Disneyland, take a back seat.
I’ve just come back from a visit to the REAL “Happiest Place on Earth.”
It’s called Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC to members and fervent followers). I’ve been there twice, in two cities—Montreal and Toronto—over the past week. Nowhere else and never before have I experienced a happier group of employees and shoppers congregated in one area, feeding off each others' passions and knowledge in a pulsating, glowing snowball effect of euphoria.
From the floor staff to the checkout folks, everyone was ebullient. Even greater still was the buzz amongst those waiting in line, who all seemed to be chomping at the bit to get outside and put their purchases to use. As Thunderclap Newman once sang, “There’s Something in The Air.”
I wish I could understand it. Jeez, even more so, I wish I could fully partake in it. But at least it was the source of this week’s learning.
Now I ain’t the most “outdoorsy” type which is why I've never really been to the place, but I had to stock up on a couple of items for a safari trip to Kenya, and MEC seemed like the best spot to do so. I was right…for reasons other than the $81 plus tax worth of goods I purchased.
First of all, from two different obsessively helpful people, I received the equivalent of two complete Masters dissertations in a $25 flashlight and a $46 knapsack (marked down from $90). Amongst other fine discoveries, I learned about the lumen power of LED, and why hidden backstraps and multiple handles may be best suited for a guy who will probably never again bear the burden of a knapsack once he returns home from the Dark Continent in September.
I got this type of detailed product explanation a few weeks ago. But that was from the guy who sold me my new luxury coupe. You expect this type of attention when you’re laying down the equivalent of a good year’s salary on a car. But it’s quite the pleasant shock to get when the aggregate total of your purchase wouldn’t pay for a passenger’s side rear seat winter mat for said new car. And truth be told, the customers at MEC seemed way happier than those at Mercedes-Benz. Go figure…
The former had equally-as-chipper sales people, helpful beyond the pale, yet despite being in the same family as MEC, the customer base didn’t have the same buzz. Maybe yoga karma makes a different noise.
The latter was jam-packed with people as usual; all served by young, energetic, uber-knowledgeable sales and service staff. But once again, the customer sensibility didn’t hold a candle to the MEC rapture. Perhaps the fact that about a third of customers were there having some sort of problem attended to, and that the very nature of technology brings up more questions and stress than the great outdoors, made the Apple visit efficient and enjoyable, but not euphoric.
So what did I learn? Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest not making a sound unless there’s someone there to hear it, a truly great retail experience is something completed by both customer and store.
As hard as a store tries,
as great as a store may be,
there’s an intangible
between a great retail experience
and an experience, period.
Is MEC any better than Apple or Lulu Lemon or Mercedes-Benz? Probably not.
So what’s the difference?
Wish I knew. I could make a mega fortune.
Guess I just gotta get out more ;)