If REI can do it . . . we can too!

By Steve Moran

The fantastically successful Seattle-based outdoor recreation and sports company REI just announced, contrary to anything you would expect of a retail company, that they are 1) staying closed on Black Friday, the biggest single shopping day of the year; and 2) paying each of their 12,000 employees a full day’s pay to go outdoors and play.

There is one other thing you should know about REI and that is that because it is a co-op, there are no shareholders to satisfy. Perhaps more accurately, about 80% of their customers are shareholders who receive a dividend each year based on the amount they spent and the profitability of the enterprise.  

Why It’s A Dumb Idea

There are some reasons that it is a dumb idea:

  1. Millions of Americans love to shop on Black Friday and some will be disapointed not to have access to Black Friday deals at REI.

  2. It will likely cost them some revenue that will end up going to other retailers (though maybe not).

  3. There is zero financial payback for paying 12,000 employees to go have fun.

Mostly Though . . . It Is Brilliant

As the linked article points out, REI is a different kind of company with a different set of values. Many of us who love the outdoors know REI stores to be friendly, fun, helpful toy store for grown-up kids. What they have done is consistent with the values we know them to have. Here are the brilliant aspects behind the decision — and, to a greater or lesser degree, they all have application in senior living:

  1. At the most crass but important level, the amount of free publicity is incalculably valuable. It is likely the buzz about this story will easily carry through the Christmas season.

  2. I am guessing they will not lose a dime of revenue. In fact, I am predicting it will be a way better than average Christmas selling season. I am betting customers mostly decide to be extra loyal and shop another day and to spend extra dollars there.

  3. It sends a message to customers and team members that management appreciates that there are more important things than the almighty dollar. Their message is that people and recreational time have high value.

  4. It makes being an REI team member super cool. I can imagine friends of employees saying . . .”I wish I worked there.”

  5. It will make recruiting a breeze.

  6. It will make team members want to work harder, better, faster.  

Senior Living

Senior Living needs this kind of bold statement. I am not sure exactly what it might look like in senior living, but the potential is there. I am not sure I have exactly the right formula and likely it could be a number of different things, but here are some ideas:

  • Offer 100 percent free tuition for any employee who wants to pursue a higher degree.

  • Send every front line worker to an away conference every year, or two or three.

  • Offer free or substantially discounted rates to the parents of any senior living company employee.

  • Provide free daycare to any employee who needs it.

  • Pay grade bounties for the children of team members from 1st through 12th grade.

  • Do a paid day of service for every team member.

I am sure there are many other things that could be done. What have you done? What do you think a company . . . your company . . . could do?