The CEO of REI Answered Questions on Reddit and it Backfired

November 12, 2015, 7:56 PM UTC
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REI Recreational Equipment Huntington Beach, CA
Photograph by Diana Haronis/Moment Editorial via Getty Images

REI CEO Jerry Stritzke hosted a Reddit AMA (short for “ask me anything”) on Wednesday, and it did not go as smoothly as he was likely hoping.

Stritzke introduced the session by saying, “You might have heard about us recently when we announced that we would be closing all of our stores on Black Friday this year.” The company announced in October that it would be shutting its doors that day to encourage its employees to spend time outdoors rather than “fighting it out in the aisles.”

One member, known only as “annonemp,” identified himself as a former REI employee and asked why the company focuses so stringently on membership sales over anything else. “Even when we would exceed our daily sales goal or get a spectacular customer review, the main focus was on how many memberships were sold that day,” he writes, claiming that workers were penalized for not selling enough rather than incentivized to sell more.

This post received a lot of attention on the thread. Before Stritzke had a chance to respond, Reddit users accused him of dodging the question; when he did respond, they were still unsatisfied.

Stritzke wrote back saying that the company is so focused on memberships because of its co-op structure, but admits that they may have “lost sight of the bigger picture.” He adds that the company should advocate a “pull” model, in which new members actively want to join, rather than a “push” model that pressures employees to sell memberships. He ends his post by saying: “I appreciate you sharing your story and I assure you that we are looking into how we are using this measure.”

This did not sit well with the Reddit community. Many chalked this answer up to “politics,” “public pandering and head patting” and, as it was dubbed by one user, “Stritzke’s Maneuver.”

In a statement, Stritzke said:

I enjoyed being on Reddit. It’s an incredibly passionate and engaged community. I value and encourage transparency from the people who work with me and the people whose lives we touch. We do a huge number of things at REI to engage with employees and drive transparency and so discussing things like what it means to be a membership organization are normal practice. That’s vital because our members are actually the owners of REI.

About the Reddit thread specifically – this is a completely legitimate conversation (how we invite people to join the co-op and how we measure employee performance). It’s an issue we’re currently focused on and so I plan to dig into the question more deeply. We will have a collective conversation about this issue. This will include conversations in our stores. If I’m not happy with what we find, we’ll make a change.

Bottom line, though, an open and transparent conversation is something CEOs should not be afraid of. I, for one, welcome it.

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