REI stores close Black Friday to let employees play outdoors

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ASHEVILLE - Claude Matkin is going cold turkey this year.

Matkin, a camping sales specialist for REI Asheville, is taking the traditional turkey dinner off the dining room table and out onto the trail for a Thanksgiving feast with his fiancé and their dog.

The Asheville couple will spend Thursday camping and gorging on all the fixings – turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans - and then spend the rest of the weekend, including Black Friday, as far into the woods and as far away from the mall madness as possible.

Matkin works for REI, the nation’s largest consumer co-op and specialty outdoor retailer, but instead of all hands on deck Nov. 24, aka Black Friday, it’s all hands out on the back deck, or the backyard, or the back side of Cold Mountain.

Matkin’s boss told him and all the store’s employees to take off Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, typically the largest sales day of the year, and get outdoors for the retailer’s #OptOutside campaign.

It’s not just the Asheville store. For the third year, REI will close all its 151 stores on Black Friday, process no online sales and will pay all 12,000 employees to get outdoors with family and friends.

The retailer, which completely outfits every outdoor adventure from hiking boots to backpacks and sleeping bags, bicycles, hammocks and paddling and rock climbing gear, will surely lose money on the most popular Christmas and other holiday shopping.

Marjory Elwell, spokeswoman for the co-op based in Seattle, wouldn’t address the actual amount of sales REI is forgoing, but whether it’s altruistic selflessness or marketing strategy, there’s no question the #OptOutside campaign has started a movement.

“In the past, Black Friday was a big day for REI. But we just feel it’s more important for our employees to spend time outdoors with family. We won’t even have online sales on Black Friday,” Elwell said.

The #OptOutside campaign started the first year Matkin came to work at the REI in Biltmore Park.

“It’s pretty amazing, being in retail, to get Black Friday off,” Matkin said. “The last two Thanksgivings it’s been the best thing for us. We go to the hot bar at Whole Foods and get turkey and all the sides. We make it at home, then make sandwiches and take all the food on the trail, and heat it over a fire.”

He said it is a welcome reprieve before the mad crush of shoppers return when doors open Nov. 25.

“It’s not just opting to be outside, it’s opting out of shopping and all that madness. It’s taking it back to where it all began, being around the people we need to be with us, and being thankful for our family and friends and everyone we have in our lives,” Matkin said.

This year REI launched an experiential search engine designed to inspire millions of people to #OptOutside, Elwell said. The search engine features images pulled from #OptOutside user-generated content on Instagram, augmented with real-time information about locations and experiences across the country.

For example, type in your location, such as "Asheville" and then an activity such as "hiking" or "cycling." When you click on images that pop up, you will see the name of the specific trail featured, its difficulty rating, directions to the trailhead, recent user reviews of the experience and related expert advice from REI.

Leading up to Black Friday, the co-op will release 20 films featuring this community-created imagery to connect people through their shared #OptOutside experiences.

The match has been lit. More than 700 organizations, nonprofits, other outdoor retailers and government agencies and nearly 8 million people have joined #OptOutside over the past two years.

Groups like the nonprofit Pisgah Conservancy are opting in to the movement and will have its first trail day in Bent Creek the day after Thanksgiving, hoping to lure people into the woods to clean up and care for the popular recreational area as a way to give back to the resource.

Bri Plyler, REI Asheville spokeswoman, said #OptOutside is a hit not only with employees, but with customers.

“I have not fielded one call from a customer calling to complain that we’re closed on Black Friday. One woman called to ask what our hours are on Friday and I explained to her we were closed to allow our employees to spend time outdoors with their families. She said, ‘that’s great,” Plyler said.

“We always see people opting out on Black Friday, running, hiking, biking. REI is a purpose driven business and our customers live that lifestyle as well.”

Want to #OptOutside?

REI stores across the country will be closed Nov. 23 and 24. The outdoor outfitter is encouraging its employees and the public to spend time outdoors instead of shopping. For more information, visit www.optoutside.rei.com.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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