All success stories begin with a single idea. For Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), the inspiration came from six University of Vancouver students who were tired of not being able to access good alpine climbing gear. “The idea came from the same primordial soup as REI,” said current Chief Product Manager Jeff Crook. They rallied together, creating a small hub for climbers to get the quality gear they needed with low markup and democratic principles. In 1971, their original shop was a hole in the wall. It was “a rustic ghetto,” commented Crook. “It was a gritty undertaking to say the least.” But, it allowed the area’s climbers to get the quality hard goods they needed. It was a shop that was proverbially “run by climbers for climbers.”
Forty-two years later, Mountain Equipment Co-op has approximately $325 million in sales, with 17 stores throughout Canada and one of the most solid followings in the outdoor industry. Unlike most successful retail shops, MEC still relies on much of their hard good sales, with categories in backcountry and other technical products growing each year. Much of their success can be attributed to staff with lifelong ties to their respective enthusiasms. “We have users on our product team who really understand a category intimately,” Crook said. “They know what’s good and why it’s good. We can’t carry everything, but we can create beautiful curated assortments, an edited collection that resonates in each region we have stores.”
According to Crook, outdoor consumers have more options that ever. For MEC to be successful, they not only need to sell quality products, they need to pair that with quality knowledge and service. They’ve done this is by having substantial product support online, thorough descriptions, as well as relevant news and specs, so that potential customers receive the best information for decision-making.
MEC sells their own line of hard and soft goods alongside those of their selected outdoor companies too, blending their own branding into the fray. From pinnacle products to price points, MEC has created a lucrative balance between production, retail sales, and distribution.
They also strive to provide the best value per dollar online and in their stores. “We try to be steady as she goes on price, with sharper pricing out the gate,” Crook said, instead of having large fluctuations over the course of the year. On a basketful of goods, MEC customers consistently spend less, but get more.
MEC also maintains their hard-earned street cred through their Rock Solid Guarantee, a stout return policy that stands behind the products they sell. MEC works with new and old customers alike, making sure they get the gear that’s best suited for their specific enthusiasms.
Lastly, a company can’t survive without community. MEC has scores of cycling, running and outreach events they organize, sponsor and execute throughout Canada. They boast weekly road riding events, running races, and mountain biking hookups for their customers to fuel the shared desires of all things outdoors. With the outdoor community growing each year, so has the Co-op. “It’s a super group of people,” said Crook. “[They’re] all passionate about getting outside and enabling other people to do the same through great product and service.”