REI CEO Talks Growth, Differentiation

CHICAGO — Jerry Stritzke wants to take REI to the next level, and that means a focus on retailing basics and store growth.

Stritzke, who took over the top position at the Kent, Wash.-based retail co-op last October after longtime head Sally Jewell left to become the U.S. Interior Secretary, said REI will build on the success of the flagship stores in Denver, New York and Seattle by expanding into new urban markets.

“We have not had a regular cadence of [flagship openings] — it’s been more opportunistic,” he said. “I’ve asked the team to be more deliberate in looking at major metro markets and looking for those opportunities.”

Metro areas, Stritzke said, are a fruitful market for the co-op.

“The Soho, [New York], store is our No. 1 store in the chain for introducing new members to REI,” he said. “The No. 2 store is our Seattle flagship. Our oldest and newest flagships are the two most successful locations in [attracting] new customers.”

The Soho store, which opened in late 2011, is now profitable, Stritzke added, saying, “That is a big accomplishment.” As he charts store growth, Stritzke said he is using lessons learned during his tenure at Coach and Limited Brands to strengthen the overall business.

“There’s a lot of pure, raw functionality in terms of retailing that we want to bring to the table. Some of that is how we manage inventory, what it means to be in stock better, what it means to launch product [more effectively],” he said.

Vendors applauded Stritzke’s work at the retailer so far. “There’s good, positive movement at REI that is getting more focused on merchandising,” noted Greg Thomsen, managing director of Agron Inc., Adidas Outdoor’s U.S. distributor. “They’ve been talking a lot about ‘edit and amplify,’ to have not as many styles but to go deeper and stronger with key styles.”

“Jerry Stritzke has brought great new leadership, energized by a new fresh perspective, to the REI membership and consumer base through a hands-on retail approach with his merchant and operating teams,” added Steve Meineke, president of Portland, Ore.-based Keen.

And merchandising is increasingly important in an outdoor market that is seeing even more competition.

“If you look around the industry, you see a lot of people taking a bite out of the category, whether it’s Macy’s or Nordstom … or whether it’s Dicks,” Stritzke said. “The advantage for us is that we have such an authenticity position [because of our] commitment to gear. That has been a very natural point of differentiation.”

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