I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
On October 27, 2015, $2.2 billion outdoor recreation specialty retailer REI sent a letter to its 5.5 million co-op members: It would be closing its stores on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. More than that, the company would give all of its 12,000 employees a paid holiday so they could get outside and enjoy nature, something at the heart of the REI message. Later, as the November 27 national “shop ’til you drop” fiesta grew closer, the company released a national television commercial about the shutdown featuring the Twitter hashtag #OptOutside and launched a website, www.optoutside.rei.com, where users could find trail suggestions and other outdoor recreation ideas.
It was a major doubling down on brand identity and promise . . . and a big risk. Did it pay off? By all accounts, the answer is a resounding “You bet your hiking boots!” Apart from garnering REI enormous press coverage, the Black Friday closure boosted the company’s online sales on November 27 by 26 percent.1 Over 1,408,000 people joined the campaign on the company’s social media channels.
But more important, REI branded itself as the instigator of a movement and an ongoing conversation about consumerism and recreation. The decision was a full-throated shout of authenticity backing up the co-op’s stated values—bold and trust-building support of REI’s Contract ...