- Patagonia has solidified itself as the rare company to successfully use social good, environmentalism, and political activism to drive growth, thanks to a strategy put in place by CEO Rose Marcario.
- Meanwhile, REI continues to report impressive sales, with a reported $US2.78 billion in revenue in 2018, marking 15 consecutive years of record profits.
- We visited Patagonia and REI stores and saw why Patagonia, even with a smaller assortment of products, continues to set itself apart from its large-scale outdoor apparel competitors.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
While outdoor retailers Patagonia and REI are equally beloved by outdoor enthusiasts, Patagonia’s commitment to improving the environment is undeniably setting an example for how social good can benefit the bottom line.
For many major corporations, finding a way to sell products while also fighting global issues like climate change is a particularly delicate balance. However, Patagonia has become the gold standard for integrating social good programs into its business strategy in a way that not only helps the company profit, but sets a standard for retail peers. After the company published a full-page ad in The New York Times in 2011 with the caption “Don’t Buy This Jacket” – an eye-catching message that urged against over-consumption and encouraged consumers to repair clothing through its Worn Wear initiative – Patagonia sales increased by a staggering 30% in 2012.
In recent years, Patagonia has continued to gain traction as a result of outspoken political action taken by CEO Rose Marcario, a staunch critic of the Trump administration’s cuts to environmental programs. Marcario continues to take a no holds barred approach to protecting wildlife: In 2017, Patagonia sued President Trump for reducing the size of two national monuments and teamed up with Levi’s to close their stores to allow employees to vote in the midterm election as part of the Time To Vote initiative.
That’s not to say REI, the outdoor retailer behemoth founded in 1938, is not without its own merits. Similarly to Patagonia,REI has boycotted Black Friday in recent years as part of its #OptOutside campaign and remained closed on Thanksgiving, as its retail peers increase hours of operation and doorbusters in response to dwindling foot traffic. Though it has fewer programs dedicated to social and environmental programs, it does have a section of the site dedicated to lightly used and recycled gear, where shoppers can snag items for 70% off. (Patagonia has a similar site, part of its Worn Wear program.)
Still, it’s hard not to ignore Patagonia’s underlying social mission, which was ubiquitous while browsing its brick-and-mortar store. We visited both Patagonia and REI to see how Patagonia’s commitment to grassroots environmental programs is ultimately unifying customers and bolstering sales.
We visited REI first, at its sprawling flagship store in Manhattan.
As soon as you walk into the store, you find rows of brightly coloured bicycles, catering to varying levels of intensity and performance ability.
The bicycle section comes equipped with accompanying helmets of course. Safety first.
As you continue along in the first floor of the store, you find the camping and travelling section.
REI has an expansive set of backpacks, in all shapes and colours.
The flagship incorporates several displays dedicated to consumer education. There are a smattering of signs throughout its three levels teaching shoppers how to do tasks like efficiently pack a backpack.
We also found this screen that provided tips on navigation and how to use a compass, among other topics.
It also has plenty of information about how to find the right sleeping pads and bags.
As well as a giant tent set up in the middle of the store, that honestly looked quite cosy.
The camping section has anything you could ever want for an outdoor excursion, including tons of cooking gear for whether you’re spending a weekend with the family in Yosemite or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Plus, it features an informational cooking checklist.
There are also plenty of freezer-packed meals for your trailblazing needs.
The meals come in everything from lasagna and pesto pasta to pad thai and sweet and sour chicken.
The store has a section dedicated to its most dedicated consumers, showcasing them on adventures around the world.
Next, we headed downstairs to the “cellar” level to browse apparel and shoes.
The area was brightly lit and organised, with products from a wide assortment of outdoor and activewear brands.
En route to the shoe section, we found a mural honouring REI founders, Lloyd and Mary Anderson.
In response to their growing frustration regarding limited access to outdoor gear, adventures, the Seattle couple found their own way to procure quality items to better outfit their adventures. REI began as a co-op, with just a shelf of items at a local grocery store. Each of its initial 21 members, composed of Lloyd and Mary’s friends and neighbours, paid a $US1 lifetime fee.
Here is a look at even more memorabilia, showcasing catalogue imagery from the 1960s.
The store also has a wall of lithographic stones that were unearthed during REI’s store renovation in 2011. The flagship is located within the historic Puck Building, formerly home to the J. Offermann Lithographing Company which printed Puck magazine in the 1800s.
REI has an extensive shoe selection for men, women, and children.
Next to the shoe section, there’s a small collection of children’s clothing.
On the lowest level of the store, there’s a bike and snow gear shop for on-site, expert-level service repairs.
Here’s a selection of the snow service offerings, which include ski and snowboard waxing and performance tune-ups.
Now that we’d seen everything REI has to offer, we headed back up REI’s impressive staircase to embark on our next stop.
Next, we walked a few streets over to Patagonia.
On the footpath near the front door, we spotted a 30% off sale.
The first floor is dedicated to menswear. When you walk in, you immediately see a ton of Patagonia signature coats, in a wide variety of styles of shades.
As well as a few ball caps.
As you go deeper into the store, you start to see signs related to Patagonia’s social and environmental programs.
Some of these efforts are especially niche and targeted. This display is promoting “Artifishal: The Road To Extinction Is Paved With Good Intentions,” a documentary about how to prevent certain fish like wild salmon from reaching extinction.
Like REI, there were also a wide variety of sleeping bag arrangements throughout the store.
Patagonia also had some fun branded products scattered throughout, like frisbees.
Next, we went downstairs to the basement level to check out the surf, fish, and workwear sections.
One of the first things we encountered on the lower level was a section dedicated to Patagonia Worn Wear. The program repairs items at no cost to improve their longevity and allows shoppers to trade in lightly worn garments for store credit.
Patagonia also has a Worn Wear site, where consumers can purchase used items at a discount.
The rest of the floor included standard outdoor fare for activities like biking.
There was also a section dedicated to fishing, with information about activities like fly fishing.
It also had its own branded hiking snacks and meals, called Patagonia Provisions.
However, unlike REI, Patagonia had a section dedicated to surf apparel for both men and women.
While we were browsing, a sales associate pointed out a station to write a letter to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation encouraging them to halt efforts related to a fracked gas pipeline.
Though the Williams Pipeline was recently blocked by New York and New Jersey legislators, environmentalists fear the fight will continue.
Source: The New York Times
The store also has a display dedicated to Patagonia’s local efforts in New York City, including donating $US69,000 in small grants to nine local and regional organisations.
Lastly, we visited the second floor, home to the women’s department. In addition to traditional activewear and outdoor apparel, it included some trendy pieces from its new hemp collection.
We also found more signature jackets and fleeces in the latest styles.
There was also a sign for a local event series called Grow The Outdoors which is “conceived to encourage diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in the outdoors,” the sign reads.
“We hope to connect more people with nature and inspire environmental activism and recreation,” the sign said.
While both stores had an impressive selection of outdoor goods, ultimately Patagonia’s devotion to environmental and social causes sets it apart from REI.
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