For those that are unfamiliar, Columbia Sportswear Company is a brand that specializes in outdoor and active lifestyle apparel, accessories, and equipment under the following brands: Columbia, SOREL, Mountain Hardwear, and prAna. This past February, I had the pleasure of visiting the Mountain Hardware Headquarters and Columbia Employee Store in Richmond, CA for the first time ever. I bought so much new travel gear, perfect for my upcoming international hiking trips!
So what is the Columbia Employee Store, you ask? Well, it’s basically a huge Columbia store, filled with the best in-season products at a fraction of the price you’d pay at a regular store! These super-stores carry a large variety of current (and past) season products, and, I repeat, everything can be purchased for a fraction of the retail price.
Lucky for us, we were able to score a pass this month and let me tell you, it was quite the experience from the moment we stepped inside the front doors. In this post, I’ll dive into how you can get a Columbia Employee Store pass, fill you in on the entire shopping experience, and give you a few essential tips to enhance your time at the store!
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AN OVERVIEW OF THE COLUMBIA EMPLOYEE STORE
The employee store, as the name implies, is a store for Columbia employees. However, if you know someone who works for Columbia Sportswear, you can certainly take advantage of the employee discount perks!
Before we dive into how you can score a pass for yourself, there are a few things to know.
Columbia Employee Stores also carry prAna, Mountain Hardwear, and SOREL merchandise which is a huge added bonus. That’s like four separate employee stores rolled up in one–a real dream come true for the outdoor enthusiast looking to upgrade some gear, footwear, or clothing!
Columbia employee stores include the Global Headquarters located in Portland, Oregon; the Mountain Hardwear’s Headquarters located in Richmond, California; the Canadian Headquarters located in London, Ontario; and prAna’s headquarters located in Carlsbad, California.
So how much of a discount can you expect at the Columbia Employee Store? Well, as soon as you walk in, you’ll notice that most of the price tags have two prices on them. You’ll find the regular price (boring), as well as the discount price (yay!), which is 40-50% off the suggested retail price.
Yes, you read that right! You’ll get 40-50% off most in-season clothing and gear from these top outdoor brands. This is a great deal, especially if you’ve been eyeing that pricey snow/rain jacket, pair of boots, sleeping bag, or tent that hardly ever goes on sale.
Again, it’s important to note that the discount applies to Prana, Mountain Hardwear, Columbia, and SOREL products as well, so you can get some really great deals on gear that never ends up on clearance racks. On the flip side, if you’re looking for the absolute best bargain bin deals (and don’t care too much about color/design or whether something is in-season), you can probably find better deals shopping at the Columbia outlets or factory stores.
Another huge perk? If the store doesn’t carry what you’re looking for, you can use the in-store kiosk to order stuff online with the employee discount. This thing has got to be the best perk of getting a Columbia Employee Store pass. We’ll get into the details on this a little later.
All in all, if you know you’re in the market to buy outdoor gear, especially gear for snowboarding, hiking, or camping, start making your shopping list for a trip to the Columbia Employee Store!
HOW TO GET INTO THE COLUMBIA EMPLOYEE STORE
So how does one get into the Columbia Employee Store / Mountain Hardware Employee Store? How does one gain access to this highly lucrative, golden ticket to discounted goods?
Before you jump into your car and head over to the nearest Columbia Employee Store, there are a few things you need to know.
For those of you who don’t know, access to the Columbia Employee Store is by invitation only. The bottom line is, you’ll have to be affiliated with some sort of an organization Columbia works with or granted access by somebody who works for Columbia (or one of its affiliated brands).
Here are a few ways you can get your hands on a Columbia Employee Store pass:
- Be an employee for Columbia, PrAna, SOREL, or Mountain Hardware.
- Know somebody who works for any of these companies who is willing to give you one of their guest passes.
- If you happen to be active military/veteran, or have a friend in the military, then you’re in luck! You or they will be able to get in without a pass year-round. Military ID is required.
- Columbia constantly seeks partnerships with the local business community. Many associations or colleges will hold members’ appreciation events that will get you a pass.
- In Portland, Oregon, this can include associated with the Oregon Golf Association, PSU, OSU, and the University of Portland.
- In Northern California, this can include association to the Oakland Children’s Hospital, being a member of the Oakland Zoo, or being faculty, staff, or a student at UCSF.
- Columbia also frequently partners with local organizations for charity events or drives, where they open up the employee store to locals. When you shop during the dates of the event, a percentage of your purchase will be donated to the cause. If you have a Columbia Employee Store near you, keep an eye out for these invites (a simple Google search should be able to pull up the latest events).
- Certain companies get passes that are valid for 10 days twice a year. Folks in the healthcare field commonly have access to these passes. (Kaiser, OSHU, Providence, to name a few.)
- Check on Craigslist or NextDoor, supposedly there’s generally people selling passes (I’ve never tried this, do so at your own risk)
Each pass generally grants you + 4 other people access into the employee store. From there, you are all able to shop for the discounted goods!
That’s right, unlike other stricter employee stores (cough cough–Nike Employee Store), the Columbia Employee Store only requires one invitation for a total of 5 people. So if you have two invitations, you’ll be able to roll in with a group of 10 people.
WELCOME TO THE COLUMBIA EMPLOYEE STORE: WHAT TO EXPECT
Here’s a trip report/review of my most recent experience at the Columbia Employee Store.
Upon driving up to the Mountain Hardware Employee Store, we parked our car in a huge lot in a very industrial/warehouse-y area. Parking was extremely easy, despite it being an early Saturday afternoon.
