Fresh off a wave of positive publicity for announcing that it’s closing on Black Friday, as part of its #OptOutside campaign encouraging people to explore the outdoors, REI is feeling a bruised after a reddit question-and-answer session veered slightly off course.
Yesterday, REI CEO Jerry Stritzke fielded questions on reddit’s Ask Me Anything subreddit in a thread he thought would focus on its Black Friday campaign. “I have my team here helping me answer questions, so go easy on me,” he wrote.
REI, a private company, operates under a co-op model, meaning shoppers need to pay a $20 lifetime membership fee. As such, the Washington-based retailer doesn’t have to answer to shareholders thus affording them to take Black Friday off.
But it’s REI’s unique co-op model that has some former and current employees angry. The most upvoted comment came from a person named “annonemp,” who asked Strtzke why REI has an “obsessive emphasis” on selling memberships, adding that the retailer places too much of a focus on that instead of offering good customer service or being knowledgeable about the products.
For a brief time my membership sales stagnated, but my quality of service and product knowledge continued to excel. It was like somebody flipped a switch. I was denied a promotion because I did not sell enough memberships. I had my hours cut from 30 hours a week to less than 10 because I did not sell enough memberships.
Other redditors claiming to be employees echoed those thoughts, and peppered him with questions about the loss of a 401(k) and health insurance because they were given fewer hours this year to work.
Another person summed up their experience like this: “As an outdoorsy person with a successful retail management background, working at REI, which regularly makes the top 20 ‘Best Places to Work’ was one of the most profoundly disappointing experiences of my life.”
Stritzke was accused by the reddit hive mind for purposely skipping the question from “annonemp,” he said he didn’t and was simply confused by the format. He delivered with an answer for that person’s query with a longer follow-up answer: “I feel like your story represents a measure of individual performance taken to an extreme and I am committed to understanding what happened,” he wrote.
In the end, Stritzke escaped a bit bruised but not completely battered.
He answered 25 questions, from the silly to the serious, but the pervasive feeling from reddit users is that it wasn’t a positive affair. (“The more I read, the more I see just how bad how REI fucks over its employees,” another person lamented.)
Stritzke told GeekWire that he enjoyed his first reddit experience and noted that the question from “annonemp” was a “completely legitimate conversation,” hinting the model might change in the future.
“Bottom line, though, an open and transparent conversation is something CEOs should not be afraid of. I, for one, welcome it,” he said.
Even so, we’re thinking that Stritzke is gong to #OptOutside and forget all of this.
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