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

JohnAbercrombie

Paddler
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
3,264
Location
Victoria, BC
"Performance backcountry gear"....well, let's watch.

I have noticed that some products don't appear on the website any more, and most of those missing products are what I think of as 'high quality'.
I was checking online prices for Western Mountaineering sleeping bags a few weeks ago - MEC used to carry (or at least list for special order) WM bags. They are gone from the MEC site now. Are companies dumping MEC or is MEC 'dumbing down' their selections?

I'm a fogey and an old crank, I suppose, but I think the entire 'rebranding' industry is BS.
 
  • Like
Reactions: CPS

AM

Paddler
Joined
Jan 30, 2006
Messages
996
Location
Vancouver
Yes, I agree. Which is why I find it appropriate that the whole MEC rebranding experiment failed so catastrophically. These little changes are an admission that they ruined their own brand.

It’s interesting to note as well that they are hyping up the expertise of their retail staff. That was a traditional strength of the old co-op that definitely waned in the last 10 or so years. Let’s see if they can attract and retain really knowledgable people, as they used to.

Hey, I’m happy shopping at the smaller shops. But if Mountain Equipment Company can can find some of the old energy by calling back core customers (and reaching out to a younger core — lots of young people are getting into backcountry activities), then I’m willing to give them a chance.

Cheers,
Andrew
 

cougarmeat

Paddler
Joined
Sep 17, 2012
Messages
941
Location
Bend OR USA
I don't know what is going on with MEC, but down here, I've seen the "evolution" of REI since it first started. I understand a small or niche market often means fewer employees and prosperity. But when you look at the salaries of the REI executives, the term "Co-op" hardly seems to apply. I recall one of the products they sold claimed: "... Highest quality down ...". Only when you read the garment label did you see, "... 600 fill duck down ... " Maybe marketing people put no value on establishing trust.
 

CPS

Paddler
Joined
Oct 27, 2020
Messages
243
Location
BC
Are companies dumping MEC or is MEC 'dumbing down' their selections?
I've heard rumours that a bunch of suppliers pulled the plug on MEC due to not being paid. I'm not convinced that's all that is to blame. But when demand is as high as it has been for outdoor equipment over the last year or so, I'm sure suppliers are much more eager to supply retailers with shorter payment arrangements.
 

kayakwriter

Administrator
Joined
Feb 27, 2006
Messages
1,106
If you recall, the rebranding of MEC in its latter years was a sign from many members that co-op was forgetting its roots.
I was a writer in MEC's Communications And Marketing Department when the rebrand (or "rebland") to the square took place. The project had been outsourced to an outside agency (a bad sign in itself, we thought). When it was presented to the C & M department, most of us old Co-op hands were privately aghast. But MEC's internal culture had already shifted to the point that to express concern, let alone dissent, regarding the plans our Glorious Leader and the Board had laid for The Great Leap Forward was not just to paint a target on your back, but to hand them a loaded rifle and invite them to take as many shots as they liked.

Personally, I don't expect to ever purchase anything from MEC again, and this re-rebrand won't change that. As a former member, I'm a creditor who's lost out on the value of my original ownership share and on the value of my Patronage Dividend shares. As a former long-term employee, I had been entitled to a lifetime employee discount when shopping there, but the new ownership turned off the tap on that.

If I were a supplier there might be an element of cutting off my nose to spite my face in refusing to do further business with them: it would make more sense to not take it personally, cut my losses and evaluate whether there was profit to be made in doing business with the new MEC.

But I'm not a supplier, I'm a (former) customer. I wouldn't make money doing business with MEC; they would. There's nothing they sell that I can't buy the identical or equivalent to elsewhere, without having to give money to a business that stiffed me. For comparison, if I'd given a business a deposit on a special order item, and they'd subsequently gone bankrupt, they might be legally allowed to neither return my deposit nor supply the goods. But if they made the choice to do that, you can bet I'd be making the choice not to buy from the reincarnated business. Similarly, I'm sure MEC is on strong legal ground to choose to keep my share values and deny me my discount, but I see no reason to give them any more of my money.

None of the above reflects in any way on the quality of the products, advice and/or service the new MEC offers; if they meet your particular needs, there's no reason you shouldn't buy from them if you like.
 
