Veteran REI employee Forrest Jarvi trains new employees on a variety of footwear at the Glenwood Springs store, which opens on July 22nd.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
A week and a 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 plaza at the Roaring Fork Marketplace, which formerly housed the Office Depot (3216 S. Glen Ave., Suite A), a group of new REI employees are learning how to guide and help customers make purchases a matching backpack.
Another group in the back of the store is sniffing through the different brands of shoes; another is learning how to pair clients with the right mountain bike and accessories; another learns everything there is to know about camping equipment; ditto for paddling.
The front counter is lined with trainee cashiers being trained on the computer system.
On Wednesday, employees attend a “Friends and Family Night” practice run to practice their newly learned customer service and sales skills. The store will open with a three-day grand opening celebration Friday-Sunday, July 22-24, including giveaways and an outdoor social from 1pm-5pm each afternoon with music and a multi-brand outdoor gear festival.
It’s all part of REI’s hands-on “see, feel, touch” approach to outfitting its customers, which, according to Glenwood Springs’ new Store Manager Jace Harms, sets REI apart in the outdoor leisure retail industry.
The new REI Co-op store will have a grand opening Friday through Sunday, July 22-24 in Glenwood Springs.
“It’s part of our legacy as an outdoor outfitter to really work to serve everyone who walks through the doors and we put that into action every day,” said Harms, who has owned the co-op for four years of the members is employed years.
A Nebraska native, he joined the company after moving to Dallas from college about 10 years ago. He worked at the Dallas flagship store before taking the opportunity to run the new Glenwood Springs store.
“It was an opportunity for me to get a little bit closer to home and place while providing the outdoor playground that we all enjoy,” said Harms. “This community continues to embrace and remind me of the small, rural town I grew up in and it’s refreshing to be in a community where you know people’s names and can get involved and give back to the community. “
Since arriving in March, Harms has said he’s volunteered with a Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) trailwork crew in Carbondale’s Red Hill trail area.
RFOV was also one of four local organizations to benefit from the first round of REI Gives grants totaling $20,000. The others were the Wilderness Workshop, the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and Gay for Good.
Glenwood Springs REI store manager Jace Harms, center, listens to backpacks during a training session for new employees at the new store, which is slated to open July 22.
The Glenwood Springs store is classified as a “Gateway” store because of its smaller size compared to the city’s flagship stores and its prime location for outdoor fun.
It is similar to REI stores in size and product categories
Dillon which opened in 2017 and the Grand Junction store which opened in 2000 and then relocated and expanded a few years ago.
Surprisingly, although hiring the employees between 45 and 54 needed to operate the Glenwood business is a challenge in the area’s tight job market, Harms said they currently have 41 employees.
“One of the things that has kept me at REI is that everything we do is people-centric,” he said. “We value and pride ourselves on looking after our employees at every turn. So part of it is responding to the local hiring climate to ensure we are competitive.”
REI also focuses on hiring as much locally as possible among existing outdoor enthusiasts as they are the resident experts best placed to offer advice on where to recreate locally and what type of gear is best is, said Harms.
“Whether trying a new activity or venturing down a familiar trail or waterway, we strive to be at the heart of people’s outdoor lives for products and expertise,” he said.
Incentives for employees include a one-time hiring bonus of $300 and a paid day off starting on day one so they can go out and reinvent themselves, Harms said. And by 2023, there will be no minimum hours company-wide for employees to receive health insurance benefits, he said.
REI Glenwood is still hiring for full and part-time retail employees; Information on the REI job page.
Living together in outdoor retail
Harms said REI knows it’s not the be-all and end-all when it comes to outdoor gear, especially in smaller communities that already have an established outdoor culture.
While the new REI store offers hiking, camping, paddling, biking, running, fitness and snow sports gear and apparel, as well as a bike and ski/snowboard specialty store for gear tuning and repair, there are niche areas that still have others are reserved.
“We have full intentions, if a customer says, ‘Oh, you don’t have a climbing department,’ or ‘You don’t have that brand,’ we can say, ‘No, but you know who has one is Summit Canyon, or Treadz , or Hookers, or Sunlight, or Factory Outdoor,'” Harms said.
Summit Canyon Mountaineering Store manager Emma Hunnicutt said it’s important to have an established presence and a loyal customer base.
“As for the addition of REI, we are optimistic about the future and always grateful for the support of our local people 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 anytime soon,” she said.
“We’re excited to be going back to our roots and have worked to expand our climbing and mountaineering divisions, as well as offerings in just about every category,” said Hunnicutt. “Summit is more than just a business, it’s a community staple.”
For REI, Harms said the business recently joined the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and hopes to fit into the business community in other ways.
“One of my goals is to meet these business partners and see how we can support each other, whether it’s through ownership and partnership on a trail project or garbage collection or whatever,” Harms said.
As for local demand for outdoor recreation, with a large population base in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County and approximately 2.2 million tourists visiting the area each year, “We believe there is plenty for everyone to do,” he said.
REI also has more than 1.1 million lifetime cooperative members in Colorado.