A week and one day before its official opening, the new REI Co-op store in south Glenwood Springs resembles an outdoor education teaching lab.
Near the front of the 20,300-square-foot space at the Roaring Fork Marketplace that formerly housed Office Depot (3216 S. Glen Ave., Suite A), a group of new REI employees is learning how to instruct and help customers in purchasing a suitable backpack.
Another group in the back of the store is boning up on the various shoe brands; another is learning how to pair customers with the right mountain bike and accessories; another is learning everything there is to know about camping gear; ditto for paddle sports.
The front counter is lined with soon-to-be check-out clerks getting trained on the computer system.
Employees will take part in a “Friends and Family Night” trial run on Wednesday to practice their newly-honed customer service and sales skills. The store opens with a three-day grand opening celebration Friday through Sunday, July 22-24, including giveaways and an outdoor social from 1-5 p.m. each afternoon with music and an outdoor gear festival showcasing numerous brands.
It’s all part of REI’s hands-on, “see, feel, touch” approach to outfitting its customers that new Glenwood Springs Store Manager Jace Harms said sets REI apart in the outdoor recreation retail industry.
“It’s part of our legacy as an outdoor outfitter, to really work to service everybody who comes in the doors, and we put that into action every day,” said Harms, who has been employed by the member-owned co-op for four years.
The Nebraska native joined up with the company after moving to Dallas out of college about 10 years ago. He worked at the Dallas flagship store before jumping at the chance to manage the new Glenwood Springs store.
“It was an opportunity for me to get a little bit closer to home and where I grew up, while also providing that outdoor playground that we all enjoy,” Harms said. “This community continues to embrace and remind me of the small, rural town where I grew up, and it’s refreshing to be in a community where you know people’s names and are able to engage and give back to the community.”
Already, since arriving in March, Harms said he volunteered for a Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) trail work crew at Carbondale’s Red Hill trail area.
RFOV was also one of four local organizations benefiting from the first round of REI Gives grants, totaling $20,000. The others were the Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and Gay for Good.
The Glenwood Springs store, because of its smaller size compared to the urban flagship stores, and because of its launching-point location for outdoor fun, is classified as a “gateway” store.
It’s similar in size and product categories to REI stores in
Dillon, which opened in 2017, and the Grand Junction store, which opened in 2000 then relocated and expanded some a few years ago.
Surprisingly, though hiring the staff of between 45 and 54 needed to run the Glenwood store has been challenging in the area’s tight labor market, Harms said they’re currently at 41 employees.
“One of the things that has kept me with REI is that, at the center of everything we do is the people,” he said. “We value and pride ourselves on taking care of our people at every turn. So, responding to the local hiring climate, to make sure that we are showing up competitively, is part of that.”
REI also has a focus on hiring locally among existing outdoors enthusiasts as much as possible, because they are the resident experts who are best suited to provide advice on where to go locally to recreate, and what kind of gear is best, Harms said.
“Whether trying a new activity or heading out on a familiar trail or waterway, we aspire to be at the center of people’s outdoor lives for products and expertise,” he said.
Incentives for employees include a one-time, $300 hiring bonus and a paid day off starting day one so that they can go out and recreate themselves, Harms said. And, company-wide starting in 2023, there will no longer be a minimum hours requirement for employees to receive health insurance benefits, he said.
REI Glenwood is still looking for full- and part-time retail sales associates; info on the REI jobs page.
Outdoor retail co-habitation
Harms said REI knows it’s not the end-all, be-all when it comes to outdoor gear, especially in smaller communities that already have an established outdoor culture.
While the new REI store features gear and apparel for hiking, camping, paddling, cycling, running, fitness and snowsports, and a specialty bike and ski/snowboard shop for tuning and repairing equipment, there are niche areas that still fall to others.
“We have every intention when a customer says, ‘oh, you don’t have a climb department,’ or ‘you don’t have that brand,’ we can say, ‘no, but you know who does, is Summit Canyon, or Treadz, or Hookers, or Sunlight, or Factory Outdoor,’” Harms said.
Summit Canyon Mountaineering Store Manager Emma Hunnicutt said that having an established presence and loyal customer base is important.
“As for the addition of REI, we are feeling positive about the future and are continuously grateful for the support of our locals, who are like family to us,” she said.
Hunnicutt noted that Summit Canyon has been outfitting locals and visitors for outdoor adventures since 1978, “and we don’t plan on stopping any time soon,” she said.
“We are excited to be getting back to our roots and have been working on expanding our climbing and mountaineering departments, as well as offerings in pretty much every category,” Hunnicutt said. “Summit is more than just a store, it’s a fixture within the community.”
For REI’s part, Harms said the store recently joined the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and is hoping to plug into the business community in other ways.
“One of my goals is to meet those business partners and see how we can support each other, whether that’s through stewardship and partnering to do a trail project or trash pickups, or whatever,” Harms said.
As for outdoor recreation demand locally, with a large population base in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County, and some 2.2 million tourists visiting the area every year, “We believe there’s plenty of outside to go around for everybody,” he said.
REI also has more than 1.1 million lifetime co-op members in Colorado.
By: John Stroud I Aspen Times I July 17, 2022