Last edited:

Gary Jacek

Paddler
Joined
Dec 11, 2009
Messages
285
Location
Victoria, BC
In September I spent a few days paddling and glamping with one of the founders of MEC. He designed the original mountain logo. And he along with other founders, was less than happy watching the “professional” board as it borrowed and grew the Coop into insolvency. All the while fending off earlier board members efforts to gain control and right the ship.

Many of those older board members are wealthy in their own right, (read…very successful business managers) and could have purchased MEC outright. But since MEC was sold off in secret, they had no opportunity to do so. And the courts upheld the secret selloff.

I wonder if the “professional” board members are still employed as board members elsewhere. And if so, what is in store for those ventures.
 

kayakwriter

Administrator
Joined
Feb 27, 2006
Messages
1,106
One of the essential Principles of a co-op, as defined by The International Cooperative Alliance is "Democratic Member Control:
Cooperatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner
."

It's difficult to imagine a more profoundly anti-democratic situation than the incumbents on a board getting to determine who is and isn't allowed to be a candidate in upcoming elections. It's exactly the kind of thing authoritarian regimes like mainland China do. "Can't let the hoi polloi have too much choice; they might not understand what's good for them and vote for the "wrong" people..."
 

kayakwriter

Administrator
Joined
Feb 27, 2006
Messages
1,106
How about selling the coop without any member input?
Yeah, don't get me started. It makes you wonder whether there could be a civil court action against the individual members of the board. Would there be a case for theft by conversion or whatever the proper term would be? (The members having been the owners and all.)

I can only assume that either there are details that I, as a layperson, don't understand that made it legal or that, at least so far, anyone looking at a class action suit has decided the game wouldn't be worth the candle. It would have been entirely normal for the BOD to have liability insurance that would pay for their personal legal defenses in such a situation. So it might be one of those cases where the lawyers on both sides would make out like bandits and the individual plaintiffs (I.E. the former members) would each get a coupon good for two dollars and seventy five cents off their next purchase at the new MEC. (Minimum required purchase: $100. Cannot be combined with any other offer or discount. Not valid on days of the week ending with a "Y", yadda, yadda, yadda.)

More seriously, per the wikipedia page on Mountain Equipment Co-op, "1077 Holdings Co-operative remains active to deal with the remaining claims by creditors and will be wound up at some point in the future." So I wonder if any legal action has to wait until the last gun is fired for 1077 Holdings Co-operative, because only then would plaintiffs be able to quantify their losses? (This is just me, totes not a lawyer, not even an internet lawyer, spitballin' and speculatin'.)
 

Gary Jacek

Paddler
Joined
Dec 11, 2009
Messages
285
Location
Victoria, BC
My daughter rang me up to tell me that the MECompany "Rock Solid Guarantee" has been somewhat revised.
A quick check of https://www.mec.ca/en/explore/returns-and-guarantee at web.archive.org confirms this.

The 18Oct2016 version is short and sweet: RockSolidGuarantee2016

OUR ROCKSOLID GUARANTEE
We guarantee the quality of our products. If the quality of an item hasn’t met your expectations, you can bring it back. We also guarantee the product selection advice we give. If something you purchased based on this advice turns out to be unsuitable, you can bring it back for an exchange, refund, repair, or credit.

HOW LONG CAN I EXPECT MY STUFF TO LAST?
Members come here for quality and value, but even quality items have a practical lifespan. They will eventually wear out and can be damaged by accident, neglect or misuse, so those things aren’t covered, but can be repaired for a reasonable fee.

We view the spirit of this guarantee in the same way we view the spirit of this co-op: provide good gear, give good advice and deal fairly with one another.


I compared it to the 13May2020 version here: Old Rock Solid Guarantee

and the current 16Jan2022 version here: Todays Rock Solid Guarantee

Successive edits have become more wordy and in my opinion, less "Rock Solid".

And the trains don't run on time any more. :-(
 

kayakwriter

Administrator
Joined
Feb 27, 2006
Messages
1,106
My daughter rang me up to tell me that the MECompany "Rock Solid Guarantee" has been somewhat revised.
A quick check of https://www.mec.ca/en/explore/returns-and-guarantee at web.archive.org confirms this.

The 18Oct2016 version is short and sweet: RockSolidGuarantee2016

OUR ROCKSOLID GUARANTEE
We guarantee the quality of our products. If the quality of an item hasn’t met your expectations, you can bring it back. We also guarantee the product selection advice we give. If something you purchased based on this advice turns out to be unsuitable, you can bring it back for an exchange, refund, repair, or credit.

