2011 saw a continued weakness in retail confidence coupled with a fierce competitive environment. While our sales in 2011 were higher than the previous year, we missed our forecast. Most western stores enjoyed positive same-store sales but the increase in competition (particularly in Quebec and Ontario) impacted sales at our eastern stores. The most positive trend in 2011 was a continued growth of our online store (mec.ca), with a 16.9% increase in sales over 2010.
In recent years, we've seen recreation and leisure time changing. Most Canadians live in cities. They tend to engage in multiple activities, not just outdoors but in their day-to-day urban lifestyles. Canadians are also some of the highest global users of the internet and social media.
We will stay relevant to these changing lifestyles to ensure Canadians continue to choose MEC for products and services that support and enable their outdoor adventures, and to ensure we meet the challenges of our increasing competition. This is our focus, today and in the future: relevant product and engaged, active members.
Most climbers don't just climb: they train to climb through a fitness regime that may include running and/or yoga. Likewise, backcountry skiers run or cycle to keep fit. Our goal is to be responsive to our members' evolving needs. This is why we are broadening the activities we support to include road running and training products, as well as a broader line of bicycles and watersports products. In 2011, members responded positively to these additions, and we are seeing a strong rebound in 2012 sales as new products arrive in stores. We will continue to refine our selection based on member acceptance and feedback.
However, we remain equally committed to strengthening our traditional outdoor activities along with the new. In fact, we have undergone substantial redevelopments to our packs, tents, and sleeping bags to make them even more functional for the end user. For instance, lightweight and mountaineering tents used to have the same floor fabric; they now have different fabric weights to accommodate user needs. We also developed women's sleeping bags that feature insulation and shaping tailored to meet women's needs, and women's packs with our new “Trail Motion” technology, which allows for more comfortable hiking. We continue to improve the value, function, and fit of MEC-brand clothing, including improved fit and styling for women.
As noted, our members are embracing our website, so in 2011 we focused on having more and better information on mec.ca, as well as more comparative tools. We are also being more visible and vocal on social media to help members stay engaged with the MEC community and ensure they are supported with good product information.
We want to inspire and enable more people to lead active lifestyles, so our member engagement effort has extended to our stores. In 2011, we made plans to build activity-related communities in and around our stores, through initiatives such as running and training clinics, store meet-ups, and events. These will be supported through activity coordinators at each store.
In December 2011, we trialed our first small-market store (~10,000sq. ft) in the community of London, Ontario, with a product selection tailored to the locally popular activities of cycling, running, and cross-country skiing. The small store size limits our investment while we work to satisfy our membership in London. Already the store has been well received, and we're exploring other locales.
The lease on our Head Office is due to expire in 2014, so we are planning a new home at the eastern end of False Creek Flats on Great Northern Way. Approval from the City of Vancouver came in early 2012. The goal is to create a fun, healthy, and inspiring workplace that can accommodate future growth and needs. This building is projected to open in Spring 2014, and will be built to a LEED Platinum standard.
Finally, attracting and retaining good people is integral to our success as a retail co-operative. We are gratified to once again be recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers, as well as a BC Top Employer and one of Canada's Greenest Employers. We continue to focus on strengthening the vibrancy, expertise, and activity of the MEC culture through employee and workplace programs, and by obtaining a keen understanding of employees' attitudes (through engagement surveys).
I'm excited and optimistic about what 2012 will bring. We've had a fantastic response to new products coming on-line and into stores, evidenced by strong sales so far this year. The challenge will be to continue to find ways that MEC can be responsive to members' ever-evolving needs. I'm confident we can meet this challenge.
- David Labistour -