REI knows that free Capital Bikeshare rides is sound business strategy

For business owners, embracing bicycle and pedestrian traffic – not to mention transit access – should be a better business strategy than getting car traffic to their locations.

Realty companies understand this, and they should know better than most. But REI, the outdoor-adventure store, is taking this fact to the highest level: it is offering free rides – no strings attached – this weekend on Capital Bikeshare throughout the Washington, D.C., region.

The promotion is part of REI’s 100 days of events planned leading up to the October 21 opening of its new store in NoMa’s Uline Arena (the famed site of the Beatles’ first U.S. concert). Other events will include things like free entry to parks and free paddleboard and kayak rentals on the Potomac River.

For Capital Bikeshare, anyone can go to this site, type in their name and email, and receive a promotion code that allows for a free 24-hour pass on the system this weekend.

So, why in the world would a company like REI spend thousands of dollars to purchase a sponsorship from a regional transportation system? And what could possibly be the return-on-investment?

“We know that cycling is incredibly important to REI members,” said Matt Liddle, REI’s outdoor programs and outreach, Mid-Atlantic manager . “In anticipation of our new store, which will be accessible from the Metropolitan Branch Trail, we invited 150 members to a listening session and the single loudest thing we took away was ‘bikes bikes bikes.’ We can’t have enough bike parking, it’s great we’ll have access to the trail, … will people be able to wheel their bikes in?”

Liddle added that making money isn’t what drove the company’s decision to sponsor the bikes or any of the other parts of the 100-day United Outside D.C. campaign. He said an “amazing outcome” would simply be if Capital Bikeshare set a daily or weekend record for number of non-member bike rides, which would essentially show that REI did its part in getting more people to try bikeshare, and discover parts of a healthier, outdoor-adventure lifestyle.

While the REI bikeshare promotion is novel, it’s not unprecedented.

  • Nestle’s San Pellegrino partnered with bikeshare operator Motivate last month to sponsor free rides for Citi Bike in New York City, Divvy in Chicago, and Bay Area Bike Share in San Francisco. The promotion was part of a launch of the brand’s new app Delightways, which encourages people to pass significant landmarks rather than always taking the fastest route.
  • Volkswagen has sponsored free bikeshare rides on the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System for a day each year when the USA Cycling Professional Road Race National Championship comes to town.
  • MasterCard sponsored free rides in New York City this past Earth Day as a way to show its support of environmental protection, leading to the day with the most trips that month.

The new REI location does not open for three more months, but the Capital Bikeshare promotion is setting the stage for the company’s further support of active transportation options.

Photo: Capital Bikeshare riders cross U Street NW (M.V. Jantzen, Flickr).

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