Well, I'm an REI person all the way. (Grew up in Seattle, and our family number is only 4 digits
) I've never thought of them as generic, and they do train their staff plus usually their employees actually do
the activitity rather than just talk about it. Don't know if that's true at every REI store, however.
I do have to say, however, that REI clothing runs small. It's rather annoying because my DH bought me all medium-sized stuff, and I had to go back and get a large.
When you've worked hard to go from 3X to a medium, you don't want to ever size up again! Hopefully, REI shoe brands aren't like that.