The Buck Stops Here OR How I Learned to Stop Thinking
... About My Buying Motives and Embrace My Instantly Approaching Death
I am riding my bike a lot these days, both for sake of fitness gains and training for long-distance rides. However, I have to take advantage of the small window of opportunity I have between the hours of 4 to 6 a.m., several times a week. Needless to say, I ride alone. These hours spent grinding away on my favorite bike trail around Stone Mountain Park have given me welcome time for introspection and meandering thoughts as I pedal circuits around the mountain. It has been a while since I have had time to quietly entertain myself in deep thought.
A week ago, I was discussing with a friend the expenses that have added up quickly since taking on a new sport. Although I've had a bike and the basic gear for years, the task of riding many miles in varying conditions has led me to upgrade and expand my equipment to a semi-professional level. I am a big fan of REI, and have been since I was a boy. They’ve earned my loyalty through years of great customer care, the thrill of getting my annual dividend check for membership purchases, the workshops I’ve taken advantage of and, of course, their large variety of high-quality gear. A huge factor in keeping my loyalty over the competition has been their store pickup orders: when I order an item online, it’s sent to the store with no delivery fee. Thus, much of my discourse in this conversation involved items bought from REI.
My friend, ever the independent store loyalist and hater of corporate big box purveyors, sneered at my litany of purchased items. He asked me why I was so passionate about a non-local, corporate vendor when so many smaller stores were nearer to my house. I explained my aforementioned list of reasons, yet he remained unconvinced.
So it's 5 a.m., and I’m the only one on the trail, as usual. I start thinking about how my friend had impugned my street cred. As is the case with most unresolved disagreements, I only then thought of the most brilliant response to his challenge. While local bike shops excel at customer care like REI, none offer the level of customer experience with the resources to provide inspirational and aspirational products and services. REI is not just a place to buy cycling, water sports, hiking or camping provisions, it is a travel agent that offers adventure trips to global destinations to ride your new bike, raft on your new kayak, camp with your new stove or hike in your new boots. They are also an educator in how to best prepare yourself before you leave for that exotic adventure, how to best maintain your gear or promote exploration of local destinations. The staff at REI is amazingly knowledgeable of the products, but the store experience with direct mail and email communication is what keeps me engaged, happy and appreciative of their brand.
I was feeling pretty good about this epiphany, accepting that I do enjoy the message and product of a large corporate vendor, albeit one with a mission dedicated to a symbiotic relationship with the eco-minded spirit of its patrons. And man, oh man, was I feeling some eco spirit that morning!
I passed by three female deer on the decline of a sizable hill – upon which I always enjoy the amount of speed I can gain – and I grinned at this wonderful experience; by myself with my thoughts, a fast bike and a sensory experience of the natural settings around me…. That was the moment I saw the male deer with a sizable rack of antlers, head lowered, awaiting my presumed charge on the road directly in front of me. The amount of processes that go through one’s mind when facing certain injury or possible death are few but so amazingly clear as to never be forgotten for the rest of one’s slight potential for future life. I recall looking at my computer and reading 34.5 MPH, then shrieking a single-word obscenity at my instantly approaching fate. I was facing two options, both of which seemed unlikely to have a happy ending for myself. Miraculously my death screech, or perhaps my profanity, frightened/offended the deer and it promptly bounded off into the woods, nanoseconds before impact.
Some may say the manner of how this scenario concluded was an act of cosmic irony to smite my feeling of consumer Zen. But I pedaled past this scene wide-eyed, shell-shocked and rubbery in the knees. I know this will read like one big mash note to REI, but I really believe they saved my life. If REI had not been offering such a great deal on closeout bike computers, I would have not had this item to look at and realize that either of those two “best options” were futile. Therefore, my only option was to scream like a little girl reared by a longshoreman. My buying motives have now been redefined by an existential gratitude.
Sean Borja is an art director with the Atlanta advertising agency, MLT Creative, which specializes in B2B marketing. He is a lifelong veteran of advertising and marketing campaigns, having fought in the trenches with major corporate and agency teams for nearly 20 years.