Recreational Equipment Inc. (Kent, Wash.) – known to the world as REI – has become identified with its commitment to the environment, mostly through its aggressive pursuit of building stores that are sustainable and energy-efficient. It’s also known as an evangelist for healthy lifestyles and outdoor pursuits – what it calls “muscle-powered activities,” such as hiking, biking, camping and climbing.
But the 3 million-member consumer cooperative also sells stuff. Through its roughly 100 retail outlets in more than 27 states, REI offers performance gear, clothing and footwear. And so, as the company explores cutting-edge ways to build green stores and earn LEED certification, it also acknowledges that its stores have to be customer-friendly, with strong visual presentations, fixtures that permit shoppers easy accessibility to merchandise and traffic flows that make ultimate sense.
When REI built its new Round Rock, Texas, store last year, it had a few missions beyond pushing the green envelope (see sidebar below). One was to develop its brand in central Texas. It already had two stores in Austin, 20 miles south. But that didn’t mean it was a known quantity there.
“After we opened the Round Rock store, we did a customer intercept survey and found that almost one-third of our visitors were first-time customers,” says Dean Iwata, REI’s director of store development. “A lot of them were driving by on the way to an Ikea store next door and stopped in for fishing equipment. They thought we were just another sporting goods store.”
Another was to test this two-story concept in new construction. “There are challenges to multi-level stores,” says Iwata, “such as figuring out ways to pull natural light throughout the entire space, and creating traffic flows that encourage shoppers to venture all the way to the back of the store and make their way upstairs.”
A videotaped study of REI’s Boulder, Colo., store conducted by Envirosell Inc. showed that people often hesitated at the entrance, not sure where or even if they wanted to go further into the store. So a key element of the Round Rock store design, produced by Gensler, is what Iwata calls a decompression zone, a welcoming area just inside the entrance bathed in natural illumination from an overhead roof monitor that was designed to diffuse sunlight while generating electricity via insulated photovoltaic glass (BIPV). The zone is also devoid of too much signage and information. It’s meant to be a place for shoppers to take in the 32,000-square-foot space, bigger than a typical REI store, and figure out where they want to go first.
“We want our store to be a place of discovery,” Iwata says. “Shoppers need to find what they’re looking for, of course, but we also want to open them up to new information. We want there to be a natural, intuitive flow to the store.”
So aisles are wide and visual presentations are inviting and interactive. Fixtures were designed and built in-house to be more self-service. “People can touch the merchandise and play with it,” says Iwata. “In the process, they self-educate.”
REI is also testing a mezzanine-level resource center in this store, a way to connect with the local community. The 1000-square-foot room is to be used for conferences, for local outdoors clubs to hold their meetings and for clinics on the various outdoor activities. “It’s an opportunity for our shoppers to meet and network, to discover common interests,” Iwata says. “Part of REI’s philosophy is to integrate with the community and be seen as an educational resource. We don’t want to be thought of as just selling bicycling shorts.”
How Green Can You Go?
REI has long been at the forefront of environmental responsibility. Its 2007 store remodel in Boulder, Colo., also designed in collaboration with Gensler, was awarded LEED gold certification in 2009. The Round Rock, Texas, store, built and completed in 2008, continues to push the envelope. Among the innovations:
• The roof contains highly reflective, funnel-shaped Solatubes, which channel daylight from the roof throughout the store. (This same technology saves approximately 25 percent in energy costs at REI’s Boulder store.)
• A solar roof monitor captures the sun’s energy to power the store through building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) technology.
• An automated lighting system dims or turns off unneeded artificial illumination during periods of bright sunshine.
• Additional power needs are met through renewable energy sources, specifically biomass, which generates energy from converted natural materials
• Reclaimed, renewable and recycled materials are incorporated in floors, perimeter walls, fixtures, displays, benches and tabletops.
• Water-efficient plumbing fixtures reduce water usage by 40 percent.
This year, REI says, it will examine the environmental and financial performance of the first two prototype stores before the company designs and constructs the third prototype. The co-op opened a store in Lincoln Park, Ill., in October 2008 and is applying for LEED certification to determine the rating of a more traditional REI store design.
REI, Kent, Wash.: Dean Iwata, director store development; Laura Rose, retail architecture and design manager; Patricia Civarra, architectural project manager; Scott Smith, retail construction manager; Doug Ludlow, project manager; Elizabeth Dowd, store planning and fixture design manager
Gensler, San Francisco: Ray Shick, project director; Ted Jacobs, design director; Karen Skillin, project manager; Brady Titus, project architect; Alex Tam, job captain; George Slavik, graphics; Salma Bahramy, media relations manager
Westwood Contractors, Tacoma, Wash.
Outside Design Consultants
Glumac, San Francisco (MEP/LEED Engineer)
KPFF Consulting Engineers, San Francisco, (structural engineer)
Hultz/BHU/Cross Engineers, Tacoma, Wash. (lighting engineer)
Lehrman Cameron Studio, Seattle (kids area and special features)
Furniture and fixtures
Haworth, Holland, Mich.
Numark, Bellevue, Wash.
Joslin Displays, Wilmington, Mass.
Leader Manufacturing, Port Orchard, Wash.
MTI, Hillsboro, Ore.
REI Fixture Shop, Renton, Wash.
High Country Millwork, Longmont, Colo.
Custom Table Fixture
Rom Lee, Seattle
Carpentry & Millwork
Parker Commercial Construction, Broomfield, Colo.
Custom Light Fixtures/Solabells
Moss Inc., Belfast, Maine
Graybar Electric, Seattle
Tempest Technologies, Issaquah, Wash.
Solatube International Inc., Vista, Calif.
Expanko, Parkesburg, Pa.
US Aluminum, Waxahachie, Texas
Tectum, Newark, Ohio
US Gypsum, Chicago
Solid Surface Counters
Alkemi, Cabin John, Md.
Daltile Corp., Dallas
Stainless Steel Bathroom Partitions
Accurate Partitions, Lyons, Ill.