REI. It’s a place that has become more and more a part of our lives over the years, and this week, we want to devote a blog post to its awesomeness.
Our relationship with REI goes back almost as long as our relationship with each other. The first time we visited Dave’s parents for a weekend in Nashville, we spent the better half of Saturday at the Brentwood REI store, exploring and enjoying the selection of outdoors goods.
(Of course, it actually goes back farther than that, to when Dave and his brother John set out on their cross-country cycling trip in 2003, and did some of their outfitting at the REI flagship store in Seattle. That’s when Dave first recognized the benefits of joining the co-op, and he’s been a faithful member ever since.)
It was only a few months after our first joint trip to REI that we got engaged and started the early stages of planning our world bike tour. We realized we could create a wedding registry at REI, and ended up spending more time picking out gear there than we did at Bed Bath and Beyond, where we were registering for our “normal” kitchen wares. We took a full day in the Brentwood store picking out a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, cookware and more. And as the wedding parties rolled around, we were blessed to receive every single item on our REI registry! Since camping gear is no small investment, this was a huge start to being properly equipped for our tour.
About a year before we left on the Tour, we (OK, Dave) began more seriously researching other upcoming equipment purchases, especially as we read other cyclists’ blogs and web sites. We were studying up on gear reviews on the Internet, but we personally feel there’s nothing like actually looking at the item in person. Since there wasn’t an REI where we were living in Auburn, on more than one occasion we made a day or weekend trip to shop at the REI in Atlanta. And we continued to go to the Brentwood store every time we were in Nashville visiting Dave’s parents.
And about six months before our departure, we knew it was about time to make the biggest purchase of all: the bicycles. Not only would this be the most expensive equipment we would have, it would inarguably be the most important. We (OK, Dave again) had concluded that Surly Long Haul Truckers were going to be the best bikes for us—and a great value. And where better to buy them than REI? Not only had we already developed some loyalty to them at this point, we knew we would receive a 10 percent dividend back on this major purchase the next year. (Read about that and other benefits of REI membership here!)
Let me take a moment to say that one thing we’ve ALWAYS loved about REI is the excellent customer service. Every time we went to REI, we felt like we were getting so much more than just products—we were getting advice and expertise from other people who had actually used this equipment and done this kind of traveling. We loved that REI is willing to stand behind their products and offers a 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantee. We recognize the REI is not the absolute cheapest place we could possibly shop, but we knew we were getting a lot for our money, and we were willing to pay a little more to know we were buying quality products from people who knew what they were talking about.
As if we didn’t already love REI, they sealed the deal for us while we were on our world tour. In 2012, while we were riding in South America, we started to have some problems with the zipper on our trusty tent. I have told this story on the blog before, so I’ll keep it brief here, but basically REI offered to exchange our tent and reimburse us for the shipping cost of sending the defective one back from Peru. Wow! Once again, we were blown away by their standard of customer service. I think that incident completely sealed our brand loyalty to them. We have honestly not done serious shopping at any other outdoor store since that time.
On our first weekend here in Nashville after coming home from our journey (and having stopped at plenty of REIs on our way back home across the US), we made a trip to the Brentwood store to explore and to meet some people. We thought, “what better place to meet cool people who have done or are doing cool stuff?” We also signed up for one of the weeknight classes in hopes of making some friends. We ended up getting connected with Brenda, the Outdoor Program Outreach Market Coordinator (long title), who organizes the classes and presentations offered at the Brentwood store. We volunteered to do a community presentation about our trip, thinking it could be a helpful resource for others who were either interested or experienced in bike touring.
Well, we were thrilled that our presentation filled up for pre-registration before we even had a chance to promote it to our Nashville family and friends. Since the first one went so well, we have already scheduled a second presentation (if you’re in Nashville and want to come, register here!) for April 29. We love these opportunities to inspire and empower other people to get out there and live their dreams, especially in the context of bike touring!
And now, the biggest development yet in our relationship with REI: I am officially an employee! I started just last weekend and am still learning the ropes (no pun intended). Many of you who talked to us toward the end of our trip know that I had been thinking about this as a great job option upon our return home. I am working as a customer service specialist, first in the camping department, and soon to be cross-trained to work in cycling. How much fun is that? On my second day on the sales floor, I got to help two different people set up a tent in the store and check it out before they made their big purchase. I am excited to be able to be the kind of resource for others that so many REI employees were for us!