the new MEC logo

Toronto, 2013.11.14

a flabby logo for a flabby clientele

I work right next to Toronto's "MEC" store, which used to be called "Mountain Equipment Co-op".

I've been shopping at MEC since I tagged along with my parents more than 30 years ago when the shop in Calgary was a small white building on some back street (a peculiarity of western Canada was to call the store "Mec" not "M.E.C."). To this day I've got so many MEC bags and backpacks that I can literally chose the exact model for the activity I've got in mind, factoring things like, "am I taking a child", "will I be rained on", "will I be in a kayak", "is a laptop coming", "am I on a bike", "how many days will I be out". I also have: paddling gear; rainwear for hiking and rainwear for cycling, lights, and tools; emergency lamps, candles, and a radio; knives; sleeping bags and pads; 'biners and bungies; coats and mitts. All kinds of MEC products. I've kayaked in both the North and South Pacific ocean(s) with their gear, and traveled with their stuff in seventeen countries. I moved to Japan in 2005 by packing my things into MEC duffle bags. I even owned a "Canadian-made" watch that was promoted at MEC.

In addition to simplifying the name from "Mountain Equipment Co-op", the familiar old logo has been replaced.

MEC's old logothe old logo

I never thought of it too much other than to find it charmingly out-dated and slightly awkward. When I did see it, it was usually on a battered backpack carried by a fellow cycle commuter or hiker or traveler. In distant lands it was also a sign of not only a fellow Canadian but probably a Canadian I'd be able to talk to.

The logo change came and went and at first I found it puzzling and slightly dull. Here it is:

MEC's new logothe new logo

But with time, I've found myself growing irritated by this new symbol of the co-op. It's taken some thought, but here's why: 1. It's not just dull, it's outright sad. It has zero of the energy and creativity and charm that I always associated with the activities I'd do with MEC gear. 2. There's no more suggestion of outdoors activities. But it's not even an urban design; it's like they're heading for shopping malls and the kind of big-box outlet you drive to.

It comes at a time that my wife and I have noticed some other unhappy changes creeping into MEC. This used to be a store where we'd make a list of things we wanted to specifically go to MEC to buy. Now we've found ourselves going elsewhere for virtually everything. It starts with kids' gear, which at MEC is now inferior in quality to several other brands and yet persistently more expensive. Among the other parents in our neighbourhood, there seems to be broad agreement to steer clear of MEC's children's stuff.

But the problem extends, maddeningly, to the equipment.

The first sign of trouble was the watch. I've written enough about that, but suffice it to say the watch is in a dump, and I learned from the MEC staff that the watches were widely regarded by staff as being crap. Then came the bike lock. One is meant to lock your bike with the point of entry for the key on the U-bolt facing down. Doing things this way sometimes means the cross-bolt falls to the sidewalk. This happened with a brand-new MEC lock, and the cross-bolt shattered. Dumfounded, I threw the thing in the garbage (and happily got a refund from yet another MEC staffer who agreed the product was junk). Since then, I've been buying almost all of my equipment elsewhere.

A friend of mine who makes a living in safety equipment has sworn off their stuff and in frustration has contacted the distributors to start retailing gear himself to his colleagues.

I don't get it. What on Earth is MEC up to?

Have they decided that the retail money is with the Boomers, and that since the Boomers are rapidly crossing into retirement that the outdoors and equipment focus should be retired, too? Will we see "MEC" shops in far-flung suburban malls, offering expensive stylish stuff to seventy year olds? I was under the impression that that market is already very well served.

Or has MEC decided to cede the outdoors space to Canadian Tire and similar department stores? That's an equally mystifying move - Canadian Tire's inventory and pricing controls are so terrible that it's a) hard to find stuff in Canadian Tire, and b) I've literally saved 80% of the purchase price of a tarp by returning the expensive one to Canadian Tire and buying the vastly cheaper one at MEC.

MEC is still doing some things right. On a recent trip that otherwise ended in failure (to buy a winter coat for our son; the purchase of an innovative feature/benefit- and cost-based purchase went to Osh Kosh B'Gosh of all places) I found this gem: a 1 Watt USB-chargable LED cycling light that is waterproof and damn bright. It's $20. I cycle a 10km one-way trip every evening, and for half the year that's in darkness. This is a brilliant advance over existing models that were much dimmer, more fragile, not waterproof, and substantially more expensive. It appears to be a MEC invention.

But other than that, I suspect that the overpriced cycling rainwear I bought there recently in an emergency (I'd delayed a planned purchase too long, and faced that 10km trek in sheeting rain at 4°C) will be the last purchase at MEC for some time to come. Even that occasion was a good example of the problems at MEC: I couldn't buy a matching set of rainwear and wound up with black pants and a red top.

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