Business of Connecting Latinos to Nature – REI

“Our mission is to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. We want to connect people to the outdoors and have an inclusive atmosphere in retail stores, as well, where people will be inspired to try an activity they aspire to do.” – REI, CEO, Sally Jewell

No celebration in San Antonio is complete without mariachis, also pictured are REI Diversity & Inclusion Team member Myrian Solis Coronel and REI CEO Sally Jewell. Courtesy of REI.

There’s a lot of research and information out there about the buying power of Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. In a study released earlier in 2012, Nielsen puts Hispanic purchasing power today at $1 billion, noting that even though Latinos shop less often than non-Hispanics, they tend to spend more money when they do. ( While Hispanics comprise 16.7% of the population in the U.S., we are 63.2% of the San Antonio population. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011) So, naturally I’m curious when a large retail store like REI sets up shop in San Antonio, how will they impact the Hispanic/Latino community? Who better to ask than the CEO, Sally Jewell.

Jewell acknowledged the Latino community is important to REI and said, “We asked ourselves ‘How do we reach communities of color who may be not as active?’ We went to the Atlanta area to inquire more about the African-American community and to San Diego to inquire about the Latino community, as starting points. We also did some research. One thing we learned is that in Latino communities a lot of recreational activities revolved around family. It’s a large family gathering in parks, it’s around food. Kids are playing a lot of times in water activities maybe jumping in and out of a river or kicking a ball around.” By having learned about the Latino community, they can encourage families to seek out outdoor activities that they might enjoy like family camping and bar-b-que-ing.

Sally went on to elaborate the importance of bringing on the right people (to the REI team) not just who love to be outdoors but are familiar with the community and are excellent in customer service. Then, they listen to the feedback that the community and their new hires give leadership. For the customer base that speaks Spanish, 25% of the store’s staff is bilingual (in San Antonio). Ensuring that their signs are bilingual and correct was also very important.

One thing that REI recognizes undoubtedly is that working in areas that are in peoples’ backyards builds connections. When Sally and other members of REI leadership team arrived in San Antonio, one of the first adventures they took on was a several hour long bike ride through the Alamo City. They learned about the people here today and the history and influences of San Antonio. Before REI-San Antonio’s grand opening even happened, the staff and management completed 450 volunteer hours in San Antonio. REI volunteers were scheduled to help at the National Public Lands Day but that was rained out and rescheduled for the same weekend of Grand Opening. What did REI do? They showed up anyway, helped out and handed out “Get Dirty” t-shirts to all the other volunteers.

“What brings us together is the outdoors and the environment,” Jewell emphasized as she shared a different example of when they partnered with WildCoast/CostaSalvaje. REI staff and volunteers worked on planting native habitat and cleaning up along the border fence between Tijuana, Mex and Chula Vista, CA. The REI Board of Directors was there too and everyone was wearing green REI volunteer t-shirts and doing cheers and chants back and forth.

At the end of my conversation with the CEO, I learned that it’s not just about reaching a new Latino market or community in San Antonio. She has a purpose for opening REI retail stores anywhere. It is this: “Every child deserves a connection to nature. It is fundamental to our ability to thrive as human beings. (It goes for adults too.) Nature builds creativity and innovation. When children play outside in unstructured ways they make games, learn conflict resolution, get physical activity and a connection to nature that is special. If we do our job right, they get that in the place they live in.”


If you want to join REI in another volunteer opportunity, you can join them this weekend at Cibolo Wilderness Center.





Disclaimer ¿Qué Means What? was compensated with the backpacks from REI  for this series of posts. Opinions are my own.