Last year, outdoor retailer REI shut down the day after Thanksgiving. REI executives explained that they made the move in order to give its employees and customers an opportunity to enjoy time outside over the holiday. The company encouraged people to take a break from all the shopping chaos of Black Friday and explore trails and parks instead.
It was a startling announcement; closing all locations on one of the biggest shopping days of the year is not a conventional way to build revenue and profit.
REI’s decision ran counter to the general trend of opening earlier and earlier each year. Many big retailers now open on Thanksgiving Day, hoping to get a jump on competitors and attract shoppers who have time off and are willing to forego holiday feasts in exchange for sales and deals.
It was a brilliant move for REI that provided three notable benefits.
REI’s move generated enormous PR for the company, and virtually all of it was positive. Many people don’t like the trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving. REI’s move in the other direction resonated with people, especially with its target customers. People talked about the decision and saluted REI.
REI didn’t just give employees the day off. The company went ahead and paid employees for the day, as well. This created enormous goodwill and enthusiasm among the REI team. Attracting, motivating and retaining talented people isn’t easy. REI’s move helped with all three tasks.
The decision was an example of a brand living its values. REI is dedicated to helping people get out and enjoy the outdoors. Closing on the day after Thanksgiving and taking a stand against commercialization of the holiday showed customers and partners that REI wasn’t a typical profit-focused organization.
So it isn’t a surprise that REI will again be closing this year on the day after Thanksgiving. The company is running ads this week explaining the decision, and they’ve designated a hashtag to promote it: #OptOutside.
Here is a clip from the print ad: “For eight decades our co-op has been dedicated to one thing: a life outdoors. That’s why last Black Friday we put purpose ahead of profits…. Our values haven’t changed. This year we’re closing again.”
This is how to build a strong brand. The move isn’t cheap, but it will pay dividends for many years in the form of committed customers and engaged employees.