A bit of an interruption to pandemic news and personal anecdotes… because I wanted to touch on a story that’s a big deal around here.
The first thing I thought, when I heard that Mountain Equipment Co-op was being bought out by Kingswood Capital… was, wow, great, awesome… terrific and unexpected news… that the legendary Joe Segal and his crew would be taking it over… finally, it’ll be in good hands.
Joe Segal is indeed nothing short of a legend in this town… businessman, builder, community leader, philanthropist. A well-deserving recipient of both the Order of B.C. and the Order of Canada. And, to be honest, his business ingenuity might have been what could’ve saved MEC… but, unfortunately, it’s not Joe Segal’s Kingswood Capital that’s taking over… it’s a different one, an American private investment firm… and that’s not great news. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
At best, they will simply strip the company down to a form that makes money, and what might have been left (not much) at the heart and soul of MEC will be gone, and it will now just become another big-box retailer. And, at worst, they’ll just shut it all down and redevelop the significant real-estate assets they’ve now acquired. They’re promising to keep at least 17 stores open and 75% of the workforce. We shall see. Sounds good on paper, and those are good quotes to fall back on next year when they shut it all down anyway and say “We tried, but couldn’t survive the effects of the pandemic…” or whatever other excuse.
MEC will become a SFU Segal School of Business case-study on how to run a gloriously successful business into the ground, through awful mismanagement. There’s far too much to get into here, but it’s a long list of bad decisions, and it’s no surprise to anyone who’s been following MEC’s (mis)fortunes over the years. There has been a grassroots movement to remove the presiding board, for years.
Now that they’ve screwed it up completely, this is really the only course of action. They sold because they’re bleeding money and out of options. When he was young, Joe Segal lost his entire life’s saved-up fortune of $3,000 in one night of poker. He managed to dig himself out of that hole… but the close to $100M needed for these guys who don’t know (and haven’t known, for years) what they’re doing – is too much to ask.
It’s this, or bankruptcy and liquidation. And at least this gives it a tiny chance of saving what was once there.
I remember the first day I walked into that impressive place… I remember giving them my $5 and signing up and feeling like I was part of something. I didn’t even know what a co-op was until that day.
More importantly, I remember the last time I was there… and it’s also pretty telling with respect to how things had changed. It had already turned that corner… from co-operative, to… not. I’d gone in to get some hiking boots, and here’s what happened when I approached a salesperson on that elevated shoe area:
“Hi there… I’m looking for some hiking boots.”
“What sort of hiking will you be doing?”
“Hmm… nothing too crazy… like something good enough for the Grouse Grind.”
“Pfffft…. that’s not a hike.”
Heh… I chuckle about it, thinking about it now. But back then (this was more than 20 years ago), it pissed me off.
“Ohhhhh…. sorry. OK, well, if I were a self-righteous prick such as yourself, whose idea of what a hike is differs so much from the common man, what might I be looking for?”
He rolled his eyes and walked away. And I walked out of MEC and haven’t been back since. That was one small step (out the door) for a man. And this recent business decision is one giant leap for mankind… in an unfortunate but necessary direction.