REI Review – Recreational Equipment Inc. A Co-op

REI Brand review

REI Brand History

Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) was started in 1938 by a group of climbing friends who wanted a more affordable way of getting high-quality gear. 

It was in Seattle in 1935 when Mary and Lloyd Anderson decided they need to find a way to get great gear without paying extraordinary prices.  The story goes that they were in need of some ice axes and their options were limited in the US.  The quality of mountaineering equipment was flimsy and put lives at risk.

They could pay $20 ($366 in 2020 dollars) at the local retail shop or pay a little less for crummy imitation Austrian ice axes through the ski shop as the middle woman. In order to access the high-quality ice axe market they needed to buy in volume.

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Of course, when friends and colleagues heard of this awesome deal they wanted to get involved. I mean, who wouldn’t want to get more gear for their dollar?

So, they decided to order some legit and beautiful Austrian ice aces delivered to Seattle for only $3.50 including shipping. Since Mary and Lloyd wanted to help others get quality and affordable gear they decided to collect money in larger amounts so they could get better deals.

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Out of this helpful nature and wilderness spirit, the co-op was born. For Mary and Lloyd, the ice axes were affordable quality gear for their outdoor adventures, they began a movement that would create better adventures for millions of adventure-seekers in the years and decades to come.

In 1938, with some legal help from a friend, Mary, Lloyd and 21 other Seattle-area outdoor adventurers formed the co-op, each becoming a member with a $1 lifetime membership fee. The Andersons lent, with no interest, $30 to the co-op to begin selling gear at the local co-operative grocery store.

As the co-op membership grew, Lloyd firmed the co-op’s mission in a bulletin he wrote by hand.

“Intent of the founders of this organization was to secure sufficient membership to make group buying possible; to distribute the goods with as little overheads expense as possible, using membership cooperation with the work as much as possible; to gradually build up a reserve for purchasing stock; to have the membership fee ($1.00) so that everyone interested will be financially able to join.”

- November 30, 1938 -

REI Co Op has grown in size but has not wavered from the origins of the co-op. The focus and grounding remain in the people - the adventurers who push their gear and themselves, the environmental caretakers and the adventurers who want to go further.

There are over 18 million lifetime members, 13,000 employees and 162 stores in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

REI Brand review

Who They Say They Are

At REI Coop they believe a life lived outdoors is a life well-lived and we couldn’t agree more.

Their purpose is to awaken a lifelong love of the outdoors for everyone because in the untamed and natural places is where we can connect with our best selves.

For nearly 100 years this company has brought top-quality gear, clothes, rentals, and advice so that you, your family and friends can safely make amazing memories in the outdoors.

Every year over 70% of profits is sent back to the outdoor community through REI member dividends (10% on nearly everything they sell), employee profit-sharing and retirement, and by investing in outdoor-based non-profits.

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What is a Co-op?

A co-operative (co-op) is a jointly-owned enterprise comprised of freely-associated individuals who are united by choice to meet common needs.  The REI store is a consumer co-operative where the consumers, making them the collective owner and manager of the business.

The REI co op that can be joined for a one-time payment of $20. In return, the co-op member receives a 10% dividend on nearly all purchases at the end of the year. Depending on your spending habits, this could be a hefty gift.  The member is also eligible to vote at board meetings since they are members of the co-operative. REI coop members also get to enjoy regularly garage sale events as well as special offers.

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Who Shops at REI?

I have been a member of REI for nearly 20 years and I have met many people in the store and I can say that they come in all shapes, professions, ages, backgrounds, and interests. The unifying feature of all the members I have met or heard of is the desire to spend more time outdoors, the feeling of ‘better’ when we step outside and the shared joy of sitting around a fire.

First American to Summit Everest was also REI’s First General Manager

The tradition of employing avid outdoor adventurers started in the early days of the co-op.
The first General Manager was also the first American to summit Mount Everest. He grew up in the Seattle area enjoying the climbing and outdoor opportunities.

It was 1963 when Jim Whittaker was asked to join a 19-person expedition. This expedition was sponsored by the National Geographic Society and cost $400,000. There were 907 porters and 37 Sherpas required to get the United States to become serious players in mountaineering.

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Whittaker became REI’s CEO eight years after summitting Everest. He was at the helm when REI opened its first store outside of Seattle in Berkeley, California. The stores spread across the west coast and they began manufacturing their own clothes. There were ongoing struggles between the board and Whittaker over philosophical ideals. He enjoyed using equipment supplied by the co-op to participate in mountaineering expeditions, like K2, and the members were less than enthusiastic about it. In 1979 he left the company.

More Options for Better Prices for Members

The outdoor retail chain has been hosting REI Garage Sales for years as a way to offer members deep discounts on used and returned gear. We have been to plenty and have a few tips for you in our article all about REI Garage Sales.

In late 2018 the chain doubled-down on its rental program by expanding it to 85 locations. REI has expanded its rental offerings to include backpacking and snow sports.

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The REI Outlet is another great place to save money on excellent brands. The REI Outlet is available online and most orders qualify for free or reduced shipping costs. On the REI Outlet website, the colors and sizes may be limited, but the return policy applies if it is an unused item.

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REI Brand Apparel, Equipment, and Gear

Few in-house brands are as high quality as what REI has developed. Since they manufacture their own products they have total control in what goes in so that what we buy is the best you can get for the price.
There is an excellent selection of REI tents for everything from rooftop camping to backpacking and hiking to family-style mansions for the next reunion.

Since they are in the business of getting more people outside more often, the products they make and sell are made to make the experiences easier and more enjoyable. We love to buy our hiking shoes at REI since they are so knowledgeable!

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REI Gives Thousands to Employees to Equip Their Adventures

Employees can submit a challenge grant application to be considered for free equipment to complete the adventure. The grants are typically granted to employees who are looking to try something new like kayaking the Colorado River or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

World Class Return Policy

Until 2013 REI allowed lifetime returns on any product with no questions asked. This policy was taken for granted by some members and was reduced to one year with no questions asked.

Paid Vacation on Black Friday for all Employees

Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days of the year and in 2015 REI began its opt outside the campaign. Since then every Black Friday REI employee is paid for the day and encouraged to go outside. The close every store, distribution, and headquarters for the day. Online sales improved and the #optoutside hashtag took off on social media. The campaign has grown to include a call to take action to protect and conserve our natural outdoor spaces.

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Continued Growth and Success

Even when the other sports retailers are going bankrupt and closing doors, REI tends to increase profits year over year. Even with massive competitor sellers like Amazon, who offer the same product at a comparable price, they continue to perform quite well.
The basic premise of a cooperative and a community mindset has allowed REI to set itself apart during variable economic times and shifting shopping behaviors.
The family feels when you enter a store, the on-site events and the general connectedness members enjoy make shopping at REI a special and rewarding experience.

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You may be interested in our Our Favorite Outdoor Brands articles or our other Brand Reviews:

You may be interested in our REI Tents for Women or REI Coupon articles.

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