Decides What you wear
With 118 stores and $1.7 billion in sales in 2010 (up 14 percent during a recession), REI is the dominant retail force for outdoor gear in the country, dictating which brands become iconic. And while much is made of the REI buyers who decide which products make it into the store (and onto the famed shoe wall), the person behind the juggernaut co-op is Sally Jewell, a no-nonsense, eco-conscious 55-year-old former banker who climbed Antarctica’s 16,067-foot Vinson Massif earlier this year. To quantify REI’s influence, consider the case of Keen: eight years ago, a river rat named Martin Keen had one prototype water shoe. Then REI began carry-ing the brand, and Keen shoes exploded, passing the $200 million mark in sales last year. FiveFingers was a little side project by boot-sole supplier Vibram before REI threw its support behind the shoes in 2006, knowing that they meshed with the emerging trend of barefoot running. At press time, FiveFingers was on track to rack up $100 million in sales this year.
By the Numbers $30.2 million: REI’s net income in 2010, after $93.4 million in dividends were delivered to co-op members
Second Opinion “REI’s product buyers are the most power-ful in the industry,” says Kenji Haroutunian, director of the Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show. “At OR, REI buyers are like royalty. It’s not a coincidence that Sally was invited to the White House to speak at the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative launch last year.”