HOW LONG CAN I EXPECT MY STUFF TO LAST?
Members come here for quality and value, but even quality items have a practical lifespan. They will eventually wear out and can be damaged by accident, neglect or misuse, so those things aren’t covered, but can be repaired for a reasonable fee.

We view the spirit of this guarantee in the same way we view the spirit of this co-op: provide good gear, give good advice and deal fairly with one another.


I compared it to the 13May2020 version here: Old Rock Solid Guarantee

and the current 16Jan2022 version here: Todays Rock Solid Guarantee

Successive edits have become more wordy and in my opinion, less "Rock Solid".

And the trains don't run on time any more. :-(
Much as I am not a fan of Mountain Equipment Company and don't expect ever to shop there again (see my rants upthread), I have some understanding of why they're making the guarantee increasingly restricted. And yes, the latest incarnation is vague and weasel-worded enough that it can mean as much or as little as MEC decides it means in any given case. Not reassuring.

However, as a then-writer in the Communications and Marketing Department at Mountain Equipment Co-op (as it then was), I co-wrote the original Rock Solid Guarantee, based on direction from the Board and management. It worked well in a retail environment in which there was (mostly) good faith between buyer and seller.

That environment has ceased to exist. The current perception of many consumers is that pretty much all retailers are out to scam them, so they'd better scam the store first. Or at best, theft by fraud from a multi-million retailer isn't really stealing, anymore than shoplifting from them is.

The generosity of the original Rock Solid Guarantee was increasingly abused over the years. In the course of our online research (searching our name to test the online zeitgeist about us, as every large entity does), we found lots of outdoor rec and international traveller's forums recommending this "one weird trick" for free gear for your big camping trip/expeditions:

  • Join MEC
  • Buy all the high-end gear you want
  • Take your trip
  • Return it all for a full refund
  • Profit!
The most egregious example I can recall was a group from South Africa who bought everything for a multi-week mountaineering trip in Alaska, then unblushingly returned the lot for a bunch of bogus reasons, including that the tent floors hadn't been crampon-proof.

It's certainly not just MEC that's had to tighten return policies. Even LL Bean has had change the former satisfaction guarantee on their famous Maine Hunting Boots: too many folks thrashing the footwear to within an inch of its life, then returning the shoes for a brand new pair, and repeating the cycle ad infinitum.

It's definitely sad that the misconduct of a minority means the rest of us can't have nice things like a simple, broad-coverage guarantee, but there is a case to be made that rationally restrictive return polices actually benefit the rest of us. The cost of warranty abuse, like the cost of shoplifting, is baked into the price of everything we buy from a store. Nordstrom used circulate a story about how one of their sales associates had accepted a return on a set of snow tires, something Nordstrom had never sold. They seemed to think it sent a great message about how wildly exceptional their customer service was. To me the message was "If you shop with us, you'll be subsidizing scammers."
 

Gary Jacek

Paddler
Joined
Dec 11, 2009
Messages
285
Location
Victoria, BC
I tried very hard not to use the weasel word.

Back in the MECoop days, I always considered myself an owner. All members scamming the Coop were effectively stealing from themselves.

Also consider Nerf Crampons. Tent floors undamaged and the perps won’t be coming back from the icefall.
 

AM

Paddler
Joined
Jan 30, 2006
Messages
996
Location
Vancouver
The generosity of the original Rock Solid Guarantee was increasingly abused over the years.
So interesting to hear from someone who was “in the room”. Philip, your experience in HQ jives with mine as a consumer. My school was a recipient of MEC‘s former Warranty/Return program, whereby non-profit orgs were allowed access to much of the gear that members returned. I would show up at the Broadway store with a pickup truck, load up on boxes with labels like “shoes” or “camping gear”, and take it all back to the school. With a team of students, I’d unpack and sort all the items.

The big revelation was how much of the returned items were junk. Just trashed. I’m talking sleeping pads with dozens of holes (ie: someone used it on the bare ground), shoes that had no tread left (ie: one too many Tough Mudders), or pots that were black with burned-on gunk (ie: mommy never taught me how to cook). My students were amazed at what people felt they had the right to return.

Granted, we found some real gems — really useful gear in new condition — but the whole exercise was often one of mild disappointment, followed by a lesson in how to recycle. I remember thinking, “There‘s no way this can last. Too many people are gaming the system.”

