REI said it would keep its 162 retail locations shuttered and furlough many of its roughly 14,000 employees without pay for 90 days as the coronavirus pandemic continues to paralyze much of the bricks-and-mortar retail sector.
CEO Eric Artz, who announced the decision in a blog post Monday, said he and the Kent-based company’s board would forgo their own compensation for six months; senior executives will take a 20% pay cut and forgo any 2020 bonuses. Furloughed employees will continue to receive health benefits during the 90-day period, the company said.
“We’re particularly focused on the next few months because we don’t know exactly when we’ll be able to reopen our stores,” Artz acknowledged. “We believe this will be the most challenging period for our business, and we have to make some immediate decisions that impact REI employees.”
Monday’s move wasn’t entirely unexpected. On March 15, REI announced it was temporarily closing retail locations and putting employees on paid leave through April 15. The move came amid a broader retail slump, as well as concerns by some REI retail employees about working in stores even as REI’s corporate staff began working from home.
But as the coronavirus crisis has stretched on, and as more state and local governments have ordered the shutdown of nonessential businesses, REI decided to extend the closure. Artz stressed the temporary nature of the furloughs. He said the company hopes to begin reopening some retail operations, starting with curbside pickup, in 45 days. “We look forward to welcoming you all back into our stores when it’s safe to do so,” he said.
Artz’s decision to cut his own pay marks REI as something of a retail outlier, said Neil Saunders, a retail analyst with Global Insight. Saunders noted that Abercrombie & Fitch, which also announced Monday that it was furloughing its North American retail staff, was cutting executive compensation by just 10% to 33%.
Completely forgoing Artz’s pay is “something you’d kind of expect from REI,” added Saunders. “To say ‘we feel the pain and we’re going to have some of the pain as well’ shows a degree of sensitivity.”