MEC’s Elegant Email Solution

Mountain Equipment Co-op installs internal communications software fit for the Facebook generation.

Mountain Equipment Co-op installs internal communications software fit for the Facebook generation.

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is a homegrown outdoor-gear co-op that is rapidly expanding across the country and now has 14 stores as well as its head office and service centre in Vancouver. But when it began its growth path, MEC also had to expand its internal communications systems to avoid information gridlock. Transforming how communications are conducted in a large and multi-location organization involves complicated change, which has to be handled right or the entire initiative could founder.


The Problem

When MEC was purely Vancouver-based, communicating among staff wasn’t a problem. But as the company grew to $250 million a year in revenue and retail stores stretching from Victoria to Quebec City, it had outgrown its email-based internal communications structure. The system was cumbersome and left out many employees. Clearly, the co-op had to find a better way to collaborate.


The Solution

MEC turned to Vancouver’s OpenRoad Communications, which provided the ThoughtFarmer intranet system based on wiki (or social media) technology. By the time the dust settled, the total cost would be about $350,000, including technical work and consulting, in addition to the system itself.

After undergoing a needs analysis among its more than 1,500 staff in 2009, MEC brought in staff representatives to brainstorm a likely solution. The employees, who were largely younger, often part time and quite passionate about the outdoors, insisted that any new communications system should involve multi-way (instead of top-down) delivery and organic communication that mirrored social networking sites with which they were familiar. Also, it should provide content relevant to them that could be shared to create a sense of community. However, other pockets of the company weren’t quite as familiar with the social-media world.

After launching the intranet, named Mondo, in October 2009, MEC promoted it through contests and special deals on equipment for employees. It also created a personal start page for every employee and encouraged each to explore the site and connect with others. Employees across the country enthusiastically joined in, and the site soon sported a 97 per cent user rate. Forums and discussion groups formed, not only for each store but also for company-wide issues and areas of interest such as sustainability, a core MEC value. 

Just as quickly, users started to turn to Mondo as an information source. One employee in the MEC head office posted detailed training and information on the company’s warranty procedure, which at that time was difficult for most employees to understand. So instead of emailing head office, employees could simply log in, scan the relevant information and resolve their questions almost instantly. 

In a little over a year, the intranet has increased to 99 per cent use by employees, includes some 26,000 pages of information and has generated 14,000 comments. Five per cent of employees have even taken the time to post thanks to the company for making their jobs easier. 



• Change needs a leader. MEC leaders wanted something that would allow greater collaboration and would also be effective. So the leaders lent their weight to the initiative and encouraged all to join.

• Change requires local or departmental champions. MEC found early adopters in each store and had them proselytize the new intranet to employees.
• Change needs a reason. The what’s-in-it-for-me factor always rules, so MEC baked in sweeteners such as discounts, games and important operational information from the beginning to attract employees.