Outdoor recreation store opens in Milford
MILFORD >> Employees at REI who assist shoppers are technically known as sales specialists, but behind the scenes, they are referred to as “inspired guides.”
REI — Recreational Equipment Inc. — which recently opened at 1587 Boston Post Road, is an outdoor recreation co-op that sells outdoor goods, from canoes, skis, snowshoes, bicycles and kayaks, all the way down to food.
It also offers free classes, big discounts to co-op members and sales staff members who have climbed the highest mountains, skied the toughest terrain, hiked the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, or who just love the outdoors.
The Milford store employs 45.
Manager Andrew Hoskins grew up in Litchfield, moved away and has returned to Connecticut to run the store. He said the co-op’s goal is to get people outside, and all its salespeople have a passion for that, and in many cases, expertise.
“For us, it’s more about the passion, the accomplishment,” Hoskins said.
The business has 149 locations with three in Connecticut. It was founded in 1938 by 23 mountain climbers who were finding it hard to get good quality icepicks at a decent cost, so they formed a co-op.
REI is a consumer co-op owned by its 6 million active members, but a person doesn’t have to be a member to shop there. The cost of a membership is $20, which entitles the member to perks, including a 10 percent annual refund on purchases, and about a 25 percent discount on bike and ski repairs done in the store, said Mason Trumble, marketing coordinator for the region.
It also carries winter clothing, shoes, boots, for adults and children, and lots of accessories, such as a flask that will keep coffee too hot to drink for hours, below-zero-degree sleeping bags, water purifiers that allow hikers to drink from outdoor streams, and dozens of freeze-dried food choices, including scrambled eggs, beef stroganoff, freeze-dried chicken teriyaki, and even ice cream.
Trumble said it has a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, meaning customers can return items for up to a year for a full refund or replacement.
Those items are then sold at a 40 percent to 80 percent discount every few months at a members-only “garage sale.”
The sale inspires people to become new members, Trumble said.
The company also makes community investment a goal and in 2016 gave $8.5 million to local and national nonprofits connected with the outdoors, he said.
Among its $38,000 in donations in Connecticut this year is $9,000 for trail maintenance at Sleeping Giant State Park, $6,000 to the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association, and $5,000 to the Farmington Valley Rail Trail.
The company’s mantra is “‘An outdoor life is a life well-lived,’” Trumble said.
Hoskins, of Bethany, said the outdoor opportunities in this part of Connecticut are “remarkable,” with plenty of shore and hiking opportunities in the land trusts, state forests, parks and beaches.
“Just on my drive from home to here, I pass four or five trailheads,” Hoskins said. “It’s been a joy exploring it.”
The store also has a classroom that offers free classes on a variety of outdoor topics, including: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking the John Muir Trail, winter camping, avalanche awareness, and the popular among all “Zombie Apocalypse,” which teaches survival in the event of an urban emergency such as a hurricane or snowstorm. The Zombie Apocalypse is Jan. 4 and Feb. 1.
The company also offers outdoor classes, including at Sleeping Giant State Park. Other state REI locations are in Norwalk and West Hartford.
On the wall of the indoor classroom is painted a quote by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”