Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Folding Bike Week 2014: Selling REI's Novara Flyby

It's a little known fact that I recently applied for a part-time job at REI.

The key word here is applied - I've held an REI membership for years but I do not now nor have I ever worked there. 

In addition to managing this site, I am a freelance writer and researcher. Freelancing is the Texas hold 'em of careers - you're either winning big or you're broke. So I've been hoping to find regular work that is fun, meaningful and challenging - but I'll settle for two out of the three. 

Believing a job at REI would at least cover one of the three, I applied for something in the bike department at the Norwalk store. However, I was called back and offered a chance to come in for a group interview to be an associate. I wasn't sure what that meant, but decided to go along. Since a suit wouldn't be right for this, I made sure to dress in clothing bought from REI.

Except my socks. Those were from EMS. I worried they'd know.


Most of the interview involved sitting in a warehouse-looking room with friendly applicants learning about REI from a presentation put on by three knowledgable REI associates. Eventually, they broke us off into groups to have us do a series of tasks. We all knew we'd be observed performing these tasks, but I have to hand it to REI: since we all felt comfortable with one another (in a third act of The Breakfast Club sort of way) we all worked well together and enjoyed ourselves.  

One of the tasks put us into pairs, and we were told to 'sell' to the rest of the group any product from the store. One of the associates stressed we'd have to be able to easily bring the item back to the room - which instantly ruled out kayaks.

As we left the room to go to the floor, I asked the woman I was paired with, Lauren*, if she had any ideas. Since she didn't, I told her I had an idea and we walked to where REI's bikes are. 


I pulled out the Novara FlyBy - which I believe is related to (or built by) Tern

Lauren wasn't at all familiar with folding bikes, so I gave her a few points on how folding bikes worked and what their value was. I noted that the bike was made for commuters as the chain features a covering that keeps trousers from being messed up, and the internal gearbox in the rear hub meant fewer moving parts exposed to the elements. 

I folded it fairly easily to show her how it was done - like the Tern bike I reviewed for NYCeWheels, the Flyby features a magnetic clasp to keep the bike together while folded up. That was another thing that made me wonder if the FlyBy was to Tern what CVS aspirin was to Bayer.

I unfolded the FlyBy again before we rolled it back into the room. After only spending a couple of minutes planning what to say, we waited our turn to speak. The pair that went before us put together a very strong case for one of REI's BPA free water bottles. Then it was our turn, so Lauren and I went to the front of the room with me pushing the bike and Lauren glancing at notes.

"Here we have the REI FlyBy bike," she said with the perfect level of persuasive enthusiasm.  "This is great, you know the big thing now is going green, you want to save on gas, want the air to stay clean so this is a very good alternative for commuters. If you have to make that commute, you can fold the bike up in a matter of moments..."

Even though we hadn't agreed on any sort of cue, I folded the FlyBy in front of the group as she continued to speak. 

"…if you're getting on the train, if you're getting on the bus, Metro North does accept this, and in moments you're ready to go." She then turned it over to me. 

I added that because it is a folding bike, you can get around Metro North's train restrictions for peak hours, so you can bring it on absolutely anytime. I added that money will be saved by FlyBy owners since they will "never have to park your car at the railway station again" and the small size meant it could be tucked under a desk.  

I also revealed the price: about $600. "It sounds like a lot, but it really does add up in savings and just general happiness with green living the longer you own it," I said - slightly mangling my words. 

Lauren brought us to the big finish:  "And it is fun and you're getting exercise at the same time." 

The REI associates - and the rest of the group - seemed impressed, and one of them told the group that REI actually pays a public transit subsidy to employes - a nice perk among an already good list of benefits for REI employees.

I was impressed at how quickly Lauren sounded like someone who had been around folding bikes her whole life - and soon after the third team made their presentation, the group interview ended. We said goodbye, and she half-joking told me she wanted to get the bike for her grandson. 

It wasn't until today that I actually visited the Novara Flyby page on REI.com to see how the bike - which I never actually had the chance to ride - was being sold. It's not bad, but if I could put my freelancer cap on for a moment REI: you could do better on the ad copy and I can help. If you disagree, please ask Lauren to do the rewrite - hopefully she's wearing a REI name tag by now. 

* Not her real name. But I named her 'Lauren' in this post since Lauren Bacall died yesterday. 

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