Wage hikes are costing the outdoor retailer as much as $25 million, CEO says at annual membership meeting.

Share story

The wage hikes REI announced last summer for store employees will cost as much as $24 million to $25 million, equal to “the vast majority of our profits last year,” CEO Jerry Stritzke said at the co-op’s annual meeting Monday evening at the Seattle flagship store.

REI last year reported $38.3 million in profit, after member dividends and taxes.

The outdoors co-op said last summer it would boost pay starting in August for employees at 37 stores in cities where the cost of living had been rising the most. It also said all retail-store employees would be paid above the majority of retailers in their area by 2017.

Taken altogether, the hourly retail pay across all stores is increasing by an average of 10 percent, an REI spokesman said.

REI had said its move toward higher pay had been under way for months, but it came at a time when employees had been increasingly vocal about wage and scheduling issues. A Seattle City Council member had held a forum in which some REI workers talked of low wages and erratic hours.

The issue came up again at the annual meeting. During the question-and-answer session, Collin Pointon, a sales associate at the Seattle flagship store for more than three years, said he appreciated the wage boost.

But “the wages don’t matter so much when the hours are one eight-hour shift in a week,” he said.

Stritzke replied that the co-op late last year started sitting down with employees once a quarter to work out how many hours the co-op could plan to give them that quarter. The co-op also began giving workers their schedules 16 days in advance.

But in practice, Pointon said in an email, those “good faith commitments” of weekly hours don’t necessarily pan out. “Unfortunately, I and many more workers have been scheduled less than these amounts. Mine is 17 hours, and on many occasions I have been scheduled for 8 hours, or 14 hours in a week. It makes living my life very inconsistent,” he wrote.

Some other take-aways from the meeting:

• Stritzke said outdoor retailers, including REI, that pulled the industry’s annual trade show out of Utah, are looking for a future home for the show. The Outdoor Retailer Show is moving to protest the Utah governor’s call for President Donald Trump to rescind creation of the Bears Ears National Monument.

• Asked what REI could do to address federal environmental policy under the new administration, Stritzke said advocacy for keeping public lands public had the potential to create bipartisan support, with those who love hunting and fishing also valuing access to and stewardship of public lands.

• Stritzke said the No. 1 challenge to REI’s business is that “the basis of retail is fundamentally changing.”

Focusing on shared values, not just buying things, is important, Stritzke said.

The success of the #OptOutside social-media campaign, which REI started two years ago by closing its stores on Black Friday and encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors instead of shopping, tapped into such shared values.

“It was kind of shocking how that caught a cultural wave,” Stritzke said.