Our quick scan of REI’s digital presence: Homepage prompts vistors to join the co-op and get 20% off. Promo on the site for a “backpacking bundle” includes tents, sleeping bag and sleeping pad for $199.99. Visitors are also pointed to REI Adventure Trips and REI Co-op World Mastercard sign up. “Order Online, Pick Up In Store” is also highlighted. Social media posts range from awe-inspiring outdoors photos to posts addressing topics ranging from PTSD to environmental issues. REI-produced how to videos are fun. Topics include: “what to eat after a run” and “how to choose a bear canister.”
We visited an REI store in Denver, CO. Top takeaways: Multi-level store has a local flavor – the entrance features several Colorado-based brands such as Icelantic and Strafe. Packs and bags are a big feature as one walks into the center of the store, with Osprey, Kavu, Sherpani, Kuhl and a dozen more brands. Skis and snowboards are another big section on the first floor. Upstairs is filled with apparel and footwear. Patagonia stands out. A walkway leads to a loft with deep discounts on everything from running shoes to winter coats. Store is well merchandised, well staffed and mixes full price brand names with healthy sampling of discounted merch.
The Rundown: Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), organized as a consumers’ co-operative, has more than 150 stores across the U.S. Coming off a record sales year in 2017, REI had a shakeup in early 2019 as CEO Jerry Stritzke resigned following an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding what was termed by REI execs as Stritzke’s “relationship with the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.”
Background: Eighty years after Lloyd and Mary Anderson officially formed the REI Co-op with 21 of their fellow outdoor adventurers, the outdoor co-op is strong and healthy – it reported a record $2.62 billion in sales in 2017.
Major 2018 Developments: When Stritzke, REI’s leader since 2013, resigned, Eric Artz, previously REI Chief Operating Officer, took on the role of interim CEO. The board of directors formally accepted Stritzke’s resignation on February 11, while stating that it recognized his “consistently outstanding business performance.”
More Cycling Offerings: In 2019, REI is expanding its cycling business with more brands and more cycling offerings at all of its stores. Says Ben Johns, REI’s general merchandising manager, “The changes we have planned for 2019 will be another big step forward as we work to infuse cycling more prominently into the co-op’s DNA.”
Vendor Honors: REI named CA-based snowboard and skateboard manufacturer Arbor Collective as top vendor partner of 2018, and honored Costa’s Untangled Collection of sunglasses with its Root Award for its innovative sunglass frames made from recycled fishing nets found in the ocean. Electra, HydroFlask, Outdoor Research and Smartwool were also recognized as REI vendor leaders.
Gear Rental: In December of 2018, REI began offering snowshoe rental options in 70 REI stores around the country. The co-op plans to continue to expand its rental program with new products and additional locations throughout 2019. Peter Whitcomb, director of new business development and head of REI’s rental program, said, “Our expansion into snowshoe rentals and used gear is one of the key ways we’re evolving our business model to connect more people to the outdoors.”
Used Gear: In 2018, REI refreshed its used gear website featuring more brands and product and a series of member-to-member gear swaps. Whitcomb, leader of the co-op’s used gear efforts, noted that, on average, products from REI.com/used can be purchased for up to 65 percent less than buying the same products new. Before expanding the used gear site, REI had run a 10-month beta test, which Whitcomb noted was “successful beyond all expectation, which tells us there is an inherent appetite for high-quality, lightly used product at lower price points.”
Impactful: Nearly 70 percent of REI’s profits go back to the outdoor community, supporting employee retirement, helping fund trail work, returning dividends to its members and supporting nonprofits that get people into the outdoors. In 2017, REI was able to invest $8.8 million into more than 1,000 outdoor places and give $56.5 million to employees through profit-sharing and retirement.