Engaged employees drive REI growth

j2condon    October 5, 2015


Organization Name :  Recreational Equipment Inc  (  REI )

Industry : Specialty Retail

Web References :  REI.com, Businessnewsdaily.com, Payscale.com, Forbes.com, Business2commumity.com

Who is REI ?

A specialty outdoor retailer founded in 1938 by outdoor loving mountaineers. REI operates as a consumer co-operative business model. For $20 one time membership fee, members are invited to be part of REI mission of inspiring, educating and outfitting the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.  Members also share in company profits based on their annual purchases.  Currently operate 140 stores in 33 states, on line with REI.com and have over 10,000 employees.  Now the largest outdoor specialty retailer in the USA with active co-op membership totaling 5.5 million and in 2014 posted company record sales revenue of $2.2 billion.



Engaged Employees and Specialty Retail

To be successful in specialty retail you have to be, well , special.  Telling consumers that your store will be an expert in a category sets a high bar for consumer expectation. Specialty retailers like REI focus on premium product assortments featuring the latest technology.  The latest premium gear comes with a high price tag and consumers expect expert service.  The real difference maker is the employees and REI knows their store associates are the front line of their brand.  Engaged employees who like what they do and belief in their company direction, become energy givers and create great consumer experiences.  Consumers buy more and come back to retailers who deliver fun shopping experiences.  These same engaged employees stay with the company longer creating a more consistent and professional face to REI customers and save money required to train new employees.  REI posts high employee engagement ratings and retain their people – key elements contributing to strong financial results in any business but critical in the consumer facing retail sector . .

How REI uses Social Media to build employee engagement

REI is about getting outside and exploring. Being social. The company uses same core  social connection ideals  to create engagement from the moment of initial contact with prospective employees. Their on line recruiting tools tell the story of REI.  The company history and their vision of the future are shared through videos and photo collages of the REI work environment.  A passion for the outdoors is a prerequisite for employee success at REI and really is their story. Retail employees who know and understand their company story become brand ambassadors.  After viewing the site you will understand how stoked REI is about getting people outside and if you are not into the outdoors , REI is not likely in your plan.  Then REI management empowers their employees to have a real voice. Coined the ” company campfire “ ,  REI has created an intranet forum that spurs two way communication between company leaders and employees.  Launched in 2013, over 4500 employees have logged on at least once – that’s roughly 45% staff participation.  REI also encourages employees to share their outdoor experiences through picture boards both in store and on company intranet. Their employees then become a very influential real life part of the overall REI social media strategy.

Lessons Learned

  • Not news to any organization that engaged employees deliver better results and REI is prime example of retail organization being creative in finding ways bucking the trend of retailers full of dis-engaged energy sucking employees
  • Employee engagement starts at point of recruitment especially in retail organizations where large percentage of staff are millennials who have grown up with Social Media as the expected medium of communication
  •  Social Media will not only engage but educate through two way communication between management and employees dealing with every day issues and opportunities who are full of new ideas
  • Make the Social Media tools accessible to all, encourage and reward participation and make the findings transparent – then watch your company get engaged, get smarter and get after it like REI.

REI Store Front