Cheers,
Andrew
 

CRPaddler

Paddler
Joined
Oct 15, 2010
Messages
69
Thank-you for those stories Philip and Andrew. So very interesting to about that change in retail culture and looking to take advantage of "the big corporate stores that are making millions."

I wonder if that would have still happened with MEC had they not changed as they did? Unfortunately, I still think it would have based on today's changing culture. If it's been happening at LL Bean with their old loyal customers, it probably would have happened with MEC also.

I hate to admit, but when I was younger, and much poorer, I did take advantage of such a policy with a pair of rugby boots. At that time it would have been tough to find the $ for a new pair. But, in hindsight, I still could have made it happen. Now, however, I'm much more in line of taking the spirit of the guarantee. They're there to protect against defective items. If I've bought something, used it well, and it's coming to the end of its life - even if it may be covered by a warranty I'm still going to go out and purchase it again. Both to support the supplier and the store.
 

chodups

Paddler
Joined
Nov 2, 2005
Messages
1,190
I don't know what is going on with MEC, but down here, I've seen the "evolution" of REI since it first started
As a retired REI employee with nearly 48 years of service and being pretty well versed in the company’s history prior to my tenure I have to say that it has been a constant process of evolution since 1938. Folks have been complaining about change at REI for 84 years and over the past 10 years that change has accelerated. Some folks don’t like it and see all such change as something bad. I view it as uncomfortable but necessary to accommodate changing technology and demographics. Now, I’m not trying to make any comparison between change at REI and MEC. In fact, I’m not making any comment relative to MEC at all but maybe there are some similarities. I don’t know. Just my view of evolution at REI.



In reading “REI: 50 Years of Climbing Together”, which was published for employees in 1988, an employee is enlightened to how the first 50 years really went down without the tint of the rose-colored lenses. Then if you read Lloyd Anderson’s type-written pages from his 1980 account, “The History of Recreational Equipment, Inc – A Cooperative”, you realize how quickly changes started happening and the tumult that those changes created. Lots of folks didn’t want to see any change at all, often for non-Co-op related reasons.



Personally, I think it is remarkable that REI or MEC are still around in any form and recognize that the trajectory of my own life and the trajectory of REI will diverge at some point and the Co-op will serve no purpose in my life. I probably won’t like the change that drives us apart but I will understand that it was inevitable.
 

kayakwriter

Administrator
Joined
Feb 27, 2006
Messages
1,106
Personally, I think it is remarkable that REI or MEC are still around in any form and recognize that the trajectory of my own life and the trajectory of REI will diverge at some point and the Co-op will serve no purpose in my life. I probably won’t like the change that drives us apart but I will understand that it was inevitable.
I might just be feeling exceptionally grumpy today, but I've long felt that what happens to most human organizations - a church, a political party, a charity - is that the first generation starts out with A Mission or A Noble Cause which the founders all sincerely believe in. Over the years and generations, like an organism, the organization's first priority becomes its own preservation and growth. And it will mutate, deviate and compromise, doing whatever it has to do to expand, often while loudly protesting it needs to do so in order to further The Noble Cause.

I experienced it firsthand at MEC: every employee and many members were exposed to our Origin Tale - those quaint hippy founders in a tent in the Cascades dreaming up the idea that would become MEC. (It's still referenced on the new MEC's website.) The fact of being a feisty little co-op was still given lip service and used as a marketing ploy into my final years there. But the actual things that are supposed to distinguish a retail co-op from other retail businesses - true democratic participation and control, returns not measured purely in profit terms, etc. - were increasingly treated as obstacles to be worked around when it was possible and ignored when it was not.
 
Last edited:

chodups

Paddler
Joined
Nov 2, 2005
Messages
1,190
I mostly don't disagree with any of what you said, however:
And it will mutate, deviate and compromise, doing whatever it has to do to expand, often while loudly protesting it needs to do so in order to further The Noble Cause.
Speaking only from my experience with REI, I agree with most everything that you said but I might change "doing whatever it has to do to expand, often while loudly protesting it needs to do so in order to further The Noble Cause" to "doing what it needs to do to survive in an increasingly competitive market and meeting the needs of the changing demographic".

And that gets messy. Original demographics age out and new demographics require some other product selection. Co-op members vote and are pretty damn loud. Climbing shoes change to golf attire, mountaineering tents change to family camping tents with a separate room for the kids, road bikes change to mountain bikes change to electric bikes, the "tippy" performance kayak changes to something that your Mother-in-Law can paddle.

It sucks. That we both agree on.
 
Top