So, thoughts on the demise of Mountain Equipment Co-op?

AM

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I know it’s not dead, merely sold, but it will no longer be a co-op, so I’ll stick with the title of this thread. (Actually, according to the Globe and Mail, it is legally a coporation, so I guess the co-op angle was unofficial).

Anyway, I have a long personal history with MEC. I don’t know when I joined, maybe back around 1985, and over those long decades I bought a lot of gear at the Vancouver store in its various locations. I remember a time when the MEC and Serratus brands were top-notch. I loved the tents especially — great quality for the price. I still have a Wanderer 2 and a Tarn 2 that have life left in them. I remember once hanging around the tent section and asking a question of one of their product specialists. Turns out he was one of their main tent designers, so I spent a happy half hour picking his brains on design features and listening to him wax poetic about tunnel tents vs. freestanding models (he loved the former).

The paddling department used to be awesome, staffed by really knowledgeable people and stocked with cool gear. They stocked cool boats (I remember when they brought the Delphin over) and they had their own line of Serratus PFDs and MEC splash tops that fit the bill. I still have two of their FJ wetsuits and an old steamer suit.

Things changed, of course, as they always do. You could see it in lots of ways: for example, I really resented when they started bringing in beautiful people to model for their catalogue, as in the old days they just used regular-looking staff members. And lifestyle clothing took off, along with products for the Kitsilano yoga-and-glamping crowd. The paddling section shrank to a shadow, the tent line collapsed, and the cool staff members who had been there forever and had personally tested tons of the gear slowly disappeared.

Sigh. It was once a cool store. Who knows what the new investors will do with it? I’m sure it won’t involve selling high end boats or niche climbing gear.

Cheers,
Andrew
 

RobertNPruden

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If true this is sad news. I did visit one MEC a couple of years ago, a big new store in south Edmonton, didn't feel the same as the old and smaller downtown location which was shut down a few years ago. The new one seems...big box-like...like walking into Best Buy or The Brick...I guess all good things pass sooner or later.

Robert N Pruden
 
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JohnAbercrombie

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Supposedly they are going to continue in business under new ownership. How an $11million annual loss put them under when they own all that real estate (and still a large somewhat-loyal customer base) is a mystery to me - they must have mis-managed for years. They have been selling record amounts during COVID, so that's no excuse.
I've been buying from MEC for a long time (Member # 16xxx) and it has been changed for the worse, as Andrew describes.
It went from a place that sold gear that you knew had been used by people 'like you' (well more skilled and fit than me, but that idea...) to a place where 95% of the items were 'just the usual fashion-driven stuff for urban hipsters that you can buy anywhere'.
I'm old; when I started backpacking and climbing in the 70s they only place to get gear was from Blacks (UK, in Ottawa - home of Kendall Mint Bars), mail order from REI in Seattle (my first wind pants), DIY (Frostline and EMS kits), or shopping at EMS in the States. MEC -Vancouver and then Calgary- changed all that for a few years.
 

Kayak Jim

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As I recall "The Co-op" motto used to be something along the lines of "good gear at affordable prices". Previous posters have hit the nail(s) on the head.
I'm a cyclist and the selection in that area has turned dismal. A peeve of mine is the colour of cycling gear. How they can sell a cycling rain jacket in black (and only black) is beyond me. I asked them and got an unsatisfactory response.
Anyone else remember when the catalog went from B&W to colour? (besides John, cause he's also old :))
On the co-op vs corporation issue I recall there were other retailers who complained about the tax beneficial co-op status so they couldn't compete price wise. That seemed to die down when the brand name designer products took over with their minimum selling prices.
 

eriktheviking

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Pretty sad to watch this happening. I joined MEC in the mid-70's when I was a teenager, and technically too young to buy a Co-op share. I remember the "catalogues" that were BW newsprint, and shopping at one of the early stores that was upstairs in a sketchy neighbourhood. That store mostly had demo gear that you would then order in the mail- except for boots-- I got my first decent hiking boots there among many other things. There were no other good options in those days for decent gear for many activities.

The slow speed disaster transition was hard to watch- the shift in focus and mandate for products noted above, and also the way the Board elections were managed with their slate candidates.

I'm also wondering to what extent the membership data is a feature in the sale. I would like to hear more about that, and if so, want to have my data removed from their systems.

