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REI touts record year; expanding rentals, pre-used gear sales

REI is doubling down on rentals as it builds upon its longstanding commitment to making the outdoors more accessible and sustainable. It also is opening more stores.

In its annual letter to members, the outdoor apparel and gear co-op retailer said it plans to significantly expand its gear rental program in 2019 and also invest in used gear and gear trade-in options — both in-store and online. New rental options will include snowshoes, skis, snowboards, fully equipped camping, and backpacking kits and more in 115 stores across the country.

By elevating re-use as a core business strategy, REI is also looking to satisfy a growing millennial consumer audience, 36% of whom say they would rather rent than own a product, the company said.

"We're determined to make it as easy as possible for people to make more sustainable choices," stated Ben Steele, REI's chief customer officer. "In 2017 we made it possible to search for product sustainability attributes online, and in 2018 launched our Product Sustainability Standards to ensure that every product we sell meets a minimum set of expectations. In 2019, we see the expanded rental and used gear program as keeping us moving toward a sustainable and accessible outdoor future by offering new models of access to great outdoor gear and apparel."

REI has 154 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia. It will open six stores this year, including its first-ever location in Vermont, a 31,000-sq.-ft. store at Taft Corners Shopping Center in Williston. It also is entering New Hampshire, with a nearly 25,000-sq.-ft. store in North Conway, followed by a 20,000-sq.-ft. store in Bedford.

In the letter, REI disclosed that its sales rose 6% to a record $2.78 billion in 2018, during which time it added more than 1 million new members, bringing its total membership to more than 18 million. Also in 2018, the retailer invested $8.4 million into 431 nonprofits, stewarding more than 5,000 outdoor places and more than 86,000 miles of trails, returned $204 million to members through dividends and credit card rewards, and gave $77 million to employees through profit-sharing and retirement.

"Today's results show that doing good is good business,” said Eric Artz, was named interim president and CEO following the resignation in February of Jerry Stritzke. “We have a strong foundation, but we must do more. As a community, we must confront the serious problems facing society. Most of the U.S. population is disconnected from nature, spending more time inside than outdoors. We need to reverse that trend. Spending time outside isn't only good for people's health. It connects people to something bigger – a desire to fight for the future of life outside."

REI also has launched "Find Out," a new national brand campaign designed to reframe how people think about the powerful role the outdoors can play in their lives and sets out to tackle head-on the trend that more than half of Americans do not recreate outside even once a year.
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