Learning by doing

So my boyfriend and I just bought a tent for our upcoming camping trip. The purchase was extremely positive, maybe even the best purchase ever. I'm going to attempt to explain why.

We went to REI, your standard outdoor stuff store. REI is a wonderland for camping/hiking/biking/getting out of the city, and the place is floor-to-ceiling full of rugged mountain man gear.

Now REI has a special tent section, complete with amazing miniature replicas of popular products, and four or five real tents set up on the carpeted floor. Now, if you're interested in one of these four or five tents, you can zip open the flappy door, crawl inside and try it out. That alone is a cool experience - you're standing in a store, but wait, now you're sitting in your tent! It's a good trick.

But after reading off a wall of product options (2-man vs. 3-man, 3-season vs. year-round, blue vs. yellow vs. orange), we picked our tent: the Taj 3. It looked pretty good in the small color picture, and it fit our needs and price range. Honestly, I would have bought the tent after just this.

But now, it gets really great. The REI people dig out the Taj 3 from a box, clear a big space on the floor, and get out of our way. Well, not entirely out of our way. They stand nearby, calling out the steps and coaching us along.

"All right now, lay down the footprint. You always want to lay the footprint first, it really helps you size up the area you need." "Okay now, it's easy to remember, orange poles with the orange grommets, black poles with the black grommets." "Actually, the poles don't criss-cross, they run parallel. Like this." The REI guy was talking us through the process, and helping when we needed it, but otherwise he stayed out of our way. He let us learn by doing.

My boyfriend and I worked together for about ten minutes. We talked and laughed, but we also concentrated. We learned how to put that tent together. We internalized it. We got tips that stuck in our minds. We became intimately acquainted with the process. Then, it was done! And we crawled inside.

I felt like we were camping. Like the forest was outside, and here were the two of us, alone in our little shelter. We loved it. Then we laid down, and noticed the see-thru mesh roof. The REI guy came over, leaned his head over the roof and said "So if it's a clear night, you can do some stargazing." There it was - sold. I was sold, sold, sold on this product.

Why was this experience so compelling?

1) I had bonded with my boyfriend because we worked as a team.

2) I had learned how to assemble the tent, and actually understood the logic behind its construction.

3) I had tried out the product - not just sat inside it, but really worked with it - and had enjoyed the fruits of my labor when it was all put together.

Then the REI guy told us about the rainfly, which you wanna leave halfway on even if it's a clear night, and that you want your heads at the open end for better air circulation.



hillary said...

so, why don't more stores operate like this, then? is it a matter of them not seeing the positives? this can't be. what about the negatives for the store? they need to invest a bit more in the process: they have to have enough space; they have to buy floor samples; they have to have trained and fun staff; what else? why don't grocery stores, for example, regularly have stations where you can learn how to cook a certain meal? is it a competition thing--like, they don't need to differentiate like maybe REI does? or do all camping stores work like REI?

[okay, i'm rambling b/c i was woken unexpectedly]

gone said...

Much better than DICK's (formerly Galyan's).