There is now a statement on the MEC web site: MEC statement
 
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Tongo-Rad

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I've been a member for almost 30 years and was an employee in the Vancouver store and I have to say, at the time, they had incredibly supportive policies in place for all its members, reasonable prices, excellent quality materials and actively sought to be fully involved in the manufacturing process in terms of ethics and sustainability. It was a fantastic place to work and I had the pleasure of having colleagues who were there from the beginning, when it was operated out of a house as a mail order.

It's been hard watching it decline though despite their massive consumer base and slowly it made outdoors gear less affordable in many cases. I think those who'd pay $80 for a tshirt tended to compensate for the more affordable, well made backpacks, climbing gear and expedition clothing that were their flagship products. My Serratus backpack is still going strong after 25 years!

It's especially sad to see MEC leaving behind their not-for-profit status and mostly that the former co-op is going to a private U.S. investment firm. Keep it in Canada!! I fear the already high prices will go even higher and that quality will suffer but hopefully that won't be the case. End of an era.
 
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KayakNinja

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I suppose this would be a good opportunity to make an assessment of what the current options are for buying paddling gear and supporting locally-owned and passion-driven businesses.
 

JohnAbercrombie

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I suppose this would be a good opportunity to make an assessment of what the current options are for buying paddling gear and supporting locally-owned and passion-driven businesses.
Do you have some ideas on this topic?
There aren't any outlets 'in town' in Victoria any more if MEC closes or continues to reduce its stock of paddling gear, are there?
And for boats, even fewer possibilities with Ocean River gone. The list of boat brands that we don't have access to, is long.
So then for paddles and gear/clothing it's mail order/online shopping. And not many businesses (Coast Outdoors? Western Canoe?) seem to be very interested in mail-order. Shipping is expensive unless a company is big enough (e.g. Level Six) to negotiate a deal with Canada Post. Aquabatics in Calgary does mail-order.
KayakAcademy in Seattle is also a reliable mail-order source for tested gear.
It's been discussed at length; the sea-kayak market is small and shrinking.
 

nootka

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So the elected Board voted to sell it? I hadn't heard.
That decision was made by the old board, since the installation of the new board has been "postponed".

2. Why have you not yet released the results of the board of directors’ election?

Voting and ensuing election results are fundamentally linked to the AGM under the Rules of Cooperation. Delaying the counting of votes is necessary to allow individuals who purchased a membership between March 3, 2020 and August 20, 2020 to cast their ballots before the results are released. Under Rule 12.02, every member who became a member 16 weeks or more before the next annual general meeting is eligible to vote in the current election of directors. Announcement of the election results is made by the auditors at the AGM, which has been delayed. (Rule 14.06).


 

RobertNPruden

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I got my membership over 20 years ago...most of the gear I used to do my cross-western Canada paddling trip came from MEC. For a bit, I thought maybe it was being taken over by REI, I would have been ok with that because REI would have rebuilt MEC back into what it used to be. Fortunately, all of my gear is still in excellent shape so I am good for years to come. Maybe the new owners will hear us and fix things? Just suggesting.
 
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a_c

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I was pretty bummed out to hear this news, but given what I'd heard about their financial situation, not really surprised. Expanding their brick and mortar business, opening a flagship store in a pricey location (Olympic Village, wtf?!?), massive HQ in a high-tech district (how much did that cost?), and a lineup that seemed to prioritize brand names like North Face, Patagonia and Arc'teryx; seems they became just another retailer trying to compete in a race-to-the-bottom Amazon-dominated consumer landscape.

My best MEC memory: Back in the summer of '81 my buddy and I outfitted our 10 speeds (Italian, of course!) with panniers and camping gear from MEC - pretty much the only place that sold bike touring stuff like that - and set out from North Vancouver. We did the Sunshine Coast, Powell River, Comox, Nanaimo, then home. We were 16 years old, gone for a week, and I still can't believe our parents let us go. Good times.

Back in the day the big 3 outdoor stores were MEC, 3 Vets, and Taiga. I recall that in the '80s Taiga was almost an equal competitor to MEC, at least in the rain parka and fleece clothing line. 3 Vets is long gone but Taiga is still there, in the same dingy Broadway store, selling their house brand fleece, parkas and gore-tex raingear.

