It’s the morning after Thanksgiving, and you walk through the silent aisles of a closed for the day REI. Your tummy is full of the turkey your wife so excellently cooked on a MSR wisperlight. You prop your hand up on you sides and think to yourself, “ By god Jerry, we did it… #optout worked...” But no, I'm there, /u/buttmonkey1120… with black diamond crampons strapped to my feet and a used camelback bladder in my hands. I have red eyes, like those of a crazed black friday shopper. You know I will ruin #optout black friday for everyone unless stopped.
What two pieces of equipment in the store would you use to fight me to the death?
PS: thanks for doing this
I have to start with the Black Diamond Ice axe!! I think I would also go with crampons.
Hi Jerry, I am a proud REI employee at store 60 in Brookfield, WI. I absolutely love our #OptOutside campaign, but I've read and heard some comments that this is just a ploy for free marketing (which, for the record, I do not agree with). What are your thoughts on these opinions?
Thank you for all you have done and continue to do.
We hoped that we would have a platform to talk about our passion for getting people outside - what better way to do so than enable our employees to spend the day outside with their loved ones. By the way, it was not free - huge retail day and we will pay all our associates.
Hi Mr. Stritzke,
I've been trying to get an interview at REI for about three years now and have been unsuccessful. I've applied online numerous times, networked with REI BPs and Store Managers on LinkedIn for similar advice, and have delivered a resume in person here in Denver to no avail.
I've been an ETL for Target for over four years. I love what I do and have never received below "excellent" on my annual reviews. I'd love nothing more than to have an opportunity to interview for a position in your company and to align my life passions (e.g. the outdoors) with my career passions (i.e., leadership).
This is technically an "Ask Me Anything," so may I send my resume to you? I wouldn't waste your time if I wasn't serious and knew I couldn't be a great asset to the REI team.
Thanks, and thanks for taking care of your team on Thanksgiving!!!
I can relate, I tried to get them to talk to me for six months before I got my first conversation :) Love the persistence, here is where to send your resume and I'll make sure the right people see it: email@example.com
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
I have never really been able to figure out what a hot dog is, but they still taste pretty awesome with english mustard.
BUT IS IT A SANDWICH???
Ok, ok - you obviously care a lot about this. It’s not a sandwich - it’s an American tradition!
It's so awesome to give your employees a paid day off on Black Friday, is there plan to move towards other progressive policies like paying a living wage?
Thanks so much for doing this!
We are committed to doing the right thing for our employees. We have just finished a body of work looking at Living wage and are looking to begin to push something out in 2016. We will pay $15 in some markets (in some markets this is likely to be the minimum with state law), but we will not have the same rate everywhere given the different cost of living. I think we will strike a good balance between our full time and part time employees but the reality is that it’s not an easy problem to solve and you need to factor in healthcare and other benefits. Looking forward to having that conversation next year as we roll the program out.
Jerry, just wanted to say, I've worked for REI for 8 years and love the direction we are taking with you at the helm! I have to say I'm super stoked about what's coming next. My question, what are you doing to #OptOutside? And, can I buy you a beer sometime?!
Love the beer sometime! I am planning to get up on Mt. Rainier - they had close to 13 feet of snow last week - I need to check it out.
Hey Jerry! Thank you so much for doing this AMA.
I am on a team researching polyester microfiber pollution from clothing. When a jacket is washed, hundreds of fibers shed and may eventually reach the marine environment. This is a mounting ecological concern and other outdoor apparel retailers such as Mountain Equipment Coop and Patagonia have been engaged in the conversation.
Considering REI has a similar track record in protecting the environment and reducing our footprint, how are you currently addressing this issue and are there any plans moving forward?
Great question - This is emerging research and our team is watching this closely through the sustainability connections via the Outdoor Industry Association. We will absolutely take action as we get a handle on the range of possibilities.
Can you explain the co-op aspect of REI?
An old concept - we were created 76 years ago. Simply put, owned by the members with a obligation to act in the best interest of the members. Our co-op was started by 23 climbers that loved the outdoors and great gear - we still feel the same way.
What is your favorite piece of gear?
I love my Osprey backpack. I have hauled it up Mt. Rainier and multiple 14,000 peaks in Colorado. Living outside is almost spiritual!
Hey Jerry, thanks for doing this AMA. I was really happy when I received the email from you all explaining you'd be closed on Black Friday.
While it's never easy to walk away from profit, how receptive was your executive management to this choice? Was there opposition to the idea?
I am proud of my team, they actually surfaced the idea - scared me to death the first time that I heard the idea. We fell in love with the idea of what this would mean to our associates and their families - we believed our members would understand and love the idea. I have to confess the day before we announced, I was pretty sure everyone would think it was the dumbest idea any retailer ever considered!! NO one wanted to confess to owning the idea early in the process. I have heard a rumor it was a merchant.
