“Retail is moving toward capital-E environments,” explains REI President and CEO Wally Smith. “For some people, that means Entertainment. For us, it means Education.” This educational mission is behind almost every feature in the store: One of the basic filters that we ran each of our ideas through was, Does it teach customers something?

The REI superstore is enthusiastically interactive. But you won’t find flashy video screens, high-speed Internet connections, or any of the other all-too-familiar trappings of entertainment retailing. Here, interactivity takes the form of testing stations, where customers can use the products before committing to them. The store’s climbing rock and bike track are its two most high-profile stations. There’s also a Rain Room, where hikers test weather-resistant outerwear; a pool filled with brackish water, where campers test water purifiers; and an Illumination Station, where cyclists test lights.

Such work-life integration makes for energized salespeople — and a better store. “The buyers don’t just say, ‘Here’s the gear,’ ” Edquist explains. “They see us as a resource: ‘This guy has used every ice tool we sell. Is our selection where it needs to be?’ ” Diane Levy, 32, a sales specialist in the snowsport and paddling specialty shops, shares Edquist’s perspective. “We’ve chased bad products out of here,” she says. “That helps make us feel that this is our store.”

This clever mix of customer experience and organizational development has supercharged REI’s growth. Value through innovation and employee engagement makes the firm cutting edge in setting the tone for the future of retail. No World Borders organizational development and process innovation consulting teams can help you unlock the value in your firm.

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