This blog is part of a short series called “The Events and Classes Diaries”, where we recount our own experiential marketing journeys to highlight the power of classes and branded events in creating an exceptional customer experience.

On a recent drizzly morning, I pulled out my chewed-up leather hiking boots to get primed for autumn hikes. The signs of fall were finally appearing in New Hampshire and the first leaves were starting to turn. Soon we’ll light the woodstove for the season.

picture of hiking boot for events and classes diaries

As you can see in the picture my boots really are chewed-up. They were devoured by a porcupine one night long ago while I was hiking and sleeping under the stars in the White Mountains. I knew it was Mr. or Ms. Porcupine who left those perfectly formed chew marks in the side of my boot heel because I also discovered quills in my sleeping bag. It was a memorable morning wake-up, to say the least. But I’ve stayed loyal to those heavy leather clodhoppers because they’ve served me well.

In addition to liking the outdoors, I also enjoy working with new technologies. So, it was no surprise that I jumped on the chance to visit outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment (REI) soon after the company previewed an early release of our new Events & Classes functionality. A bunch of us got inspired to try out different “experiential retail” classes being offered by local businesses, given what an important new trend this is. We wanted to see how the retailers managed the classes and whether it really motivated more customer engagement and transactions.

My “Backpacking Class” at REI took place on a soaking wet evening but I didn’t mind trudging in through the heavy rain. We have a 2-night backpacking trip in Glacier National Park planned for this Fall so I figured I should at least learn about all the cool new gear that’s on the market. But I went into that class vowing to focus on the “research” and to not to buy too much.

The teacher was excellent. He was knowledgeable about all the new materials that keep you warmer, stay drier in fabulously engineered outerwear, let you hike more comfortably, and save pounds of weight in your backpack, etc. Plus he had very amusing hiking stories that got everyone else talking and sharing their own. The management of the class was straightforward; we were welcomed and checked in, and they did a nice job making it hands-on and interactive.

Everything was going just fine until he opened up his boxes of fancy lightweight hiking boots. They were gorgeous and looked featherweight. “Of course,” I spoke up, “these are made with mesh fabric and won’t keep your feet super dry, right?” “No,” he said, “they’re completely waterproof.” I couldn’t help but wonder: will they stand up to porcupine attacks?

We had fun playing with camp stoves and debating lightweight menus (consensus was to save some weight in your pack for a bottle of whisky) and before long it was time to go. There was no hard sell and we all went on our way, knowing a lot more about the new gear but, more importantly, everyone was energized and more committed than ever to get out on the trail soon.

I’ve taken a couple terrific hikes in the past few weeks.  After nursing blisters from the old boots, I’m only moderately embarrassed to admit that I did indeed return to that REI store, armed with my REI Member Dividend, to try on and buy those lightweight hiking boots. And, yes, I succumbed to that breathable Gore-Tex raincoat. But I’m super happy with my fancy new gear because I now understand why it’s worthwhile. The new boots, for example, weigh a full two and a half pounds less than my old ones. Literally, I weighed them. And that’s enough avoided weight to pack a couple bonus items: two tins of peanuts and whisky that fits right under the sleeping bag sling in my new REI backpack!

Thank you REI for your very informative class! I’d say that class did exactly what it was designed to do. Retail is a long and competitive trail, but the hiking is a lot more fun when you’re motivated.

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