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REI's Seattle flagship store. (Photo via REI.com).
REI’s Seattle flagship store. (Photo via REI.com).

REI is returning record dividends to its members and employees this year. The Seattle-based outdoor gear co-op saw 9.3 percent growth in revenue in 2015, an unprecedented boon for the company, according to numbers released today.

REI CEO Jerry Stritzke
REI CEO Jerry Stritzke

The growth was largely driven by new member sign-ups and online sales, according to REI’s 2015 Stewardship and Earnings Report. For the first time in the company’s history, more than 1 million new members joined the co-op last year. REI reported $2.4 billion in annual revenue for 2015. In-store sales increased by 7 percent and digital sales grew by almost 23 percent.

REI redesigned its website last year, which may, in part, account for increased online sales. REI says it working to bring the same quality that customers experience in its physical retail stores to its digital offerings.

“At our best in an REI store, we not only outfit a member with great gear and apparel for an activity and educate them on how to use it, but also provide recommendations for where to go in their local area according to their activity, interest, skill level and time,” says REI in the report. “While we have a strong digital business, we’re still working on providing that same level of expertise and guidance online.”

REI pointed to its REI Co-op Guide to the National Parks as “the first part of an ongoing answer to this challenge.”

Another win for REI was its successful “Opt Outside” campaign. The co-op closed its doors on Black Friday and encouraged employees and would-be shoppers to spend the retail holiday doing outdoor activities. The campaign caused a 26 percent hike in online traffic during the holiday weekend and #OptOutside is still prevalent on social media.

Photo via REI
Photo via REI

Opt Outside was considered to be a positive message and successful marketing tactic, for the most part, but it also sparked some controversy. Shortly after announcing the Opt Outside campaign, REI president, Jerry Stritzke, received some flack during a Reddit AMA. Current and former employees criticized the co-op for pushing them to sell memberships too aggressively.

“I am wondering why there is such an obsessive emphasis on membership sales,” asked one commenter. “Why aren’t employees [incentivized] to sell memberships, but rather penalized for failing to do so?”

While they may put undue pressure on employees, memberships are essential to the co-op’s success. After last year’s high member acquisition numbers, REI is returning a record $185.3 million (72 percent of profits) to its 6 million members, as well as employees and partner non-profit organizations. In an open letter to the REI community, Stritzke pledged to translate the co-op’s success into a positive long-term impact on the outdoors.

“When REI is doing well, we can do more for the outdoor community,” says Stritzke in his President’s Message. “As REI grows profitably, we can invest more in our people, in our members, and in our nonprofit partners.”

At REI’s annual member meeting in May, Stritzke is inviting the REI community to share ideas and ask questions about how the organization can be a positive force over the next century.

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