EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 19, 2014

New REI chief drops suit and tie


REI, which was founded in 1938 as a member-owned co-op, has 132 stores in 33 states and more than 5 million active members.

Stritzke sees competition mounting from retailers as diverse as Amazon.com, Cabela's and Nordstrom, and one of his responses is to mull more flagships like REI's big downtown Seattle store.

REI Board Chairman John Hamlin said Stritzke was chosen for his long history in retail, strong leadership skills and "passion" for the outdoors.

Hamlin also rejected the notion that Stritzke is an odd cultural fit because he comes from fashion mainstay Coach.

"If you looked at Sally's background, people would have said, 'Wow, why did you get a banker to come in and run the co-op?' The answer would have been, 'We needed the financial stability,' " Hamlin said.

"We now strongly believe we need the retail expertise, and we're seeing that value from him already," Hamlin said.

Stritzke, he said, also is an authentic outdoors enthusiast: "He spends all his free time hiking and fly-fishing. He has every bit the same connection to the outdoors that our members do."

Stritzke said he has been in listening mode since his Oct. 1 start date and will lay out his priorities in the next few months.

But he already has made some changes. One of his first moves as CEO was to launch a national search for a chief marketing officer, a new position. REI announced this month the new CMO will replace senior marketing vice president Angela Owen, who is leaving the company.

Stritzke said he's also asked his leadership team to consider new store concepts and a separate strategy for more flagships. He praised REI's largest stores in Seattle and Denver and another flagship in Manhattan's SoHo district.

"They do an amazing job of telling the REI story," he said in a recent interview at REI headquarters. "They're incredibly successful, and I actually believe there's an opportunity for us to do more of that."

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