Ironic eh?
 

eriktheviking

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Back in the day the big 3 outdoor stores were MEC, 3 Vets, and Taiga. I recall that in the '80s Taiga was almost an equal competitor to MEC, at least in the rain parka and fleece clothing line. 3 Vets is long gone but Taiga is still there, in the same dingy Broadway store, selling their house brand fleece, parkas and gore-tex raingear.
Ironic eh?
The funny thing with MEC and Taiga was that Taiga always moved to follow when MEC changed their Vancouver store location. They always had a real anti-MEC vibe at the same time. I hadn't heard if they were planning to follow MEC to their latest location.

They just got into some weird s*** sometimes... see this and this.
 
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AM

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Taiga has closed the Broadway store and moved everything to mail-order or factory pick-up. Their strategy, as Erik says above, was always to follow and stay within walking distance of the MEC mother store. Yes, they are a weird company and have shown both a willingness to be obnoxious (again, as per Erik) and an unwillingness to follow fashion — their clothing line has pretty much the same colours it always had and features a limited selection of journeyman-type outdoor apparel. Very much the anti-MEC. No yoga pants for sure.

That said, it seems that everyone I know of a certain age has a Taiga down sleeping bag that is still going strong. Their products are built to last. And they seemed to diversify their customer base earlier than MEC did, attracting lots of immigrants who were getting into hiking to buy their jackets. MEC came to that game later and did so in an oh-so-earnest-but-fake corporate way.

But looking at the glass as half-full, this is a great opportunity to patronize other local retailers. I have gradually been moving my spending elsewhere anyway as I have been feeling more and more anonymous at MEC (ironic that a co-op would leave me feeling like a mindless consumer drone with all its corporate jargon). The Vancouver area, at least, has good stores to spend at: Western Canoe & Kayak, Coast Outdoors, Valhalla, Skyview. In fact, being lazy I’ve done mail-order from them all, so physical proximity is not absolutely necessary.

And related to the retail angle, I wonder what impact on manufacturers this sale will have. For example, will the new MEC bother to carry high-end canoes (like Novacraft) or kayaks (like P&H)? If not, will that mean that local canoe builders like Clipper and Hellman and kayak builders like Seaward have an opportunity to sell more boats locally?

Someone’s gotta win from this and I hope it’s our local people.

Cheers,
Andrew
 

Gary Jacek

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I still have my first pair of Asolo Yukon boots from MEC and my first fleece jacket from Taiga. Indestructable and unfashionable.

As a MEC member since 1982 I lament how MEC leadership lost its way this past decade.

I hope that when the smoke clears, KayakWriter will weigh in with his perspective from both sides of the looking glass - within and outside MEC.
 

BigandSmall

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Steve Jones called out MEC for what it was turning into, shame he never made it. It always bothered me that they suggested who to vote for. You just wind up with more of the same that way.
 
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eriktheviking

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In a followup to my earlier question above about personal data in the MEC sale, the following was posted on the "Save MEC" FB group. The short version is that the member data is listed as an asset, and the proposed sale is for all of MEC's assets.

I got some advice from someone at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. If you are concerned about the potential sale of data that MEC promised to keep private, you need to reach out to the MEC Privacy Officer with your concerns (you can reach them here: privacy@mec.ca). They suggested reaching out in writing so as to keep a copy of all communications with the Privacy Officer. Ask them if data is part of the sale, and if so why, since the MEC privacy policy explicitly states they will never sell member data. If you do not get a satisfactory response, they said you need to file a formal complaint with the commissioner so they can pursue it.
Twice in MEC's privacy policy it explicitly states that MEC will never sell member data, and they can only share it if it is essential to providing service to members (i.e. they can give Canada Post your address when they are shipping you a package). Bottom line, they said they won't sell data. In the point 39 of the Petition to the Court however, they list 'membership lists' (which includes personal information, i.e. name, address, purchase history), as an asset of the company. In MEC's board statement they say "MEC’s Board of Directors... announced its unanimous support for an agreement with Kingswood Capital Management... whereby Kingswood will acquire substantially all of MEC’s assets." In the case of membership lists it's important to note they are not selling the co-op, they are selling the co-ops assets.
I have sent my own message to the "privacy@mec.ca" email and will be interested to see the reply.
 
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