REI opens outdoor adventure gateway concept

Photo: REI
Oct 09, 2019

REI, the outdoor-themed co-op, has opened a new concept that’s less about where members “live, work and shop” and more about where they “get outside and play.”

The store at the Settlers Green outlet shopping center in North Conway, NH is described as “a gateway to outdoor adventures in the White Mountains,” which cover part of the northern Appalachian Mountains and about a quarter of the state of New Hampshire. It’s REI’s first New Hampshire store.

A major difference is the location. While most of REI’s stores are located in commercial districts such as major cities or busy suburbs, this one is near a resort area and “designed first to be a launching pad for outdoor activities,” according to a statement from the retailer.

Rather than shopping, the foremost focus is on ”experiences”. The operation makes use of a vast demo fleet, and offers extensive rentals and in- and out-of-store programs. At 25,000-square-feet, the store is among REI’s smaller locations, but has a “flagship-sized” range of rental gear for local co-op members as well as for visitors heading to the region.

REI’s locations are known for their workshops, classes and guided day programs, but this location appears to put an extra emphasis on trips and clinics. Most classes are free.

“The Experiences team is going to be working right out of the store and will offer a range of classes from introduction to mountain biking to rock climbing,” Shannon Hanley, the store’s manager, said in a sponsored interview with the trade publication, GearJunkie.

Asked about community concerns over REI possibly displacing some local retailers, Ms. Hanley said REI is known for its community support. To mark the opening, REI is investing $20,000 in the Mt. Washington Valley Trails Association to help construct the North Conway Recreation Path.

“I think it’s amazing that there are so many folks that are helping others get outside in this area,” said Ms. Hanley. “So, it’s more collaborative than competitive — and celebrating the fact that there’s an industry that’s strong up here.” 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of REI’s “experiences” store in New Hampshire? Do you see a large opportunity for REI to open more locations positioned as gateways to nearby outdoor adventures?

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20 Comments on "REI opens outdoor adventure gateway concept"

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Art Suriano

I see REI’s “experiences” store in New Hampshire as a smart plan, and I believe it will be hugely successful. Why? Many people love REI, and those people enjoy the outdoors. Here is an excellent opportunity for those customers to experience something different that will make them feel good about their outdoor activities, giving them ideas and support with what they enjoy. The fact the location is only 25,000 square feet means REI is most likely taking things slowly and testing results before going further. But I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next several years we see more REI experience stores opening all over the country and perhaps one’s that are more significant in size. I always say that if you want to succeed in business, you have to be different from your competitors. This is a move that is different from REI’s competition.

Neil Saunders

This is a great new concept for REI. The White Mountains are a popular tourist destination for summer and winter activities. However, while there are many things to do up there, with the notable exception of the skiing at Mount Washington, formal activities and commercial ventures are few and far between. REI has an opportunity to capitalize on this by both offering adventures and the equipment needed to undertake them.

Bethany Allee

Maintaining a retail footprint in “gateway” areas is an affordable way to deliver experiences from a trusted brand while supporting the local economy. There is risk for REI, but I applaud them for taking that risk in what appears to be a thoughtful way to deliver unique, high-quality experiences to their customers.

Dave Bruno

Once again, REI has found a new way to connect with their customers. They have truly mastered the art of combining shopping, experiences, and community-building activities to create a brand that remains relevant to their target shoppers.

Cynthia Holcomb

True experiential retail. A reason for being. Well done. All without having to take returns from other retailers or clean strollers!

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
3 years 7 months ago

Locating stores where their customers need and use their products, especially in remote areas where there aren’t many retail options, is a smart strategy for REI. While the store in the photo is a “smaller” format REI store, I think they could go even smaller for areas that can’t support that size of store. I could see them leasing space on resort properties or in national parks as another opportunity.

Stephen Rector

This is a brilliant idea – not only is REI going to be in a place where tourists flock, they are also giving back to the local community which will help maintain a loyal customer following throughout the year. To have a location close to where customers will actually use the product they are purchasing makes a ton of sense. I am excited to hear where else they will be opening these concept stores in the future!

Jeff Sward

PERFECT! Shopping is ancillary. Playing is the focus. Figuring out HOW is REI’s assignment. This strategy takes the focus off shop and wear and onto “do.” REI is in the perfect position to partner with the customer in order to help them fulfill the real experience — PLAY. The experience of shopping is just a stepping stone to the real objective, the real experience — play. This can be a real differentiator for REI. It won’t be easy, but it is the right strategy.

