new areas after closing its stores due to COVID-19? Which of the five areas of its associate training program — product, brand and culture, sales and service, operations or community — are most commonly lacking in other retail businesses?

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Braintrust
"The more each team member knows about other areas of the company, the better the entire organization can work together as a unified group to grow the business."
"The next topic of discussion could be: can retail behemoths emulate this small and apparently nimble business?"
"Each of the five areas of training will bring a solid return on investment – and a deeper connection to other departments in the company. "

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17 Comments on "The Vuori COVID-19 story: Closed stores and open minds"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

This is a great strategy. It provides an extra boost of manpower to other departments to tackle projects they haven’t had time to do, or help the teams expand their performance as in the example of expanded social media for the marketing team. Working for consulting firms for the past five years, our marketing team often tapped consultants that weren’t currently on a client project to assist our marketing team with special project.

In addition to keeping store employees productive, it is a good way to broaden their skills and potentially groom them for management or a position at the corporate office. Kudos to Vuori!

David Weinand
BrainTrust

Brilliant strategy. Obviously it’s far simpler with five stores and less than 50 associates but it is very smart to use the situation to bolster the skills of their team as well as use them smartly in areas where they need support. I think most retailers are lacking more in one or two of those areas and which those two are is dependent on the retailer. However, I’d say “sales and service” and “operations” are most in need of addressing and those weaknesses are amplified during times like these.

Steve Dennis
BrainTrust
This is terrific. The broader lesson for all organizations dramatically affected by COVID-19 is three-fold. First, as I delve into in my new book, be “Human-Centered.” Among other things, this means being relational, not transactional and coming from a place of empathy. Building more connection leads to more loyalty. Second, invest in being more remarkable. Even very good does not cut it in world where customers are in charge and there is an abundance of choice. What this means is different for each retailer, but Vuori is pointed in the right direction for their brand. Third, even before the current crisis it was becoming increasingly clear that we are in a brave new world, where the pace of disruption continues to increase and the environment we’re operating is even more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (also known as “VUCA”). This puts a greater premium on retailers having greater clarify of vision and becoming far more agile. This is a time to make smart investments for the long-term. As Winston Churchill is sometimes quoted as having… Read more »
Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I can’t clap hard enough for this initiative. Especially at the speed with which it was implemented. THAT’S survival!!! Hand-wringing is status quo. Exploring is learning.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

This is very similar to what Apple did to keep the store employees working during this pandemic. Customer service is often the one attribute that is not the same across businesses and I believe a clear understanding of expectations across all employees is needed to be successful. What is good needs to be fully explained and understood by all.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Brilliant. I expect retail stores when they do open will be at 10 percent to 20 percent of normal traffic for a few weeks, using those five areas to train will keep staff engaged and ready as consumers return.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

If Vuori can afford to pay and keep their employees on, and expand their training and future capabilities to serve the customer, it is a commendable show of commitment to their business, to their employees, and to their customers. The next topic of discussion could be: can retail behemoths emulate this small and apparently nimble business?

Stephen Rector
BrainTrust

This is a great idea to keep the entire team engaged and to keep company morale up. The more each team member knows about other areas of the company, the better the entire organization can work together as a unified group to grow the business.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I agree. And for a variety of reasons there has seldom been an emphasis on cross-training. We are the country of specialization, and that is definitely not as good as having a broader understanding of the business environment.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

I applaud Vuori’s approach to engage employees during the downturn in business to offer training to enhance employee business expertise. To me, the areas most lacking for retail employees today are culture, service and community. These areas are most lacking because they are the hardest for a retailer to teach and to effectively teach these subjects means a retailer must expand beyond the typical training time devoted to new employees. Many of us have said for a very long time that proper, in-depth training is the key to happy, customer-focused employees.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

This is such a smart idea; smart for the retailer, smart for customers when the stores reopen, and all around smart for the associates. I like that they begin each day with a fitness class because moving when it’s easier to stay sedentary is critical.

Each of the five areas of training will bring a solid return on investment – and a deeper connection to other departments in the company. I especially like that this is not just video training, but that it includes brainstorming and project work. Keeping people in the right state of mind during a shelter at home order is so important. Bravo, Vuori!

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Bravo! Progressive action and involved associates. What more can you want?

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This is outstanding. Not only does it provide an employee an excellent understanding of the company, it also provides the employee with the feeling that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

My cynical mind sees too many companies, not just retailers, that have the philosophy that an employee is there to do a specific job and does not need and maybe even shouldn’t understand how the company is a mesh of people and processes that make it work successfully.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Amazing story and truly the kind of stuff that will put Vuori ahead of the competition. This is a leadership commitment that will endear the retail staff to work harder and more effectively for the company. Each of the five identified aspects of business are critical and different retailers have strengths and weaknesses across all of them. However, sales and service and community are the ones most lacking, especially at larger competitors. Training programs rush through these pieces that in many cases require soft skills to excel at – especially customer empathy. In part these are discounted because they are difficult to track, measure and identify performance improvements – as they are subjective.

Kathy Kimple
BrainTrust

I love Vuori’s rapid pivot and focus. They are smart to redeploy folks to assist other areas where there is need, and to provide valuable cross-training that will help the chain emerge quickly when stores reopen. At FitForCommerce we are working with our clients on initiatives they can create to keep workers fully employed and their current operations running efficiently and effectively.

Ryan Grogman
BrainTrust

It’s always great to find these positive gems in the current cycle of doom and gloom news stories. Vuori’s example is one that can be applied to many retailers, even ones with much larger volumes of stores and associates. We have been preaching customer engagement as an industry the past few years, and oftentimes we forget how critical associate engagement is to that overall recipe for success. Creating an environment where your associates feel you are investing in them in turn fosters loyalty which in turn will create a more positive and engaged workforce which can only benefit end consumers.

Given potential decreases in HQ staff as well, retailers would be smart to think about how cross-training can not only result in a more knowledgeable workforce across the board but also keep HQ employees engaged who may be having extra down-time during the pandemic.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I certainly wish Ms. Pike and her associates well, and applaud her decision to retain people, but looking more generally at the “after” retail world, some of the ideas floating around seem counterproductive to improving the retail experience. Certainly “limiting customers in store” could encourage customer service, but just as certainly limiting personal interaction, and setting up baffles, masks, etc, will discourage it.

My suspicion is that the regimens, which admittedly are still in the talking stage(s), will be found to be impractical — however laudable the goals may seem. But regardless, hopefully we’ll see more input from retailers than seems to be the case now, just as there always has been in prior crises.

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Braintrust
"The more each team member knows about other areas of the company, the better the entire organization can work together as a unified group to grow the business."
"The next topic of discussion could be: can retail behemoths emulate this small and apparently nimble business?"
"Each of the five areas of training will bring a solid return on investment – and a deeper connection to other departments in the company. "

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