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First visit to REI. Fun toys.

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First visit to REI. Fun toys.

Old 11-08-16, 02:53 AM
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canklecat
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First visit to REI. Fun toys.

First visit to REI in Foat Wuth, during a rainy Monday night bike ride. Wasn't intending to go. Huge, and rare, traffic jam on my usual semi-rural leisure ride route west of town forced me to improvise, so I bumbled around toward the southwest and pulled into a parking lot to check the map app and get my bearings. Turned out to be the new REI.

I had a Roy Batty moment. Hope I didn't creep out the sales staff.


Quick impressions...

I can see why some local bike shops are hurting. Hard to compete with such a well stocked store that isn't forced to carry only one or two product lines. (I mean accessories, not bikes -- this REI actually didn't have many bikes, but I wasn't looking either. I noticed a few Electras, Diamondbacks, something called a Ghost.)

Big advantage to being able to fondle the toys, rather than view online catalogs and ask questions online. Lots of accessories I've never seen at other shops. And it's hard to beat their satisfaction guarantee.

I decided during the ride I needed better lights. REI had plenty to play with, most of them charged up and ready to test. I got the Light and Motion Urban 500. Brighter and wider beam pattern than my Serfas SL-255. Forgot how to unlock the darned thing so I didn't get to test it on the way home.

Lots of red tail lights. And they're all pretty much the same. Cygolite, Planet Bike, Blackburn, Serfas. Main differences were configurations. Some are strips, which are handy for seat stays. Several are the familiar types with lenses to concentrate the beams. The Blackburns opt for a wider angle of view. And there are variations in blinking, flashing, strobing or pulsing. But not a huge difference in apparent brightness within a price range.

I can see why Bern and Nutcase helmets cost $70, compared with the $40-$50 for Bell and other commuter/skater type helmets. More attention to detail with Bern and Nutcase. Nicer padding, straps, buckles/snaps, etc. All are probably comparably effective in brainpan protection. But the little extras are nice in the Berns and Nutcases.

They also offer service and classes in basic bike repairs. No idea how competent they are at this.

I'm betting bikes are only a small percentage of REI's business. Other outdoor sports probably account for most sales. This sort of diversity may appeal to a niche consumer market who don't care for the hunting, shooting sports and fishing gear that dominate other big outdoor activities stores.

It occurs to me that the conventional LBS paradigm really needs to adapt, pronto.

Now, it's possible REI will eventually fade from this high standard and skimp on the materials. Home Depot and Lowe's did, years ago. They began offering US made tools, hardware, etc. Before long they stocked mostly cheaper stuff made in China, Taiwan, India, etc. So when I needed decent woodworking tools I'd still go to a specialty shop or order online (back in the 1990s).

But assuming REI maintains this higher standard of stocking top brands, and lots of stuff...

The best thing an LBS could do is hire good mechanics, and ensure quick turnaround.

And put more emphasis on buying good used bikes, renovating and flipping them. They'd need to charge more than some craigslist sellers, and still more than a new Walmart bike hastily thrown together. But savvy marketing to educate consumers could help prospective buyers overcome that hurdle.

More emphasis on customizing and even keeping older bikes running, rather than pushing new wheels (that are ordered from a warehouse because they don't keep 'em in stock) when all the old bike needed was a new spoke or set of hub cones.

I've heard that Specialized and other companies impose some restrictions that hinder the smaller LBSs. Maybe emphasizing good used bikes could offset that.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see whether REI maintains this high level of stocking quality stuff even after they've driven most old-paradigm LBSs out of business.
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Old 11-08-16, 03:33 AM
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Get ready for a refutation and indictment of every point raised. Not saying you're right or wrong. That's just how threads like these go...

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Old 11-08-16, 03:35 AM
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Nice, thoughtful write-up. I hope bike shops can survive and prosper. Competing with REI is a tall order, but there's nothing like a good bike shop.
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Old 11-08-16, 03:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Abu Mahendra View Post


Get ready for a refutation and indictment of every point raised. Not saying you're right or wrong. That's just how threads like these go...

