Ah, the great outdoors. In Canada, we are blessed with an abundance of wildlife, majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and seemingly endless forests. Since the 1970s, if you were an experienced outdoorsman seeking to explore the authentic, raw, outdoors, then a trip to your local Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) was in order. Customers came to MEC stores to buy the best hiking, rock climbing, and back-woods skiing gear.
Back in 2008, then CEO David Labistour looked at the tea leaves and saw that “the times they were a-changin.’” The granola-powered, anti-consumerist community MEC relied on post-inception was steadily being replaced by a more diverse, urban cohort. As a result, they engineered a shift away from their original mission statement of encouraging “self-propelled wilderness recreation” to one that wanted to “inspire everyone to get off the couch and out the door.” The gambit paid off: For the second year in a row, MEC topped the list of Canadian companies with the best reputations, compiled by market research firm The Reputation Institute.
This is the little-told tale of how MEC put the customer first during the company’s transformation from niche purveyor of mountaineering equipment to hub for outdoor lifestyle enthusiasts. The results speak for themselves: In the intervening years, MEC has doubled its brick-and-mortar locations and nearly doubled its membership, which currently tops five million people, during this period of transformation.