REI Career Spotlight: Barb Williams Talks Merchandising


Just recently, Outdoor Afro had the opportunity to sit down and meet Barb Williams, REI Divisional VP/GMM – Outdoorwear, at Outdoor Retailer last weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our conversation was filled with laughter, industry insights, and great reasons to work at REI. Read more about her role, and how you can get involved!

Tell me how long you’ve been with REI and why you decided on a career with the co-op?

I’ve had the pleasure of being with the co-op for 26 years. Prior to joining REI I worked as a retail sales specialist and buyer in a number of shops in Canada and the U.S. I was thrilled when REI moved into Spokane and provided me the opportunity to join a larger retail chain. Given my prior experience, I was very interested in a buying career and moved to the corporate campus within a year.

Why I’ve stayed so long is because the organization has continued to gel with both my strengths and ambition.

What is your role at REI and how does your role help to drive REI’s business?

My current role is Divisional Vice President in Merchandising, specifically responsible for Footwear and Clothing. My role sets the vision and establishes growth priorities to ensure we’re driving future business. My role sets expectations for supporting a culture of risk taking and driving product innovation. I am accountable for driving our business plan, product and strategies forward.

What are the types of skills you look for in hiring individuals into the Merchandising division?

The following are key attributes we’re looking for in key future leaders in Merchandising.

  • Ability to influence and drive results through others
  • Ability to assess a broad range of business situations and make good decisions keeping the total company perspective in mind
  • Industry leadership and influence
  • Ability to recognize marketplace, lifestyle, and product trends that impact merchandising categories and create plans to meet market opportunities
  • Anticipate and plan for people and process changes as business needs evolve and to deliver growth
  • Ability to influence staff, colleagues and others along through effective communication and direction

In your opinion, which one or two REI employment benefits are the most outstanding and why?

I truly believe that our profit sharing benefit is one that sets us apart from other organizations and gives us a competitive recruiting advantage. The other benefit is our support of a customized work environment.  We have employees that flex their schedules by working four 10 hour days and others that start their day by working the first few hours  at home so they can send their kids off to school. We’re supportive and exploring unique custom opportunities on a regular basis. Having this available provides a work/life balance that is one of our core competencies.

REI has an amazing recognition program.  In your opinion, why is recognition so important to REI?

To see the smiles and tears on the faces of the Anderson Award recipients, honorees of our recognition program named after our founders, is to understand what it means to hold recognition as a priority. In many cases this award provides employees their first experience leaving their state, riding a plane and being embraced by other recipients and all the leaders at REI. We’re acknowledged by our members for our devotion to service.  Openly thanking our valued employees for their service to our co-op is our way of ensuring their extraordinary efforts have a positive impact on not only them, but all of their peers.

 Click to learn more about careers at REI!

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