What is the best advice you've received?
Would you rather fight 100 marmot-sized elk, or 1 elk-sized marmot?
Love the idea of an elk-sized marmot - feels like there is an awesome coat in there somewhere.
employee here. thanks for the day off. i never got to submit the 100 year idea at the all store meeting last week, so here it is: i think we should set up an REI land conservancy. partnerships with the parks are fantastic, but i think a big part of what we do should be adding to the acreage of land being preserved.
on that note, what big idea are you most excited about for keeping REI around for the next 100 years?
Love your idea. Really like that we are thinking about how we can make an impact that will make a difference in 100 years. I am torn between something that effectively gets our young people into the outdoors - I also like the idea of an REI trail across the United States. I fear that we will need to solve how to effectively operate our public places - what we are doing is under pressure.
You have some great products but your pricing is way out of touch. Is it corporate greed or can REI not survive with more competitive prices? I test rode a bike that I really liked but found the exact bike $400 less from a competitor.
If you found the exact some bike at $400 less, we are doing something wrong. Much of our assortment is priced according to the brand's recommendation. We try to build an assortment that has great opening price points and reaches up to some of the most excellent gear available. There is no real incentive for corporate greed at a co-op - the profit goes back to the members :)
Hi Jerry, every almost every hiker has a hike that was memorable to them, what is the best and worst hike that you have been on?
Other than the big three what is something that every backpacker or hiker should bring with them when they go out?
I tend to climb on my hikes - I was in awe of Mt. Rainier and will always remember the first time that I summited. Worse hike coming down from Mt. Harvard in Colorado - equipment fail, shoe blew out, it rained (no rain gear)! Top three: I think great food, something to ensure that you are warm, maybe a friend!
Hi Jerry! I've been a member for a number of years, but find myself rarely shopping at REI since moving to Philadelphia, because I'd rather spend days off getting outside, not driving to a suburban store. Does REI have plans for more urban locations in the near future? Thanks!
We are building stores in more urban environments - we are building a flagship store in Washington DC as we speak. I think it is critical to build that bridge from the urban environment to compelling outside experiences. Increasingly we are seeing people get outside in urban environments which is really inspiring.
If you are closing all 143 stores to OptOutside, why is the online store still available to use during Black Friday?
We are putting a takeover message over the website telling people that we are all outside. At the end of the day, it is not so easy or smart to "turn-off" the systems that support a website. Also websites cannot go outside :), but the rest of us will.
I notice that almost all of the REI board of directors are CEO's, executives, or presidents of something. REI's board vesting process bylaws seem to eliminate most non-elite people from having a chance to make it onto the board. (The existing board members have to select and approve nominations before the nominations go out to members for a final vote) To add to REI's authenticity, have you ever considered a push to get some everyday outdoorsmen/women onto the board? Someone such as a professional mountain guide, ski patroller, or even one of REI's more seasoned sales floor employees? Someone who makes less than $50k per year, but who is intimately connected to the outdoors and who better understands and represents the companies' membership base? I'd be first in line! :) Thanks.
Current Board of directors:
Matt Compton, Portland, Ore.: Startup executive and venture capitalist (2018)
Christine Day, Vancouver, British Columbia: CEO of Luvo (2018) Karen E. (Kari) Glover, Seattle, Wash.: Attorney (2017)
John Hamlin, Austin, Texas: President and managing partner, private equity firm (2016)
Steven Hooper, Bellevue, Wash.: Founder and partner, venture capital firm (2016)
Steve Lockhart, Oakland, Calif.: Chief medical officer, regional health system (2018)
Beth Newlands Campbell, Cornelius, N.C.: Former president, supermarket retailer (2018)
Sharon Philpott, White Salmon, Wash.: Certified public accountant (2017)
Bert Quintana, Nashville, Tenn.: President, global customer care provider (2016)
Cheryl Scott, Seattle, Wash.: Senior advisor, global foundation (2017)
Jerry Stritzke, Seattle, Wash.: REI President and CEO (by virtue of position)
Anthony Truesdale, Mountain Lakes, N.J.: CEO, national nutritional products retailer (2016)
Board election process: http://www.rei.com/about-rei/board-of-directors/election-process.html
Every one of our board members are amazing outdoorsmen/women. At the end of the day, we are running a $2.2+ billion dollar business and want to do an amazing job to ensure the future of the co-op. The co-op is filled with amazing, professional mountain guides, ski patrollers, and every other type of outdoor lover - I would rather have these talented people running the company than sitting on the board - in case any board members read this: I love you too!
