Recreational Equipment Inc., commonly known as REI, is a privately held American retail corporation organized as a consumers’ cooperative, selling outdoor recreation gear, sporting goods, and clothing via some 128 retail stores in 31 states, catalogs, and the Internet. The company opens four to six new stores each year. REI’s sales exceeded US$1.8 billion in 2009.
Lloyd and Mary Anderson founded REI in Seattle, Washington in 1938. The Andersons imported an Akadem Pickel ice axe from Austria for themselves, and decided to set up a cooperative to help outdoor enthusiasts acquire good quality climbing gear at reasonable prices. Through the 1970s it identified itself prominently as REI Co-op, focusing primarily on equipment for serious climbers, backpackers and mountaineering expeditions. Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt Everest, was hired as the first full-time employee of REI and served as CEO during the 1960s. However, in the 1980s, with changes to its Board of Directors, the emphasis shifted toward family camping and branched out into kayaking, bicycling, and other outdoor sports.
Clothing, particularly “sport casual” clothes, also became a greater part of the company’s product line. Although the company is still a cooperative, providing special services to its members, the “co-op” moniker has been dropped from much of its literature and advertising as it solicits business from the general public, even if they are not members.