No prob, I stocked up on popcorn and beer myself to watch the fun.

/not a troll thread

/seriously

Originally Posted by SpinThrift View Post
Nice, thoughtful write-up. I hope bike shops can survive and prosper. Competing with REI is a tall order, but there's nothing like a good bike shop.
Ditto. I'd much rather support my LBS. And I usually buy a little something with every visit -- rim tape and a tube last week, in part because they invited me to come back with my hub disassembled to see if they had a compatible cone in their parts bin.
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Old 11-08-16, 05:02 AM
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I have an REI credit card. This year I have earned over $210 to spend there next year. I have never used their mechanics because the closest store is not close, and I have several LBS near me. But I do tour, so it's nice to be able to check out gear. Did you know that if you are looking for a tent they will set up any tent in the store for you so you can check it out "in the flesh?" Nothing like being able to try out a sleeping bag to make sure it's wide enough for my brad shoulders. Can't do that on line.

They likely didn't have many bikes because they are completely revamping their house brand for next year. Hope that works out for them.
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Old 11-08-16, 05:47 AM
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Yup, their membership, subscription, whatchamacallit -- one-time $20 for 10% kickback a year -- is pretty good, considering their prices are the same as most online retailers. Same $70 for the Light and Motion Urban 500 I bought, same $70 for most Bern and Nutcase helmets. And I noticed they don't fiddle around with faux-discount pricing like $69.99. They just round up most of it.

I've seen some deeper discounts on REI's website, but didn't look around the store for any specials. They haven't been open long enough.
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Old 11-08-16, 06:35 AM
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There's plenty of cycling market to go around. No reason not to shop REI and also support your LBS. Honestly, my LBS doesn't have a single piece of clothing that fits me, so needless to say, I'm shopping elsewhere.
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Old 11-08-16, 08:00 AM
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REI = been using them for years for many things (mostly backpacking gear) and all of it has been of the highest quality.


Their very occasional sales (Friends&Family and an annual sale on returned goods) have been good savings.
Based in Seattle, we have several stores in the area, but some stores do not carry the entire product offering (ex, closest store has no kayaking gear).

Last edited by Wildwood; 11-08-16 at 08:06 AM.
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Old 11-08-16, 08:24 AM
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I kind of despise REI because it competes with some of my favorite stores (Including Backwoods).

Fort Worth Cycling and Fitness has been my go to store. They even sold me my bike. A new Bike Shop opened in Weatherford though. It's worth checking out if you're ever over there.
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Old 11-08-16, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
They also offer service and classes in basic bike repairs. No idea how competent they are at this.

Some are incompetent and some are very experienced.

They are as good or bad as the individual mechanic holding the wrench.


-Tim-
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Old 11-08-16, 08:35 AM
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I work very close to the REI store, here, and have been a member for a while. They do carry some stuff you don't see at the LBS, and a pretty good variety of accessories. I've taken one of their bicycle maintenance classes, because I wanted a chance to handle some stuff I haven't yet had a chance to disassemble and view the guts, like external bearing bottom brackets. It was a good experience, and I'd recommend the classes to anyone who needs some help with fixing a problem with their own bike that they can't figure out, or don't know which parts to refurb or replace. They threw the bikes up on stands, and we all got to see how each bike was adjusted, and how to resolve some typical problems, like shifting issues, and fun with chainlines. Recently, my wife and I attended a class about how to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Of course, that was the theme, but the class was more about basic survival methods in both urban and rural environments, and demonstrations of some of the products one might consider having available should things go wonky. It was a good way to spend the evening, and not nearly as much of a sales pitch as I expected. On top of that, the instructor was a very attractive young lady who was very knowledgeable about the store products, and provided a very good presentation. Can't beat that.

