For the third year in a row, REI is breaking with its retail brethren and closing not only on Thanksgiving but also Black Friday.
The outdoor gear co-op said on Monday that it would once again shutter all 151of its stores on both days, which kick off the holiday season’s peak period. It is also not processing any online orders on Black Friday, which is not a statutory holiday but a regular work day, and will again pay its 12,000 employees, including hourly workers, for their time and encourage them to spend that Friday enjoying the outdoors.
For years, Black Friday was one of the five biggest days for the retailer. But now, in addition to the positive publicity REI has gotten in the last two years from people weary of Black Friday’s commercialism, the retailer also sees the move as a way to avoid the image-damaging discounting trap that has hurt countless other retailers.
“When you look at retail today, this playbook of promotions and consumerism, it’s not working,” REI chief executive Jerry Stritzke told Fortune. What’s more, he says, there is Black Friday fatigue. “It feels like it’s lost momentum since then,” Stritzke added.
REI, which had 2016 revenues of $2.56 billion, is also helped by the fact it is a co-op owned by 6 million members, rather than a publicly traded company, meaning it can take a long view of its strategy rather than worry about a short-lived hit to sales. In both 2015 and 2016, REI enjoyed strong growth despite the Black Friday closing, and the retailer’s membership has skewed younger, bolstering Stritzke’s claims that sacrificing some business on a busy shopping day is worth it.
To build upon the momentum the ‘no Black Friday strategy’ has created in the last two holiday seasons, along with the #OptOutside hashtag it has engendered, REI has created a search engine that draws on photos people have submitted and provides suggestions and information on cool outdoor destinations, such as a trail’s difficulty or location.
Stritzke, who came to REI from Coach Inc (COH) four years ago, dismisses the idea that REI’s Black Friday approach is mere marketing, saying that both employees and customers would see through that. The strategy helps REI, which Fortune has ranked among the 100 Best Places to Work many years running, reinforce its image as a place about experiences and community. “You don’t promote your way to love,” he says, adding, “it’s about being a different kind of company.”
The Black Friday plan is not the only way REI is taking some risks. In April, Stritzke waded into political controversy to spoke out against the Trump administration’s actions on public lands, writing that the plan to review the status of more than 11 million acres of public land was a “cause for concern.” The company also urged people to file comments with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking him to keep the protections in place. Outdoor brand Patagonia has similarly been vocal on this issue, publishing its first ever TV ad earlier this year.