As we entered the front door, we were greeted by a worker at the register. He checked us in, asked for our invitation (my cousin was able to snag two invitations from being a member of the Oakland Zoo), and provided us with shopping passes that we would have to display upon check-out later. From there, he explained that the employee prices were already marked on the tags. That made it way easy to shop–no need to do a ton of math in your head! Many products also had additional discounts on top of the marked price, depending on whether or not the racks held additional discount signs.
From there, we were in and free to shop! In comparison to the Nike Employee Store, this check-in process was a total breeze!
The great thing about the Columbia Company Store is that the merchandise on the floor is mostly new and in-season, unlike other Columbia factory stores or outlet stores (where you’ll find mostly older stuff or things in really horrendous colors). You can get a really good idea of what might be in stock by simply checking out the Columbia, Mountain Hardware, SOREL, and prAna websites. And if it’s not in stock? Well, then there’s the good ol’ in-store kiosk you can take advantage of. This is what it looks like.
Okay, I know you guys are dying to know more. What you’ll find is that there is something for everyone here at the Columbia Employee Store. Since I’ve only been to the Northern California location, the below photos are from one store only. At the Richmond location, there are a few main sections: Columbia toddlers and kids, Columbia women’s, Columbia men’s, Mountain Hardware (gear and clothing), prAna men’s, prAna women’s, and footwear.
This was the children’s section, and right next to it were a plethora of hats and caps. As you can see, there’s an additional 30% off in this section, on top of the employee pricing. What an amazing deal!
In terms of adult products, we found a grand variety of hiking shoes, work boots, heavy winter coats, rainwear, prAna yoga wear, cargo pants, sleeping bags, backpacks, and much, much more. Truly, this is outdoor gear heaven!
We went during the winter season so there was primarily winterwear as well as a few New Arrivals sections containing springtime clothing. I suspect their end-of-season sale was running when we went, which is why so many sections had additional discounts on top of the employee pricing. I mean, just take a look at this men’s red puffy– its original price is $225, and its price (with the additional 20%) is $108 before taxes. That’s 52% off on a Mountain Hardwear jacket!
Aside from being shocked by the good deals, I also noticed that everything here was so neatly organized and well-stocked. There were so many clothing styles that came in multiple colors and patterns.
In the women’s section, the clothing sections ranged from lifestyle/hiking, yoga (prAna), rain, skiing.
The men’s sections were organized in a fairly similar fashion.
I suspect this men’s Mountain Hardware rain/snow jacket almost never goes on sale. Look how sleek it is! This bad boy was 40% off, or $285 before taxes, with the employee discount (retail price: $475).
What truly impressed me was the huge Mountain Hardware section. The Mountain Hardware section consisted of men’s, women’s, and equipment. The equipment section comprised of snow gloves, sleeping bags, tents, and various backpacks designed for different activities. There were mountaineering backpacks, hiking backpacks, and even casual lifestyle bags.
In my opinion, Mountain Hardware sells top-notch quality outdoor gear. I absolutely love their sleeping bags and tents. So I was totally in shock when I saw such huge discounts reflected on the price tags!
Have questions about any of the tents, packs, shoes, or need another size? There are lots of employees on the floor available to help you out with anything you need.
Towards the front of the store near the cash registers, there were more accessories, including travel gear, luggage and duffels, water bottles, and socks.
As with any popular store, the earlier you arrive, the better chances you’ll have at snagging a size that you need. If your size is not there, have no fear. Simply head to the in-store kiosk and order anything you’d like online. Shipping is free! Again, in my opinion, this was the coolest thing about the Columbia Employee Store.
At the time of writing, there were a few kiosk rules and good-to-know info:
- Online pricing may differ from what’s in-store.
- The prices you see at the kiosk are the discounted price; no need to enter any codes on your own.
- prAna is not available through the kiosk. So sad.
- Each brand will have its own cart. Multiple brands = multiple transactions.
- Once you’re good with your order, simply pay for what you bought online. The rest of the in-store items will have to be checked out the old-fashioned way (at the register).
- Receipts for online purchases will be emailed to you.
All in all, I bought a packable backpack for hiking, a few hiking hats, a Mountain Hardwear puffy. When we went to pay, the cashier handed us another Columbia Employee Store pass. We could either revisit in a few weeks or pass it on to our friends/family. How awesome is that!
And that concludes my first Columbia Employee Store shopping experience! A doozy of discounts, right?
Below are a few additional tips for your own shopping day, should you be lucky enough to come across a Columbia Employee Store shopping pass!
ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR VISITING THE COLUMBIA EMPLOYEE STORE
- Before your trip, do some research on items you’re looking to buy on the Columbia Sportswear website. If the store doesn’t carry what you’re looking for, you can order additional products on the in-store kiosk.
- The in-store kiosk price can be slightly different from the in-store price. Chances are, you’ll get a better deal if the item is actually in-store. Do a quick check before you head to the register!
- The Columbia Employee Store has pretty good pricing if you care for in-season products or classic products that hardly ever go on sale. If you don’t care about having this season’s latest styles, you can find better prices on Columbia’s website by searching the clearance section or in-person at their factory stores.
- Depending on which store you end up going to, it can get really crowded on the weekends. I went to the Richmond, California store around noon and found it to be surprisingly empty. However, I’d suspect the Portland, Oregon store gets a lot more foot traffic than others.
- They have great deals in footwear. The boots are a steal, especially if you do a little research before you go.
- Bring some water with you! You might be shopping for a few hours, so be prepared.
- Don’t forget to bring your invitation/shopping pass on the day of!