Vancouver-based outdoor retailer MEC (Mountain Equipment Company, formerly Mountain Equipment Co-op) is partnering with department store retailer Hudson’s Bay for a first-of-its-kind partnership for both brands. Dedicated MEC shop-in-store concessions will replace Forever 21 shop-in-stores inside of three Hudson’s Bay locations in the Greater Toronto Area with more to come next spring, while MEC products will also soon be carried on Hudson’s Bay’s online portal TheBay.com.
“It’s a Canadian retail marriage made in Heaven,” said Eric Claus, CEO of MEC in a phone interview.
MEC stores at Hudson’s Bay will feature an assortment of leading outdoor brands with a range of gear, footwear and apparel on offer. Included will be MEC’s own private-label merchandise as well as other brands such as The North Face, Salomon, Scarpa and Black Diamond.
MEC staff will be on hand to provide expert advice and first-hand knowledge on camping, hiking, climbing, trail running, travel and more. As with all MEC’s standalone stores, all purchases will be backed by its Rocksolid Guarantee. Stores will feature branded MEC fixtures and other elements found in standalone MEC stores in Canada.
The partnership was struck after multiple conversations between MEC and Hudson’s Bay, recognizing the opportunity for two iconic Canadian brands to come together under one roof.
This fall, sizeable MEC concessions will open at three Hudson’s Bay stores in the Greater Toronto Area, including in downtown Toronto, Yorkdale and Square One. Three more MEC concessions will open next spring within Hudson’s Bay stores according to Wayne Drummond, President of Hudson’s Bay in a phone interview.
In downtown Toronto, MEC’s new concession within the iconic Hudson’s Bay flagship store will be on the second floor across from the women’s footwear department where Forever 21 opened last summer.
At Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, MEC will occupy a prominent second-level location with its own dedicated escalator from the main floor of the Hudson’s Bay store. In Mississauga, MEC will replace the Forever 21 location featuring its own mall frontage at Square One. Prior to being occupied by Forever 21 last summer, all three spaces housed TopShop locations in a licensed partnership that ended a few months before.
MEC CEO Eric Claus said in an interview with Retail Insider that the MEC concessions at Hudson’s Bay will give MEC an opportunity to have a presence in areas where it currently does not have stores. Given the size of the Forever 21 locations, Claus said that the concessions will be full MEC stores in terms of product offering, though service shops such as ski waxing won’t be available given size and other constraints. The three MEC concessions at Hudson’s Bay will span between 7,000 square feet and 12,000 square feet, smaller than standalone MEC locations but still sizeable enough to provide an expansive offering of products carried at standalone MEC locations.
“There are many connections between the two brands, from our aligned values to our deep roots in Canadian culture and local communities”, said Claus. “Ontario has an abundance of wild spaces ideal for hiking, camping and climbing, and we’re looking forward to helping new customers and members gear up for their epic adventures.”
And as with MEC stores, the Hudson’s Bay MEC concessions will feature merchandise for the season — for example, for winter snowsports, the Hudson’s Bay GTA MEC locations will focus on Nordic and snowshoe activities in terms of product mix while warmer months will feature items for activities such as hiking.
Downtown Toronto is already served by a MEC store about a kilometre westward at 300 Queen Street West. MEC partner concessions at Hudson’s Bay could open up the opportunity for MEC to open stores in the heart of downtown Vancouver and Montreal, for example, both being markets with tight retail space often with high rents.
Drummond said that next spring, three more Hudson’s Bay stores will see MEC concessions open within. Longer-term, more MEC locations are expected to open within Hudson’s Bay stores and it hasn’t been determined how many. Locations will be chosen strategically and with an eye to where MEC is under-served in certain markets.
MEC won’t be competing with other departments at Hudson’s Bay according to Drummond, noting that MEC offers technical products different from what is currently on offer at Hudson’s Bay.
Drummond also said that other partner retailers could open within Hudson’s Bay stores in Canada. Over the past couple of years, the retailer has been strategizing a mix of brands to target younger consumers with additions such as Mango and River Island.
It’s all part of an effort to make the department store more relevant at a time when consumers have shifted online, while brands in some instances are pulling wholesale accounts while opening standalone stores.
“Hudson’s Bay prides itself in launching brands that work with our DNA,” Drummond said. Discussions are ongoing with other brands as well.
On TheBay.com, MEC will also launch with an “easy and visible offering” according to Drummond. The Bay’s website is one of the top in Canada in terms of daily web traffic according to the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Earlier this summer, job postings tipped us off to the MEC/Hudson’s Bay partnership — over the summer MEC has been quietly hiring for its new stores inside of Hudson’s Bay which a source confirmed would replace Forever 21. It was just last summer that the first Forever 21 shop-in-stores opened inside of Hudson’s Bay in a partnership with YM Inc. which has the rights to Forever 21 in Canada.
MEC is facing intense competition in the Canadian market from competitors such as France-based Decathlon which is aggressively signing leases and opening stores across the country. Decathlon is said to be looking at Toronto’s Yorkdale for a storefront. Other retailers such as SAIL, Cabella’s, Sport Chek, Altitude Sports, Sporting Life, L.L.Bean and others also compete with MEC and several of these are in expansion mode in Canada currently.
Mountain Equipment Company, as it is now called, was formerly named Mountain Equipment Co-op prior to the cooperative’s restructuring in 2020. The retailer pulled through and is now a corporation with 21 standalone stores across the country. These stores are larger than the concessions that will open at Hudson’s Bay. A typical MEC store spans between 20,000 and 40,000+ square feet.
Hudson’s Bay operates a network of 84 department stores in Canada as well as online marketplace TheBay.com. The retailer was founded in 1670 and is part of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which is the oldest company operating in North America and also owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Saks OFF 5TH banners in the US and Canada.