I've bought lots of bike stuff from REI, including tools, tubes, lights, pedals, and other accessories. I like the relaxed atmosphere, and the co-op mentality that lets customers feel like members. The dividends are nice, too.
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Old 11-08-16, 09:43 AM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
Yup, their membership, subscription, whatchamacallit -- one-time $20 for 10% kickback a year -- is pretty good, considering their prices are the same as most online retailers. Same $70 for the Light and Motion Urban 500 I bought, same $70 for most Bern and Nutcase helmets. And I noticed they don't fiddle around with faux-discount pricing like $69.99. They just round up most of it.

I've seen some deeper discounts on REI's website, but didn't look around the store for any specials. They haven't been open long enough.
They have at least two big sales every year. One is for members and the other is their spring sale. During both you get either 20% or 30% (can't remember which) off one full-priced item. They also have what they call their "garage sale" where you can buy merchandise that was returned for whatever reason. You have to get up pretty early to get first pick. They let people into the garage sale area in groups, and I think you have a certain amount of time to pick out what you want before they let the next group in. Finally, they have their reioutlet.com, which has deeply discounted stuff.
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Old 11-08-16, 09:50 AM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
Now, it's possible REI will eventually fade from this high standard and skimp on the materials. Home Depot and Lowe's did, years ago. They began offering US made tools, hardware, etc. Before long they stocked mostly cheaper stuff made in China, Taiwan, India, etc. So when I needed decent woodworking tools I'd still go to a specialty shop or order online (back in the 1990s).

But assuming REI maintains this higher standard of stocking top brands, and lots of stuff...


REI has already changed drastically from what they were in the 80s and before. Now they're carrying a lot more house brands (Novarra) which are made (wait for it) in China, Taiwan, India, etc. I used to go there to get my favorite brand of everyday socks (Ultimax Coolmax), but they stopped carrying them in favor of their house brand, which I'm sure they claim are just as good or better, but I've been using Ultimax socks for years, and I have no desire to change brands, so now I order them from Amazon instead.


And no, I'm not an REI-hater. I've been a loyal member for about 30 years, and carry an REI credit card in my wallet. I just wish they went back to the days of stocking more name brands, and less Novarra.
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Old 11-08-16, 09:53 AM
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I've been a member of REI since 1986 (it is a co-op). I use an REI credit card for most purchases, and get a bit of a dividend spending spree each March. Prices tend to be high, but you do get a dividend return, and they have a generous return policy (which I have only very rarely taken advantage of). As a business, they are far superior to something like Home Depot. I buy most of my non-bike-related outdoor stuff there (tents, camping stuff, hiking boots, jackets, clothing). However, I don't think I have ever put one of our local bike shops in any danger by getting the occasional item from REI. Their in-house brand of bikes are OK but nothing exceptional. Ghost BTW is a high-priced (and allegedly high-end) import from Germany that they currently are an exclusive vendor for.

We did an REI trip to the Galapagos a few years ago. It was of exceptionally high-quality.

I got my Giro Air Attack helmet and shield there for about 1/2 list price. Occasionally they have great deals like that.

Last edited by wgscott; 11-08-16 at 09:57 AM.
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Old 11-08-16, 09:54 AM
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You will enjoy the Urban 500. I have the 700 and love it. It's easy to unlock. Just hold down the power button when it's locked until the little notification light in the back blinks 3 times. The lockout feature is definitely useful. I had my light turn on in my bag a few times before I started using it.
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Old 11-08-16, 10:23 AM
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If you have not checked out their Novara line of cycling clothing, you probably should. Everything that I have bought from them so far has been outstanding. For me, it fits really well and has held up to a lot of abuse from wet roads to salt, snow, ice, etc.

Have yet to be disappointed in anything that REI sells.
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Old 11-08-16, 11:26 AM
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REI's inventory changes dramatically with the seasons. Right now they're going to be selling snow gear, and the limited bike selection is going to have a lot of commuter-ish accessories like lights and fenders. In the spring you'll see a huge bike inventory.

