Dec 01

REI v. Globetrotter

by in We are thinking of you, Writing

Everyone knows the feeling. You walk in with good intentions. You walk in meaning to buy hiking boots. After trying a few pairs on, though, you discover the hunting knife you’ve always dreamed of. It could easily kill a bear or cut down a tree, and it’s shiny enough to work as a mirror if you had to signal a ‘copter. Plus, people who kill bears in self defense always end up on the news. Nearby there’s a portable gas stove that you carry around for a while just to feel how light it is. Turns out it’s lighter than you could’ve possibly imagined. Then you discover a traveler’s towel the size of a silver dollar.

It’s only in the parking lot that you realize what you’ve done. It’s only then that you recognize your new hang glider for what it is: a hang glider. Also, it keeps trying to fly away on you. So you belay it to your new kayak and sit inside for a little think. “I’ll work a few extra hours next month,” you promise yourself, “and the next one, too. I’ll eat more ramen.” Unexpectedly you begin flying. Later, as you touch down on your lawn, your face turns red:

You forgot the hiking boots!

Situations like this happen every day at REI. In Germany it’s called Globetrotter. Their mission is the same:


These stores are the true “first stop” for most travelers, and there’s faux-danger all over the place.

At Globetrotter there’s a plexiglass ice box and a typhoon simulator, both for testing the thermal and waterproof qualities of jackets. That’s a good idea, isn’t it? I tried the typhoon simulator once, and it was a terrible experience. It’s all about the “jackets” in that department, and when there are too many jackets around, you develop extreme tunnel vision and fail to take into account any other portions of the human experience before stepping inside the simulator. As Antje hit the button, my heart was pounding and I hoped the goretex would hold. It did. But at about the 3-second mark I realized the goretex was delivering the water with perfect efficiency down my jeans and shoes, which were not only not waterproof, but wanted to keep the typhoon forever, as a souvenir. By the 10-second point they had.

One good thing about Globetrotter, though, is that if you’re soaked and don’t really feel like shopping anymore or being conversational, you can lean on the railing for a few minutes and look four stories down at the deep blue pool used for kayak trials and SCUBA training. It’s very peaceful. Then you can start shopping again, partly to keep warm.

It’s a writer’s duty to avoid cliches, but Globetrotter employees are about as German as [ your cliche here ]. They’re astonishingly well informed about their products and will cheerfully tell customers that approximately 40% of them are low quality “Scheisse.” You can actually be holding an expensive product in your hand, having crossed the mental “buy/not buy” threshold, only to be told, “This doesn’t work.” On the other hand, they usually follow up with something that I’ll call the “Qualität upsell”. When Antje and I decided we needed waterproof jackets, for example, we were steered away from the (expensive) jacket section toward the much cheaper poncho department. Once there, we got the Qualität upsell. It goes something like this:

Employee: “Do not buy this poncho, the stitching is not so good. Water can go into the poncho because of the stitching, they have made it wrong, unbelievable. But this one, the stitching is inside, the material is very thick, very heavy. It is more expensive, but you can use this absolutely forever, maybe for 50 years or something, maybe for your children.”
Customer: “Yes, I try it.”

Apparently jackets have an inherent flaw. Backpack straps can push water through a jacket, even “impermeable” ones. On the other hand, gigantic ponchos that billow up and over the backpack itself – a whole lotta fabric going on there – are a good way to ensure that you’re both waterproof and sensational.

My hiking boots were also an issue. My first two (cheaper) choices were rejected immediately by the sales rep. “Your feet will be wet, there is only goretex here, on this portion.” When a suitable pair was found, I was instructed to go home, blow-dry the leather until it was hot and the pores had opened up, and to then apply wax thoroughly – better twice. If not, the leather would crack. At this point Antje turned the boots over and asked (in German) if the soles would need replacing at some point. “Yes, you will have to replace the soles in ten years, there is absolutely no question.” The sales rep turned to me. After using these boots, he explained, for example on my first extended trek, I was to put the nozzle of a faucet inside and fill them to the top with ice-cold water. I asked if he could repeat that sentence in English for me. He did, and it registered the same. I asked him if he could maybe explain why I had to fill my boots with ice-cold water, what the purpose of that was. “Because this way,” he explained, “if there are any sodium crystals from your sweat then you can wash them out. If you do not then they will eat away the material inside.” Oh. That also reminded me: we should buy some hiking socks. I mentioned as much to Antje, who added that they should be seamless. Once, when she was in Norway on a scouts trip, her socks weren’t seamless and her toenails fell off.

Besides the fact that no one at REI would have been able to casually switch over into German to explain such a relevant product concern as the one above – “Lieber auf Deutsch?” – there’s another difference here. Had the REI employee even learned about that little sodium-related detail, he would have forgotten it, marijuana would have borrowed it from him. And it wouldn’t have mattered.

Because at REI the customer is KING, and if a king fills his boots with ice-cold water, it’s only because he wants to, because he’s never tried it before – not because it’s necessary. At REI, if Customer picks something up, it is perfect for him, it becomes pure gold, and he should buy it immediately. The employee is to the customer what a cloud is for an angel.

So if REI lets you sell yourself, goes along for the ride, and then rewards you for it at the end of each fiscal year, Globetrotter says the word “Qualität” until you begin to believe. Why buy low-quality “Scheisse,” anyway? What am I, a loser?


[Just after these messages, we'll be riiiiight back!]



5 Responses to “REI v. Globetrotter”

  1. From Roxy:

    So, uh… did her toenails grow back?

    Posted on December 1, 2011 at 17:19 #
    • From Antje:

      Eventually :)

      Posted on December 1, 2011 at 17:23 #
      • From Roxy:

        Phew! I have a rule about toenail-less Germans.

        Posted on December 5, 2011 at 18:08 #
  2. From Lori Selby:

    Thank you for allowing us to “travel” with you both. I love this and will keep tabs on you during your travels. Travel safely and ENJOY!
    Love from the farm,

    Posted on December 1, 2011 at 20:53 #
  3. From Birgit:

    I guess quality doesn’t matter at REI since you can return anything forever if it’s broken, even without a receipt, doesn’t matter if 40% is scheisse. I also wouldn’t be so sure about employees not being able to switch into German – Germans are EVERYWHERE in Seattle!

    If you guys want to meet Elke’s little sister (me) in Seattle send me an email!

    Posted on December 2, 2011 at 04:56 #