Jul 13

REI and the Impact of Company Culture

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
–Albert Einstein

REI is a cool store. From the moment I walk in, I feel the former athlete in me clamoring that I just don’t get outside enough.

The employees are fit. They all do outdoorsy stuff. From the wood walls to the visually blech-but-oh-so-snuggly NorthFace jacket, REI is all about getting that inner kid in you back outdoors. They have “Family Adventure Programs”. Oh, and you aren’t a customer of REI–you are a member.

I can just see the out-of-touch bean counting accountant going, “Wait, we are paying for our employees to go to the Muir Woods? Jigga wha?”

To the average bean counter, none of these things make sense. It does not make sense for REI to be a co-op instead of a corporation and hire people based on their kayaking skills versus last years’ quota figures. What it does do is promote loyal customers. There is no measurable ROI you get when a loyal customer buys a cool new bike from REI, shows it off to his friends, and then says, “You have to talk to Jorge about your next bike. He is the BEST.” REI’s ridiculously lenient return policy for members is a bean counter’s nightmare but does ensure that customers always start their search for outdoor goods there.

Apparently REI’s model makes sense because they have stores in 28 states and have been in business 72 years. Who knew?

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  • http://www.offassist.com/blog Candy Beauchamp

    Heh. Not all bean counters are ignorant of marketing and customer service. I think they can go hand-in-hand. but yeah, I love businesses that go that extra mile for their employees, it almost always translates through to happier customers in the end. And frankly, happier employees and happier customers makes the bean counter’s job MUCH easier.

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    @Candy, true. Perhaps I should have used the example of the finance bean counter. They tend to be bigger opponents of far out ideas.

    Thank you for the clarification for sure. ;)

  • http://robcaldwell.wordpress.com Rob

    I often think, “What would happen if all stores acted like REI?” Then, I think how average they would all become. It gives me hope that one day, when I run my own business, I can do so in a way like REI and *hopefully* be 1/100th as successful.

  • http://www.offassist.com/blog Candy Beauchamp

    I had to reply and give you some grief over it ;) I saw Tony S from Zappos speak in Dallas a week or so ago… love their customer service policies.