They just canned the Novara store brand and are launching a new store brand called Co-Op in the spring with some newer style bikes, namely gravel road bikes and plus-tire mountain bikes.
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Old 11-08-16, 11:42 AM
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the REI near me has THE BEST hiking socks section
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Old 11-08-16, 12:11 PM
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I've been a member since they had one store up on Capitol Hill in Seattle. REI is not what it used to be, but then again, either am I.


Back in the 70's, there was some graffiti on the wall near the men's bathroom....It said, "REI, you're turning into Sears".


I did buy my wife a Novara Strada back in the mid 80's and it's been a great bike.
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Old 11-08-16, 12:20 PM
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REI member for the last few years since they came to town, but the store is remote from me. For most bike stuff I patronize the shops I already know here and for a lot of outdoor clothing and gear we have Cabela's and Bass Pro Shop. REI is nice but not necessary in this market. I still like going occasionally and do buy things there but I'm a pretty casual outdoorsman so don't feel the need for most of their technical gear.

My first exposure to the brand was while cycling in Germany in the '70s. Looked up an Air Force buddy who was still in at the time and stationed in Zweibrucken. He was living on base and buying his panniers and camping gear from REI.
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Old 11-08-16, 12:36 PM
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They've been around and selling high quality gear for a while. No reason to expect that will change.

As to their accessories, they seemingly stock more tools than Performance Bike. Great deals often on their cabling too, the old Novara stuff was just rebranded Jagwire. Bought a couple 25' rolls of housing for $13 this spring.
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Old 11-08-16, 12:42 PM
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I could get lost for days in REI, I feel like my girlfriend must feel when she shops for shoes when I'm in there.
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Old 11-08-16, 12:49 PM
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If REI was going to skimp on quality, it would have happened years ago. I still have a pair of hiking boots from my boy scout days I got at REI - and our troop did a lot of backpacking since we lived only 2 hours from the Appalachian Trail. My backpack and sleeping bag are also still going strong. I was in one last month with the wife and they still carry good quality stuff. I was less interested in the bike stuff than I was all of the other stuff they had.
I wish we had one close by
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Old 11-08-16, 12:51 PM
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REI's hiking section seems to sell more premium stuff than in the biking section... titanium cookware and so on
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Old 11-08-16, 01:25 PM
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Originally Posted by shafter View Post
Fort Worth Cycling and Fitness has been my go to store.
Ditto. Just a mile away, good folks.

Originally Posted by kevindsingleton View Post
...and not nearly as much of a sales pitch as I expected ... I like the relaxed atmosphere, and the co-op mentality that lets customers feel like members.
I noticed that as well. I actually had to ask some specific questions about the REI membership. The first two folks I chatted with seemed almost too averse to the hard sell approach. I can imagine a business and marketing major cringing at their business model and predicting bankruptcy within six months. But it seems to work for their niche market.

Originally Posted by idiotekniQues View Post
You will enjoy the Urban 500. I have the 700 and love it. It's easy to unlock. Just hold down the power button when it's locked until the little notification light in the back blinks 3 times. The lockout feature is definitely useful. I had my light turn on in my bag a few times before I started using it.
I didn't have my reading glasses, my regular glasses were spattered with rain, and I didn't see the instructions to hold down the button for four seconds to unlock it. I think I held it for two or three seconds and gave up after a few attempts. But I tried it early this morning in the rain and it works fine. Brighter and broader beam pattern than the Serfas (although the SL-255 is good for the money for folks who prefer a light that takes AA batteries). I might swap it toward the 800, though, since that model apparently includes more mounts.

Originally Posted by mtb_addict View Post
When you go visit a REI, you'll see the workers genuinely enjoy working there.
That's the impression I got as well. It's unusual to see young employees who seem to actually enjoy their jobs. Most young employees elsewhere seem anxious to move on to jobs that either pay better or are less stressful.
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