REI on Monday announced an expansion of its paddling business just days after teasing more expansions of its gear rental program in 2019 to include snowshoes, snowboards and camping kits, among other things.
The outdoor retailer's new efforts in watersports include the introduction of a new specialty brand, Hobie, to stores, with a "curated collection" of kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and pedalboards, as well as accessories, according to a company press release.
In addition to increased product selection, REI announced more water-related experiences, including classes and exploration-focused tours customers can take. Three more boathouses will also open as a result of the effort, two in Bellevue, Washington, and one in Denver, bringing the retailer's total to seven. The boathouses offer "guided water-based outings and classes," as well as gear rental.
The retailer alluded that more was coming, but REI isn't wasting much time in extending its gear rental into new categories. The retailer's last expansion was announced on Wednesday, with gear rentals planned for 115 stores, and both announcements build off of previously disclosed efforts to add a deeper list of products to its rental options.
The trend is one that's becoming more popular in retail — including apparel through the likes of Rent the Runway, as well as furniture leasing options from established players like Ikea and a new home decor rental option from West Elm and Rent the Runway. The circular economy has also come to play a large role in the outdoor sector in particular, with rental programs and used goods becoming popular options for customers not looking to throw down a ton of money on products they might only use once a year.
While the rental program has been front-and-center lately, REI has also been making improvements to its used gear experience, including an increased assortment and higher quality products. The expansion of water gear is likewise in part aimed at broadening the assortment for a niche group of sports, exemplified by the addition of Hobie products.
"REI looks for brand partners who align with our values, and who deliver consistently innovative gear to the market," Ben Johns, REI's general merchandising manager for action sports, said in a statement, adding that Hobie is "one of the most innovative brands in watersports."
Both of the programs underscore the retailer's efforts to make outdoor recreation more accessible to more shoppers, something REI's built upon by providing branded outdoor experiences and trips.
The activities they offer help to ensure that customers are staying within REI's ecosystem — perhaps planning a camping trip through the retailer and then purchasing any necessary goods through stores or online prior to taking it.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of new boathouses and the total REI will have. The retailer is opening three new boathouses and will have a total of seven thereafter.