New MEC CEO Peter Hlynsky Discusses the Retailer’s Growth Plans [Feature Interview]

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Peter Hlynsky, who has moved into the role of Chief Executive Officer of MEC (Mountain Equipment Company), has great plans to grow the retailer’s footprint across Canada in the coming years.

Peter Hlynsky CEO Mountain Equipment Company in front of MEC sign.

Hlynsky has taken over the role from Eric Claus, who was instrumental in steering the iconic Canadian retailer through its transition from co-op to company, as well as through the industry disruption of the COVID pandemic.

Hlynsky has been with the company since November 2020 and as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer over that time, played a major part in the transition of reinforcing MEC’s focus on people, product, sustainability, and community, while re-organizing the business to thrive in a modern retail environment.

“We’re looking for stores across Canada both within our existing markets within the Greater Vancouver Area, within the Calgary area, within Toronto and Montreal. Think about where we are in those markets. There’s still a lot of opportunity in those markets,” he said.

MEC Vancouver (Image: MEC)

“And there’s also a lot of white space in other markets outside of those that we’re looking at . . . Within cities or towns, we can be anywhere. We’re a destination location. So we don’t need to be main on main. We can be off main and so drive a lot of traffic to our stores.

“In the next five years, we’d love to have 40 standalone stores.”

The company currently has 22 standalone stores and three stores within The Bay stores. Those three are at Square One, Yorkdale and Queen Street.

MEC in Moncton, New Brunswick (Image: MEC)

The last standalone store opened in Moncton in August.

“I think we’re continuing to evaluate where we put our resources right now and right now there’s a lot of opportunity for new standalone stores. And a lot has come to market with a lot of retailers faltering over the last year or so, so there’s a lot of boxes that fit our bill right now that we’re looking at,” said Hlynsky. 

He said a new store is opening in BC next, with details coming soon. 

“And we’ve got a lead on a couple that are out in the Ontario market as well,” he added.

“We prefer 20,000 to 30,000 square feet. Our average store is about 22,000 square feet. Right in that space is perfect for us.”

MEC at Square One Shopping Centre (Image: MEC)

Hlynsky said about a third of the retailer’s stores are standalone on their own within a complex, a group of them are within a power centre. Other than The Bay locations, MEC doesn’t have any mall locations. 

“Malls are a bit more of a challenge for us because we need big space and it’s hard to carry a kayak through a mall,” he said. “So we tend to be in more power centre type locations where basically people can park pretty close to the front door so they can bring their gear out and not have to transport it through a large area.

“In the past three years we have grown the business through a period of unpredictability in the marketplace, overhauled operations systems, opened new stores and this month we are completing the move to a new, larger distribution centre in Western Canada. Importantly, beyond our walls, we have regained brand trust with our long- time members and new brand fans, as evidenced by the Gustavson Brand Trust Index. We know MEC has always been held to a high standard and it has been three years of passion, dedication and hard work from our staff across the country to get us here today. It is my honour to lead our teams into the next chapter of MEC.”

Established in 1971, Mountain Equipment Company (MEC) is Canada’s go-to place for technical outdoor gear, know-how and inspiration. Combining high-quality apparel and equipment with expert advice and first-hand experience. MEC was recognized as Canada’s Most Trusted Brand for 2023 by the The Gustavson Brand Trust Index, reflecting the company’s long-term commitment to fostering trust by delivering exceptional customer experiences, and offering unparalleled value on affordable, quality outdoor gear.

Hlynsky said today’s consumer is very price conscious right now, looking for deals and waiting for deals to happen.

“We’re trying to get ahead of that by having deals in the store all the time and we’re working with the vendor community that has a lot of inventory to bring product in, have lower prices and have deals every single day. Really drive the daily deal,” he said.

Interior image of Toronto’s Queen Street MEC store. Photo: MEC

Claus will remain on the MEC board in an advisory capacity.

“I am really proud of our whole team and what has been accomplished over the last three years, and I know that Peter is the right leader to carry MEC forward,” said Claus. “He understands MEC’s values, culture and has the acumen and experience to ensure continued financial stability and sustained growth. I could not be more confident in MEC’s next phase of growth under Peter’s stewardship.”

Hlynsky has been a member of MEC since 1995. Some of his adventures include ski touring in Canada, hiking in the Andes, rafting the Amazon River, diving off Fiji, surfing in California, and lots of kayaking through Desolation Sound and the Gulf Islands.

Growing up on the North Shore near Vancouver, he has fond memories of riding his 1990s rigid mountain bike wearing hockey equipment as padding (gear has come a long way). These days, you can find him and his wife introducing their three kids to his favourite old trails in the mountains.

“We’re not looking to deviate too much from our core ethos. The people in our business have always been important, the product has always been important and being a very sustainable environment and socially conscious organization is key to what we’re trying to do,” he said. “I think the big thing for us is over the last three years we’ve really invested in our IT infrastructure and our people which will allow us now to basically drive the business forward with new innovative technologies and things that will let us really bring more value to the consumer.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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