With five new MEC stores opening across the country this year, we interviewed Anne Donohoe, chief marketing officer, who believes community spirit is still the key to their success.
Considered one of the top outdoor retailers in the country and the brand most respected by Canadians, according to Canadian Business magazine, MEC strives to serve its members and facilitate their sporting and recreational activities no matter where they are: the co-op currently has 4 million members across Canada, living in cities, but also in suburbs and rural areas. “Our community is so geographically diverse that we need to start building more locations outside of urban centres. MEC stores are more than just a store, they’re meeting places for outdoor enthusiasts who want to consume differently,” explained Anne Donohoe. MEC currently has locations in 18 cities across the country.
The company has been using the same strategy since it was founded in 1971: develop a sense of belonging to the brand and a vision of sustainable commerce. One of the ways this vision is expressed is through Gear Swap, one of the co-op’s biggest events, designed to help members buy, sell or trade their used equipment. Members of the community can also use this service to connect with others interested in the same sports. As such, there is a social impact that plays a big role in MEC’s business model. “Doing business is not incompatible with the idea of making a social impact. For us, we think these two ideas go hand-in-hand. That’s why, for example, we donate a portion of our sales to organizations like 1% for the planet.”
MEC is also known for the financial support it provides the outdoor community, whether it’s through the U.S. organization Outdoor Nation, the Quebec magazine Beside, which combines the outdoors, entrepreneurship and new eco-movements, the Ontario organization CultureLink, which helps people who are new to Canada participate in free outdoor activities in Toronto, or Urban Native Youth, a Vancouver organization dedicated to Native youth – the objective is always to make a real impact on the life of a community. “Being a co-operative pushes us to do things that will have direct repercussions on our members, but also the people on the periphery, which explains our interest in investing as much as possible in community projects, particularly ones that are youth-related.”
This impact can also be felt through job creation: MEC plans to open two more stores in Calgary, one in the south end and the other in the west end. This will create approximately 160 jobs, bringing welcome economic revitalization to this region struck by unemployment following the downturn in the oil sector.
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