I've been a member for close to 20 years now and still trust and recommend the brand highly. I'm so happy you're closing shop on black Friday and have nothing but respect for the decision.
What are some outdoor experiences you think everyone should have?
Spend a night outside in a dark sky location! Stand on the top of a mountain over 14,000 feet.
Should turtles form an alliance with the squirrel kingdom?
I would actually like to see the turtles and squirrel have a go at it - I have never seen anything like the creativity and persistence of a squirrel but I am not sure they could crack the turtle challenge - so to speak :)
Hello, great job on the direction REI is heading. I love your products/stores so much that I became a member even though we don't live in US.
Question, do you have any plan to expand to Canada? Our MEC is similar ad well but competition is always good.
And looking forward to BF sales online!
As a friend of Canadians, I love shopping at MEC and SAIL, but more variety is always welcome, as diverse shopping options foster economic competition, and better range and selection of products.
Mac or PC?
Mac - I am lazy. I want all my information on every device.
What was your first job? What was the most important lesson that you learned from it? How did other positions you have held assisted you in being in the position you are today?
Thank you for being a friend of the outdoors.
My first job was at age 14, clearing tables - I was fired - something about not eating scraps of the plates. I worked construction through college and law school - hard work!!! Networking is huge - I changed careers three times and became a CEO of a company without writing a resume.
As an REI employee I'm dying to know, what are our new vests going to look like?
It is green
Hi Jerry, what do you think of the internet and how things get attention? Like how this will get more upvotes than your AMA. http://i.imgur.com/Hk2qPo3.gifv
That is my dog!! I actually volunteered to take my shirt off for the video we filmed, but we were pretty sure it would hurt the views. Seriously, I love the ability for important subjects to explode into public discourse.
Hi Jerry, I am a long time REI member and environmental studies student with a policy emphasis (because thats where I believe the environment struggles most) at Northern Illinois University. What do you think is the best way to get the next generation outside and help them become better stewards of the environment contrary to the video game/computer culture that we face today?
Big question - I wish I knew the big unlock, maybe that is why it is a subject at a university. I do believe that we have to find a way to get as many people as possible to "experience" the outside. It really is transformative. We have to find the key moments when young people are "becoming", giving them an outdoor experience in that moment, I believe will change their direction for a lifetime.
Tent or hammock?
Also, I just got back from 4 very wet and windy days in the smokies and wanted to thank everyone in the Knoxville store for all the help getting me prepared.
I have always believed that hammocks are hot places for dates. Other than that, I lean towards tents.
As promised, here’s a question from /r/CampingAndHiking:
“Hi there. Lifelong member here! Love your store. My question is this: Were folks really being so abusive of the old return policy that it had to be changed? Or what was the reason? It was one of my favorite things about REI because I hate returning items and you made it easy enough for me to do. These days, I get hassled when trying to return an item to REI, and it kinda bums me out.”
We had a small number of people that aggressively took advantage of the policy - use one season return it - do it again next year. We will keep trying to make it easier.
Hi Jerry. What is your opinion on potentially bringing back a wooly mammoth through science?
I think the wooly mammoth would be an awesome mate for the elk sized Marmot - let's bring them back.
For Veteran's day: Does REI have any hiring practices to encourage hiring of Veterans or spouses of active duty members?
Love the question. We participate in a number of specific hiring forums that are centered around reaching veterans. We are fortunate to have veterans in many of our senior leadership roles.
According to a few studies, there is an 'adventure gap' between low-income and inner city kids and the outdoors. What programs have you seen that are really working well to get these kids to the outdoors?
Along those same lines, what have been some of your personal favorite 'urban' adventures (i.e. parks, lakes, rivers, hills, hikes, etc that are within, or near a major city?
Love the Black Friday plan.
The adventure gap is real. There are a number of amazing nonprofits that are trying to address the opportunity and that do great work. I think this is a hard solve and needs more support and resources. Our REI Foundation has been working with many of the non-profits to determine what is working. I love the work that Forterra is doing in Seattle, and we support Outdoor Nation and Natural Leaders Network through the REI Foundation. I have become a huge fan of the bike trails around Lake Washington in Seattle. Turkey Mountain in Tulsa Oklahoma :) Bear Mountain north of NYC. I loved sneaking off to the High Line in NYC.
Hi there! I've been a devout customer for over half a decade since my first ever camping trip with Scouts!
My question is, has REI worked with organizations like The Sierra Club or the Wilderness Society in the fight to get Congress to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund? As you might know, the Fund was established in 1963 under the Wilderness Act, and takes money from offshore drilling surpluses to aid Nation, State, and Local parks and monuments across the country in expanding and managing park land. Since Congress let this expire, many of our greatest National parks are at risk of private development within the park.
