It looks like we are going to be seeing some major changes in the coming months at Canada’s largest outdoor co-operative retailer, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).
CEO, David Labistour announced this morning in the Co-op's blog that they will be undertaking a massive brand revitalization program. The announcement is a little vague but there are a couple clues scattered throughout:
What they said: Starting this summer, we’ll begin to roll out a revitalized brand platform. It begins with a new version of our logo on MEC products released in July. In September, you’ll see a shift in the style of photography and the design of store interiors, elements that will complement the freshness of our product lines.
What it likely means: The familiar mountain logo is gone and replaced with something less "rough and tumble mountainy". This will allow them to cut their ties with the past as the place to get only mountain gear and give them the ability expand into new outdoor sports down the road.
This also means that the old way of how they did things and the decisions behind types of gear they sell is finished. It’s clear at MEC is feeling the competition from big box stores like Bass Pro, Sail and some Canadian Tire stores that they need to change or become quickly irrelevant.
So what does that mean? My guess is that they are going to be making very hard choices to what they will focus on. Hard choices mean that money losing departments like the rock climbing section will probably be cut back drastically (or moved out of the store and available online only) making room for more urban activities like expanded cycling or running departments.
I think we are also going to see a subtle shift in the clothing line-up away from purely wilderness designed clothing (ugly but functional) over to more lightweight “outdoor lifestyle” clothing to compete with the clothing departments found at Sail and Marks (which is owned by Canadian Tire).
Are all these changes bad? Nobody likes change so the knee-jerk reaction is to think the sky is falling but I think this could be a good opportunity for MEC to get themselves out of the corner they have painted themselves into.
As much as we like to think that Canadians actually do stuff in the wilderness; we don’t. We have two weeks of vacation and typically too busy to do anything more than a quick weekend adventure somewhere. Canadians are interested in being active but not interested in being outside for long periods of time and our buying purchases reflect that in everything from yoga pants and running shoes to stand-up paddling and recreational kayaks. The problem is that if you only sell expensive gear aimed at the shrinking market of hard-core adventure kids you will be out of business quickly.