Outdoor Outfitter REI to lay off 400 retail employees — despite a surge in hiking and camping popularity this summer

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  • Outdoor apparel and gear retailer REI will lay off 400 store employees this week, according to the Kent Reporter.
  • On April 15, 90% of REI's retail employees were placed on an unpaid 90-day furlough while maintaining their benefits.
  • REI's CEO, Eric Artz, announced in April that he would forfeit his base salary for the next six months.
  • Depending on state and local rulings, some REI stores have opened, while others remain closed or have contactless curbside pickup only.

Outdoor apparel and gear retailer REI is planning to lay off 400 retail employees who are currently furloughed, according to the Kent Reporter. REI, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash., operates 162 stores in 39 states and employs approximately 13,000 people at its stores.

In a July 10 email to the Kent Reporter, a spokesperson said, "Nearly all REI stores are open in some capacity with a focus on health and safety standards for employees and customers, and we've been able to bring the majority of those employees back from furlough. This week we notified approximately 400 retail employees (less than 5% of our retail staff) that they will not be brought back when the furlough period ends on July 15."

When REI closed stores in March because of COVID-19, retail employees continued to be paid and maintained their benefits through April 14. On April 15, 90% of the retail staff was placed on an unpaid 90-day furlough, while maintaining their benefits.Advertisement

REI also laid off about 300 employees at the Kent headquarters which employs about 1,000 people in April, per the same Kent Reporter article.

REI's CEO, Eric Artz, announced in an REI Co-Op Journal post on April 6 that along with the furloughs he would forfeit 100% of his base salary for the next six months, as well as his incentive eligibility for 2020.

"Our board of directors is forfeiting their fees for the next six months as well," he continued. "My entire senior leadership team will be taking a 20% pay reduction for the next six months and will also forfeit all of their incentive eligibility for 2020."
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Camping and hiking have become go-to activities this summer. Current research shows that exposure to the coronavirus poses less risk outdoors, and after months of quarantine many people are skipping vacations that require planes or hotels in favor of staying local, traveling by car, and spending more time outdoors.

As a result, RV sales are surging, and camper van conversion companies are also in high demand. Campsite bookings are way up in some states, too. Arizona and Utah bookings are more than double what they were this time last year, per the Washington Post. And makers of outdoor gear, like Wenonah Canoe, report such high demand that they have weeks of order backlog. But some gear and apparel retailers like REI are still not able to operate at full capacity. Trying items on, interacting with products, and receiving advice from knowledgeable retail staffers is a key element of outdoor gear shopping, and is less feasible when customers are shopping online. Depending on state and local rulings, some REI stores are open with limited shoppers allowed in store, while others are doing curbside pickup only, or are closed entirely.Advertisement

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