Q: What does REI do? Since this is the first one in Indiana, people may not know.
A: We are the nation’s largest consumer-owned co-op, and sell outdoor gear and apparel. We focus on muscle-powered activity and we seek to get people outside. From camping, to climbing, cycling and paddling, and fitness has become a really big category for us as well. We sell all the gear people need to get outside.
Our mission is to inspire, educate and outfit people for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. We try inspire people to try new experiences, get them everything they need to do that, and then make sure that they are educated so they can have a good time. The stewardship piece is also really important to us, and we actually give 3% of our profits to our local communities through our grant programs, and through other donations. On a national scale, being a large retailer allows us to do a lot for our national parks and overall conservation.
Q: What is a co-op, and how does REI function as a co-op?
A: We are consumer-owned co-op, which means that we are owned by our members. Anyone can join; it’s $20 to become a member for life. You never pay anything again. That $20 helps fuel REI so we can continue to grow and impact our communities, so people are also giving back by joining our co-op.
As a member, you have voting privileges in our board of directors, which is how we operate. Members get an annual dividend, which is typically 10% back of all their full-price purchases from the previous year. We also have discounted rates in our full-service bike shop for members. Then we have special sales and events for our members all throughout the year, and one of people’s favorite events is the garage sale. Anything that gets returned to the store, if we can’t sell it as new, gets sold in our garage sale which is just for members. All of those returned items get sold at 50-80% off. We do this 4 times per year, and have hundreds of people show up.
Q: How long have you been with REI?
A: It will be 8 years in May, and I’ve been at this store in particular for two years. Well, I started with REI in Charlotte, NC, and opened a new store as an administrative specialist, and worked my way into management in that store. That’s when the journey began. Then I moved to Kennesaw, GA, and opened a store, then Richmond, VA, and was store manager there, then came in Indy to open this store two years ago. So, I had a little tour around the Southeast and then headed to the Midwest.
Q: What sorts of things have you done in the city?
A: We’ve a good partnership with KIB since we came into the community two years ago and we hope to continue that partnership. Initially, when we came here, we gave a $25,000 grant to KIB and a $10,000 grant to Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, and we continue to work with both of those groups, and we gave additional grants last year. We are preparing for the grants process again for this year. We try to give money to fund particular projects, and we try to rally volunteers, both staff and customers to help participate in those projects. There’s a section of the Harrison multi-use trail that we helped to complete from start to finish, not just with grant dollars but also through volunteers.
Every new employee that comes to REI participates in a new hire service project as part of their orientation. We were just out with Emily Wood and Beth Kloote at Fletcher Place with 15-20 staff members helping with that, and we hope to come back in the fall when it’s time for planting. It’s nice to see the work starting from scratch and seeing it through to completion, and having our staff be involved in that. Our hope is that by having them involved in a service project as part of their orientation, they will develop an interest in doing that on their own and can continue – on a volunteer basis – to be involved.
Q: You mentioned that REI also works with customers and education?
A: We do. We have in-store classes on a variety of topics. Every month, we post an event flier online where people can sign up for our classes at rei.com/castleton. It’s a neat way to get people to come back in and try something new. They can learn about basics like bike maintenance and using a map and compass, and it helps them to appreciate the gear that they have.
A lot of people come in and say “I don’t camp, I did once and it was horrible.” People don’t want to do it again if they have had a bad experience. So through education, we try to help them have a good experience and want to continue to participate and eventually have a desire to become stewards of places where we all recreate.
Q: What is some advice for novices?
A: I’d encourage them to come in and talk to our staff. They’re here because they like to talk about gear; they’re experts in whatever area they’re working in. They like to talk about it. Even if someone is just kicking around the idea of starting a new activity, they can come in to the store for a little inspiration.
We have a community space that we have in the back of the store, where we post posters of local events or upcoming opportunities either to volunteer or to participate in activities. So whether there is a run or a hiking group meeting, there’s a place where they can come in and find out what’s going on and find a place to start. Hopefully over time they can build up through attending in-store classes and getting started at a basic level, and they can build on their experience and try new things. We have an adventure travel company as well, that has hundreds of destinations all over the world, and has trips for all activity levels. Everything from paddling, hiking, backcountry camping – all kinds of activities. If somebody’s just wanting to start out, they could do a section hike of the Appalachian Trail, if that’s of interest to them, or there’s paddling in San Juan Islands. Really beautiful places. There are experienced guides that are with groups of other people in the same skill level. They can get out there and try an activity in a safe setting with people that know what they’re doing.
Do you, or someone you know, have a cool job that helps people and nature thrive? Let us know. We love to highlight awesome work happening all over Indy!