Is the REI/West Elm collaboration a win-win?

Discussion
Photo: REI; West Elm
Jun 01, 2020
Tom Ryan

REI, the outdoor chain, and West Elm, the home furnishings retailer, have partnered on a collection “aimed at helping people feel at home, outdoors.” The partnership marks the first time REI will sell gear through another retailer.

West Elm, owned by Williams Sonoma, has also partnered with Sherwin Williams on a line of seasonal paint palettes, but the collaboration with REI likewise marks the first time its brand will be sold on another retailer’s shelves.

A statement said the two began working on the collection about a year ago and have “a shared commitment to designing consciously made, quality products that invite people to enjoy the comforts of home while exploring outside — whether close to home or in the greater outdoors.”

The REI x West Elm collection of 35 products, most under $60, includes colorful folding chairs, a portable shade shelter, reusable tableware, a collapsible campfire table, punchy-patterned outdoor pillows and picnic blankets.

Is the REI/West Elm collaboration a win-win?
Photo: REI; West Elm

Said Paul Calandrella, REI general merchandising manager for camp products, in a statement, “We love the opportunity to partner with a brand that not only aligns with our values, but also shares our passion for curating great outdoor experiences.” 

“We designed this modern collection of colorful everyday entertaining essentials and sustainably sourced outdoor textiles to complement REI Co-op’s high performing recreational gear,” said Jeffrey Hannoosh, SVP of design for West Elm. “Our collaboration with REI Co-op inspires families to bring the comforts of home to the great outdoors — from weeknights dining al fresco to relaxing summer weekends in the backyard.” 

Many retailers have collaborated on in-store shops, including Sephora at J.C. Penney and Finish Line and Sunglass Hut inside Macy’s. Eddie Bauer has a bedding line at Target and J.Crew products can be found inside Nordstrom. Still, product collaborations between retailers remain rare.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more advantages than potential conflicts in product collaboration between retailers, such as the one between REI and West Elm? Will well aligned collaborations remain rare or do they portend a new trend in retail partnerships?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Partnerships that seem forced don’t work, but this one feels like a natural."
"Oof. I think this is a very bad idea. REI is not a picnic brand — they are an outdoor brand. And it is wrong for REI to water down their ruggedness..."
"With COVID-19 we are seeing a cocooning effect that is putting more emphasis on the home and family. This can extend to outdoor activities..."

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17 Comments on "Is the REI/West Elm collaboration a win-win?"


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Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I see only advantages with the West Elm/REI collaboration. The alignment on target customers, brand values and sustainability make this a no-brainer. West Elm did what they do best and designed stylish and high-utility products that add value to the REI experience when and where customers use their products. Both brands benefit from the exposure and customers benefit from the collaboration. Where’s the downside?

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Brand collaborations have a history of success when the combination is complementary. As retailers are challenged with recapturing lost revenues from the pandemic shutdowns, we will see more creative ideas on how to boost sales and this is a good example.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Partnerships like these will work well when both parties see a win and the pie gets bigger. With well-curated products to cross-sell, I don’t see why this would not succeed. Channel conflict is possible, but less likely in this case.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Every retailer or other brand collaboration is unique, so It is hard to generalize. REI and West Elm seem to have the two main components for a successful collaboration. Their products are related but complementary and their cultures seem to mesh well.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Wow, I never would have considered a collaboration between them — it really makes sense. Curate the best of both in one store and appeal to the same customer base that each serves. It fits. I am excited to see where this goes.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Partnerships that seem forced don’t work, but this one feels like a natural.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Both West Elm and REI are respected brands with a focus on quality, so the basis for a partnership is sound. I also think the combination of REI’s focus on the outdoors and West Elm’s focusing on furnishings means that each partner brings something to the relationship. Retail collaborations can work well when everything aligns, but there is a big difference between what West Elm and REI are doing – which is genuine collaboration – and simply sticking some product from one brand in another retailer.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

West Elm and REI have complementary products, customers, and messaging plus the two brands do not directly compete with each other, so a collaboration makes sense. In today’s environment retailers need to look for – and be open to – different sales models to survive and thrive.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

It’s great when two brand promises overlap and afford each other both reinforcement of those promises and the opportunity to grow and add new customers.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Oof. I think this is a very bad idea. REI is not a picnic brand — they are an outdoor brand. And it is wrong for REI to water down their ruggedness through connection to West Elm and for products which depart from what we expect of the REI brand.

How will it do for West Elm? Probably fine — it makes their brand richer while making the REI brand poorer.

Why would REI agree to this? A bad misstep for a first brand extension outside of the REI store.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

I see more advantages than disadvantages. At this time when the ability to control your environment while vacationing is more attractive, the collaboration of two retailers sharing similar values to promote making camping enjoyable, comfortable, and safe is very smart.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust

Such an interesting way to expand what seems to be concentric circles of consumers. I like that they’ve give the collection reasonable entry price points and love the way they’ve blended REI and West Elm’s brand looks on the collaboration page. I hope this goes well for both retailers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

As I am (overly) fond of saying, the devil is in the execution. On paper this collaboration makes sense for all the reasons Ben Ball and others suggest. But ultimately it will be the consumer who decides whether this is an idea that looks as good in practice as it does in theory.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Agreed Ryan, and that’s why one of my two keys for success is culture. As usual, that’s not an original thought. I’ll mess up the quote, but one of the best lessons I learned in M&A work was from Jack Welch — “Successful acquisitions are 10 percent strategy and 90 percent culture,” or words to that effect.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I see this as a three-way win, one for the customer and each retailer. With COVID-19 we are seeing a cocooning effect that is putting more emphasis on the home and family. This can extend to outdoor activities with immediate family so the synergy between REI and West Elm makes perfect sense to me. The risk is always that of one player co-opting the others’ business, which has been done both by Walmart and Amazon, but if the synergy is there it is worth the risk.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
3 months 28 days ago

These are two authentic brands with excellent leadership and I loved it as soon as I received the announcement email. Knowing the companies, they clearly saw the complement in terms of West Elm customers and REI members. With the renewed focus on both the home and being outside, and the execution in terms of product line, this will be a win-win.

We expect to see strategic partnerships continue to rise in importance as things recover and this is but one example of many more to come.

David Leibowitz
BrainTrust

Changes in retail are fostering some unnatural alliances. Consider GAP and IMG, who recently announced partnership across apparel and home categories.

This one with REI/West Elm seems like a complementary fit given similar customer demographic as compared to say, the Hy-Vee and DSW partnership which is a bit of a head scratcher.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Partnerships that seem forced don’t work, but this one feels like a natural."
"Oof. I think this is a very bad idea. REI is not a picnic brand — they are an outdoor brand. And it is wrong for REI to water down their ruggedness..."
"With COVID-19 we are seeing a cocooning effect that is putting more emphasis on the home and family. This can extend to outdoor activities..."

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