20090302 Adventures with REI

Needing a break from packing boxes and worries about Montana's health and his future, Patsy took me out for an afternoon of errands. So we took in a leisurely drive up and over the Martinez bridge, climbing high above the Sacramento River delta, before descending into the hill country to the south and into Concord. Patsy told me how I-680, which we were traveling on, had been closed that morning because a man's body - a very dead man's body - had been discovered in the north bound lanes. "Only in California," she insisted. "This would never happen on the 405," referring to the Seattle bypass interstate that serves a similar function to 680.  Just like the flock of chickens on Hwy 99, the torched Vallejo Police car on the side of I-780, cars and police cruisers traveling 20 mph over the speed limit without concern for others...as Patsy says, "Just like any other sunny day in California!"

We stopped by New Dimension Service Solutions, which is the best laptop service I've found away from Seattle Laptop. Patsy needed a new power cord for her computer, and I simply sat and watched as she shamelessly used her girl-power to convince the techs to diagnose and make the necessary warranty swap right then on the counter and not simply put her computer in cue to be seen later.  Big Props to Dean, Patsy thinks he Rocks.  Girl Mission Accomplished!

We were in good spirits as we started to leave Concord but when we saw the sign for the Dark Empire (Recreation Equipment Incoporated), we thought we'd stop in and try to make a quick purchase - Patsy needs a new battery for her Suunto X-3 watch.

rei concord / photo rei.com

The first bit of fun was finding the counter for watches. If we had turned to the left and walked counter-clockwise, it would have taken us 1/4 the time it took us to wander across the other 3/4's of the store. We quickly found the Suunto batteries, but the bags weren't labeled and an assortment of types had been racked all together. Hmmm... I know, we'll ask someone for help!  See, I'm not that much of a bonehead.

All the while Patsy and I had been chatting - loudly - about our purchasing decision while we stood in front of this glass counter, spreading the battery packages out across the counter top. Mind you, being Seattlites, the prevailing joke of REI was already in play.  Especially for Patsy.  This made no impression on the REI employee 20-feet away busy tidying up the shelves of water bottles, cook pots, and water purification pumps. He was an older gentleman, with a baldy grey top and a small paunch about his middle, partly covered by the REI green vest that he wore proudly.  Babyboomer - Patsy's label of the guy. When he decided that the job was done he came walking right towards us - excellent, I thought, here comes some help. Yet just as he came within greeting range, he suddenly found the wall rack of topo software much more interesting than the two customers at the counter and proceeded to glide past us with ever making eye contact.


Patsy was laughing so hard at my disbelieving face that she had to bend over and catch her breath. It may have been her guffaws that inspired the guy to stop 50-feet later and come back, asking, "Do you need help?"

No, I just spread out half of your product displayed across this counter to satisfy the 5-year old in me.
I wanted to say this - but I bit my tongue and said, "We're trying to figure out which of these batteries fits a Suunto X-3."

"Well, the only way I could tell you," he said while unfolding a set of reading glasses, "is by reading the package labels."

Because apparently REI no longer carries copies of product catalogue, and obviously I'm illiterate and unable to read the non-existent package labels myself.  I'm still not sure how he deduced this since I wasn't wearing anything with an AMGA logo or other apparel that would identify me as a guide.

As he carefully examined the third bag for the information on the missing label I asked, "Is there any way we could check on the internet?"

"Well, there's an REI internet computer under the stairs." This is the online REI catalogue, and is completely unable to perform any sort of product searches beyond that catalogue.  Apparently, there isn't any sort of open internet access in the rest of the store.
Like in the office.

"Can I find what we're looking for there?"

"I don't know. Maybe..." Wow, what service. It felt rude to turn my back on this guy and walk away, leaving a mess on the counter. The guilt - coming from my Catholic upbringing - splashed across me and washed off in less than three steps.

Sure enough, the REI computer terminal couldn't show us anything more than the REI catalogue. Great. Patsy, chuckling throughout, was ready to keep the joke going by accosting someone at the counter that proclaimed "Customer Service" but I had had enough, and begged her to let me escape.

What happened here? I've worked retail before, and so has Patsy. In fact, we've worked in the same stores during different times. We know what customer service is supposed to be. We had really hoped for someone to meet us at the counter. When it wasn't immediately apparent that what we needed was there, we hoped that REI would have a product catalogue or that someone would take the time to go back to a computer and do a little research. Admittedly, this is research we could have done at home - but this was purely a spontaneous stop and impulse purchase, so we hadn't done our homework. Nonetheless, this REI employee - we'll call him Ron - was about as helpful as a nail in my tire.

Thanks again, REI. You've reinforced my belief that locally owned stores provide better service than any of the chains. I'll keep my business with them whenever I can.