REI – A Fine Coop Indeed

One of my favorite stores to shop at is Recreational Equipment Inc., also know as REI.  REI was started as a coop in 1938 by a group of mountain climbers and has grown to the largest consumer coop in the Nation today.  Since about 2006, I have been going to REI for a good portion of the outdoor gear I need to make my hiking, climbing, biking and/or snowboarding expeditions enjoyable.  Another valuable offering that REI has is expertise.  The staff is well versed in the most recent trends and technology, but never tries to up-sell the named brands or something I don’t need.  As an avid outdoors person, I spend a good amount of money on these hobbies and value a good product backed by a company that feels the same way.  Not only does REI meet my expectations, but they set the bar for everyone else.

I would say the most impressive thing about REI (although there are many) is their unwavering ability to satisfy me during my shopping experience.  When returning items to the store, there is never a question on whether it was my fault, as they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee on all products they sell.  Additionally, REI offers an annual dividend that is allocated to my account and available for my use the next time I visit.  Since I don’t go very often anymore, the dividend is not giant by any stretch of the imagination; however, it is sizable and usually a surprise to me.

REI is also very committed to developing a sustainable business model that gives back to the communities that they serve through outreach programs, education, green building practices and grants to the communities.  The amount of ways in which members can participate and provide feedback is quite large.  From voicing your opinion through voting or getting more closely involved, there are plenty of ways to ensure your voice is heard.  REI really focuses on this and also involves their employees.  I have two friends who have worked for REI and neither of them have a single bad word to say about their employment experience (except of course your basic qualms with the retail industry).  They are always excited to talk about what they do, who they worked for and the perks they received.

In looking at REI’s financials, it does not appear that any of these customer/employee/community service initiatives are taking away from their bottom line.  In 2011, REI had net income of over $30 million on sales of just under $1.8 billion.  Keep in mind this is after the member dividend of almost $82 million was distributed.  There is no complacency in REI’s model either.  Their revenue growth from 2010-2011 was just under 8.3% and there are plans to continue expanding.

In conclusion, I would say that REI has transformed the way in which I purchase my outdoor gear.  By providing benefits above and beyond that of any other retailer I shop, my loyalty to REI will be something that is not easily broken.  Knowing that my money goes not only to support REI, but also the communities which they serve, adds a whole new layer to their value proposition that will not be easily matched by competitors.

Recreational Equipment Inc.  2011 Annual Report.  Recreational Equipment Inc., 2011.  Web. 26 November, 2012.

Speer, Jordan K. “Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI).” Apparel May 2012: 53. General OneFile. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

About REI.  2012.  Recreational Equipment Inc.  26 Nov. 2012 http://www.rei.com/about-rei.html

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2 thoughts on “REI – A Fine Coop Indeed

  1. megan edelman November 29, 2012 at 8:12 PM Reply

    As I was unable to attend class last night I thought I would add an interestiong addition to the conversation of coops, primarily food coops. In the last decade food coops have dramatically been on the rise, especially in the Greater Philadelphia area. Four established co-ops exist in the area in Swarthmore (started in 1937, making it the oldest), Weavers Way in Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill, Mariposa, and Selene, in Media, all of which are guiding the growth of Chester’s Community Co-op, which opened in March, and four more planned co-ops, in Doylestown, Elkins Park, Kensington, and South Philadelphia. Even with our economy suffering so greatly the increase of food coops in Philly and other metropolitan cities has been consistantly doubling.

    Nationally, the raw numbers are relatively small . Statistics from organizations like the Food Co-op Initiative cites 325 existing co-ops and 300 in various stages of starting, but each has hundreds, if not thousands, of members and many boast revenues in the millions. Long story short, these food coops can be prolific and luctrative. Proceeds from sales go into improvements or expansion, or are reinvested locally, as members see fit.

    Co-ops, which have had thier fair share of ups and downs since coming to existance in the 1840s, are now on the upswing again because of the intense interest in eating food that is locally grown using environmentally friendly, sustainable methods. As member-owned grocery stores and gathering spots, food co-ops educate and engage. They support small farms, reduce carbon emissions, stabilize neighborhoods, and spawn economic development.

    Ultimately, as far as coops go, food coops seem to be some of the most successful. Concentrating on the very basics of social awareness, food coops offer its memeber affordable, sustainable and local products. It is a testiment to power in numbers and the power of desire. People are finally getting what they want, and they want healthy and cost-efficient foods offered in a cooperative setting where community and awareness is encouraged.

  2. tlhill2012 December 16, 2012 at 8:49 PM Reply

    How much of the customer service and general performance of REI and food cooperatives can be attributed to the coop structure?

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