Has REI done anything to assist in the battle to reauthorize, or will it in the future?
We have absolutely worked with The Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society regarding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Huge issue and we will continue to push for action.
I have appreciated the opportunity to engage in this conversation! I believe that it is important to have open and transparent conversations about the issues that touch our hearts. Not sure my team will let me loose on the keyboard again but this has been amazing. I am still thinking about the squirrel versus the turtles question. Have a great evening.
I am wondering why there is such an obsessive emphasis on membership sales? Why aren’t employees incentivised to sell memberships, but rather penalized for failing to do so?
I will be more specific. I worked in outdoor retail for several years, and was even a key-holding manager at a small local shop before I started with REI. I really liked the co-op business model and wanted to be a part of something bigger than a one store operation. I soon realized that while things like reliability and product knowledge mattered on paper, the actual priority of management was new member conversion. Even when we would exceed our daily sales goal or get a spectacular customer review, the main focus was on how many memberships were sold that day. With this in mind, I tried to strike a balance between providing exceptional service to pre-existing members and giving authentic membership pitches. Some days I would sell lots of memberships, some days I wouldn’t sell any, and most days I would sell a few.
Over the course of a year, I received top marks in my check ins, was eventually cross trained in every department, helped out with inventory preparations, stayed overnight to assist with store moves, and trained new batches employees in multiple departments. For a brief time my membership sales stagnated, but my quality of service and product knowledge continued to excel. It was like somebody flipped a switch. I was denied a promotion because I did not sell enough memberships. I had my hours cut from 30 hours a week to less than 10 because I did not sell enough memberships. Additionally, I was not allowed to pick up shifts from people that didn’t want to work because I did not sell enough memberships. Similar things happened to some of my most authentically qualified co-workers as well. Finally, after moving across the country with the assurance of a transfer, I was told by the store in the new city that I did not sell enough memberships and therefore they did not have any room on the payroll for me. I was not even given the courtesy of an interview with the store to assess any of my other skills, just a brief email wishing me good luck. I lost my health insurance, a source of much needed income, and any potential co-worker friends in a new city where I knew no one. It seems that management would rather take on the expense of hiring and training someone new than risk a lower membership conversion rate from a reliable and cross-trained employee. I liked my job and hope this is an isolated incident, but my experience involves two stores of very different sizes in two very different cities.
I fully understand the need to hold employees to a high standard, but why is the approach so unbalanced? How is it in the best interest of the co-op to focus so exclusively on a performance metric that has no direct benefit for customers who are already members?
Update: Wow. The tremendous amount of support I have received from the community is truly humbling. I was hoping to start a conversation and have certainly done that. The customer responses and posts that confirm my experience mean more to me than any sort of packaged corporate answer. Please support local, authentic, outdoor retail.
Hi /u/annonemp, My team gave me a heads up that I missed an important question earlier so I'm jumping back on quickly to acknowledge that I've seen it. First of all, I promise I wasn't avoiding your question. This was my first AMA and I covered as many questions as I could (actually spent twice as long as I had planned). I logged off earlier and just saw this. It’s late here in Seattle so I appreciate your understanding.
I'm sorry to read about your experience. Our members are important, but your experience really doesn't sound usual so I want to look into this more. I'll get back on in the morning and provide a more in-depth answer about our membership sales, but I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you.
UPDATE: As promised, here’s my in-depth answer.
Annonemp - First, I want to reiterate that I wasn't avoiding your question. This was my first AMA and I answered as many questions as I could in the time I was online – clearly the conversation kept on after that.
I'm certainly concerned about your experience and to hear others express the same. Our members and customers are our first priority and providing them with knowledgeable insights is the most important thing we do. I believe that this expertise and a shared passion for the outdoors are our overwhelming strengths as an organization and am very proud of the men and women wearing green vests in our stores.
I have to admit the emphasis on membership sales was a surprise to me when I joined the co-op two years ago. Given that I was new, I wanted to have a better understanding of the co-op structure and some of the whys behind our actions. There is no doubt that the co-op structure is focused on the concept of membership and there is long institutional memory reinforcing the idea that we should encourage as many people to join the co-op as possible – we believe in the mission and purpose of the co-op.
Having said that, we may have lost sight of the bigger picture. The truth is that we should have been doing a better job sharing what makes the co-op special. We should have a "pull" model (people want to join because they believe in our mission and they love the experience), not a "push" model when it comes to the co-op. And the most important thing is that our employees in our stores know that their skill, deep outdoor knowledge and customer service are the things that matter above everything. To be clear, that is how our people should be measured.
I feel like your story represents a measure of individual performance taken to an extreme and I am committed to understanding what happened. I appreciate you sharing your story and I assure you that we are looking into how we are using this measure. Good conversation.