Missoula will soon chalk up another player among the large national retail chains elbowing for a share of the Missoula market with the announcement last week that outdoor gear and clothing giant Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) is opening a 10,000 square-foot store on North Reserve Street. Scheduled to open by the end of summer, the Missoula REI will be the first in Montana for the 62-year-old company based out of Kent, Wash.
REI, the nation’s largest consumer cooperative, has 57 stores in 23 other states and Japan, and is best known for its camping, climbing and expedition gear, and specialty items available through catalog sales. The store will feature an interactive station to test outdoor gear, as well as three computer kiosks for the online sale of products.
According to REI spokesman Michael Collins, the new store is expected to generate between 10 and 20 new jobs in Missoula, nearly all of which will be filled locally. He adds that his company will offer a competitive wage and benefits package to both its full-time and part-time employees.
Among other outdoor gear retailers in Missoula, the news has been greeted with mild concern, but mostly a firm belief in their ability to maintain the loyalty of Missoula shoppers.
“There’s an old saying: People don’t leave a business because of price. They leave a place because of service,” says Jim McGuirl, whose family has owned and operated the Army and Navy Economy Store for the last 42 years. “Let REI come to town. That’s my thinking.”
“To be honest, there’s nothing we can really do about the situation because REI is coming and that’s it,” says Jim Wilson, owner of Pipestone Mountaineering. As Wilson notes, REI only opens stores in areas where they already have a customer base in catalogue sales. According to Collins, REI already has at least 1,700 members in the Missoula area.
“I got to be honest: It’s a bummer,” says Todd Frank, who just bought the Trail Head three weeks ago. “But I think that REI creates customers as well, and if we’re doing our job right, we can compete head-to-head with them. It’s our intention to be a little more responsive to the needs of the community.”
Frank says that since his store faces more competition from the Internet than from REI, it is the unique character of locally owned businesses that keep them competitive.
“I think Missoula is the kind of community that if the customer has someone they like locally, they’ll do business locally,” says Frank.