Ben Ball

Did you ever rent skis at a ski resort? Or golf clubs at a course while away from home?
If those skis or clubs were relatively new versions of the manufacturer’s top of the line, there’s a good chance you found you liked them better than your current equipment. Or if you didn’t already own equipment, the experience may have influenced your purchase decision later. I know I wound up shipping home new equipment from the pro shop more than once myself. REI is putting their merchandise in the same position and adding experts to teach you how to use it to boot. A very, very smart move.

Lee Peterson

Really great idea and a good test. In theory, that is. The question that will soon be answered is, do people who are headed to the great outdoors shop/rent at a store near where they will use the product or do they do that ahead of time, where they’re from?

I’m sure REI’s research shows that customers will show up, but you know how that goes: people often say one thing and do another. Still, I like it. In theory.

Lee Kent

This concept sounds almost like a concierge service for the resort area which also rents to, guides, dresses and prepares those who are partaking. A great experiential store with a little extra pow in its punch. I could see this service extended back to local REIs offering customers a chance to come in and plan their next vacation at an REI-“supported” resort area. That gets my 2 cents.

Martin Mehalchin
Martin Mehalchin
Managing Director, Retail and Consumer, PK
3 years 7 months ago

I was able to spend some time with the team at REI that worked on this concept and store. They started by really getting to know the local community and deeply listening to both the locals and visitors to the area. The store is tailored to the needs that were uncovered in that process and it represents an exciting new departure for REI. All retailers should be open to this level of consumer input into new concepts.

Paco Underhill

Cabela’s lets customers camp in their parking lot. Does REI?

Bill Hanifin

Building an emphasis on experiences and helping customers understand “what to do with my gear” is a brilliant move by REI. Maybe not an absolute key to success, but definitely a highly preferred path is for REI to stay true to its pledge to be more “collaborative than competitive” with local guides and resource providers.

Local knowledge is a scarce commodity and access to “locals” who understand a particular area is a sought after commodity that can create a feeling of cult loyalty among customers.

Since REI is building on its reputation to sponsor workshops, classes and guided day programs, it has a perfect opportunity to leverage rather than exterminate local guides to execute on trips and clinics. Presumably REI has lots of positions to fill through opening the new store, so costing in the outside resources should equate to a practical business expectation.

Supporting the Mt. Washington Valley Trails Association is a good start, but don’t stop there.

Sterling Hawkins

This is a great idea! And the next step in experiential retail. Not something contrived to create an “experience” but a real place consumers can launch their experiences from. It adds a lot of value for consumers and I’m willing to bet this concept will be successful for REI.

Ken Morris

I see this as a knock off of Eastern Mountain Sports which has done almost exactly the same thing in Peterborough, New Hampshire for decades, but is not as well funded as REI. You don’t have to be the first to do something to be successful at it and I believe REI is changing the in-store game. Retailers need to break the mold and do something different and this is a great example. North Conway is a year round resort town that draws people from all over the Northeast, which will give REI great exposure. Great move!

Doug Garnett
I’m disappointed. REI drank the “experiences” Kool Aid. REI used to be the poster child for not getting distracted by the experiences theories. Their in-store climbing walls are nearly never climbed by customers. But they are exceptionally valuable establishing the memory connections for shoppers who visit REI and love to be reminded of outdoor adventures. The wall, then, is a tremendous addition to the store for the way it connects shoppers with the emotional reasons they like outdoor activities. These shoppers, then, also know they are IN a store and the key is preparing for their next adventure. Sadly, that’s not the case with this store. Too far from the traffic that’s needed — REI thrives because their store serves people who go many places — not one. I expect that in a year or two we’ll hear of it’s closing. At that time, people may say “at least they tried.” But trying things based on faulty reasoning is never wise. Retailers need to stay focused on WHY customers shop before getting carried away making… Read more »
Karlene Ridgeway
3 years 7 months ago

I’ve been saying REI should do like a Bass Pro and get their own lodge that basically provides all the entertainment/outfitting and oh by the way, we sell all of this too….

Please start in Hawaii, lol. I’d stay there.

Ron Anderson
3 years 7 months ago

We have had outfitters around for a long time. It is not new. REI will need to increase activity density in areas where people want less people in order to be profitable with their more commercialized service model.

Casey Golden
3 years 7 months ago

Bringing the brand from four walls and a URL into an IRL experience is not just good for REI, it’s good for retail. The experience economy is the future of retail and experiencing the brand will be a key driver to shopper loyalty and lower CAC acquisition costs. This is nothing new, Abercrombie & Fitch had a pond stocked on the roof of the NY flagship in the late 1800s just so you could try a fishing pole before you purchased. Luxury brands own hotels and restaurants that will start to be leveraged into brand experiences. Over the next five years, brands will be competing on their experiences and the winner will be shoppers and brands. If you want your shoppers to live the brand, the brand must step up to live their own brand in every aspect; not just an ad campaign.


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