The Toronto Mountain Equipment Co-op store is known for many things. The massive climbing wall, the green roof and the overwhelming array of backpacks. Now, they can add an expanded bicycle section that includes a brand of bikes.
Mountain Co-op walks the talk
Environmentally friendly initiatives extend to encouraging staff to cycle to work
By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco, Financial Post“Most people would be hard pressed to say the people they work with are good friends,” says Karina Benavides, who has been working at the Mountain Equipment Co-op, or MEC, store in Toronto since 1998.
“But we have people’s roommates here, husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, partners, people who have been through thick and thin with each other, who’ve grown up together. There are long-term relationships here,” she says.
The camaraderie that exists at Vancouver-based MEC is not coincidental. “I think there’s a passion for MEC that begins at recruitment,” says Cathy Smith, senior manager of human resources at the company.
“When you have people who work with you and support you, meaning co-workers and management alike, I think that’s very, very important. If you take care of your employees you will see better engagement from your staff. They will support you through the good times and tough times,” she says.
Most companies strive to achieve this, but hit a disconnect between policy and the frontlines. However, 2010 FP 10 best employer, MEC — with 1,400 employees and 13 stores spread across British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, and three million members worldwide — has put a lot of thought and effort into making sure that theory and practice are connected.
“Our bosses and managers are really encouraging,” Ms. Benavides says. “If we have a problem, it’s always, ‘let’s step into my office and see what we can do for you.’ Nobody is scared to talk to anybody. I very much feel we’re respected, appreciated and cared for. In retail, benefits are not common, but we get benefits if we’re full-time or part-time.”
The company pays attention to details that make a difference to employees’ day-to-day experience. “We have a kitchen where we can cook our own lunches and dinner, so we don’t have to eat out. We have showers, which is great if you’re riding your bike in for long distances , or if you’re running into work. They’re encouraging you to do what you like to do and be who you are,” Ms. Benavides says.
Employees also have what Ms. Benavides describes as “a big treasure chest of products” they can borrow to try out. The benefits are twofold: They allow employees access to outdoor gear for free and employees can better tell customers about the products.
While the retail industry has been hit hard in the recession, MEC continues to grow, expanding its operations this September into Longueuil, Que.
“There’s no question it’s been a challenging year,” says Tim Southam, MEC’s public affairs manager. “But compared with other companies, we’ve done quite well. There was a commitment by senior management that we do everything we could to retain as many of our people [as we could].” MEC managed to not lay off any workers.
“In a recent survey we did, 86% of our employees said their health and well-being was well managed by MEC. I think that speaks for a lot of what we’re trying to do here,” says Ms. Smith, adding that the its commitment to the well-being of the environment is also valued by employees.
“I would say 90% of the staff bikes to work,” Ms. Benavides says. She says the company bike room encourages employees to ride to work because they don’t have to worry about expensive bikes being left outside.
Encouraging staff to be environmentally friendly is only a small part of MEC’s commitment to sustainability, which began more than 10 years ago and is now integrated into corporate decision-making from LEED certification for many of its locations to ethical sourcing.
“It’s always been a joke in our store that if you got fired, it means you screwed up really big. But it’s such a nice place to be, you don’t want to do anything to hurt the co-op,” Ms. Benavides says.
Photo via Flickr