Retailers built on a cooperative business model rarely achieve the size and success of REI. In addition to hitting record sales last year, the co-op signed on 1 million new members, bringing the total to 18 million. REI returned $204 million to its members through both dividends and credit card rewards. In addition, REI invested $8.4 million in more than 400 nonprofit organizations.
The results, says interim chief executive Eric Artz, “show that doing good is good business. We have a strong foundation, but we must do more. As a community, we must confront the serious problems facing society.”
As part of its sustainability objectives and efforts to encouraging re-use, REI is expanding its rental program to 115 stores, making available snowshoes, skis, snowboards, camping equipment, backpacking kits and other gear. REI also sells used gear, often items that have been traded in on newer equipment. Noting that one study shows half of Americans don’t engage in outdoor recreation, Artz says, “Most of the U.S. population is disconnected from nature, spending more time inside than outdoors. We need to reverse that trend. Spending time outside isn’t only good for people’s health. It connects people to something bigger — a desire to fight for the future of life outside.”
Another initiative is the introduction of product sustainability standards. “We’re determined to make it as easy as possible for people to make more sustainable choices,” says Ben Steele, REI’s chief customer officer, “In 2019, we see the expanded rental and used gear program as keeping us moving toward a sustainable and accessible outdoor future by offering new models of access to great outdoor gear and apparel.”