Bourree Lam: REI is probably the most well-known retail co-op in the U.S. In the past, you’ve been in leadership positions at private companies, including Coach and The Limited. How has being at a co-op been different?
Stritzke: I’ve loved being a part of the co-op. It’s been just a great experience for me as a leader and my development. There’s a real sense of community that’s phenomenally important. I would say it’s a compelling competitive advantage, and as we look to the future, I think that idea of having a community organized around a shared passion—in this case a love of a life lived outside—is really important.
That aspect of the co-op is a big thing. We gave away over $9 million dollars to a number of nonprofits partners. That’s playing a central role in advocating for what we’re passionate about, and being in that community.
The last thing is it’s a long-term perspective. [In] so much of the publicly traded environment, which I’ve come from, there’s such a pressure from a short-term perspective. To really be able to look out and ask, what does it mean to be vibrant, to be compelling over a three-, five-, 10-year horizon? That’s phenomenally important. Frankly, that’s front and center in the co-op much more than what I’m doing in a particular quarter, or even in the context of a year or a couple years period. So that long view, the values, and being the center of a community, it creates a powerful combination.
Lam: What advice do you have for companies that are centered around short-term thinking?
Stritzke: It’s obvious that retail is undergoing some fundamental shifts. The next generation of consumers is going to engage with brands and retailers very differently. Having a reason for being is pretty compelling. It may sound like an obvious statement, but it’s got to be more than just selling stuff.
I believe that understanding what you’re about, embracing that, placing yourself at the center of the community, acting in the best interests of that community—all of those things become incredibly important. There’s no substitute for being a great operator and being smart. The hardest edge that all retailers are facing right now, even if you are a purpose-led company, is how do you differentiate in the digital space. We’re working hard on that, and probably have an advantage in that our business tends to be centered on experiences. I think that translates well.
Lam: That differentiation seems really important, since huge e-retailers, such as Amazon, are cutting into brick-and-mortar business more and more each year.
Stritzke: The key is—and this was true before Amazon, and this was true for decades—is that there’s mass, and then there’s specialty. Amazon is this next-generation mass player. It’s convenience. It’s selection. And they’re doing it phenomenally well. You see a lot of big players chasing them, like Walmart and Target.