Canadian outdoor retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) announced yesterday the launch of their own brand bike line. A couple of years ago, MEC commissioned a bike study from their members and found that almost 90% owned a bike, 30% planned to buy new bikes and 75% wanted MEC to get into the own brand bike business. So here they are, but not without controversy. The bicycling industry of Canada seems to be worried about MEC opening their own bike stores and service centers, potentially putting smaller bike stores out of business.
MEC is launching their own brand bike line with eleven styles in four categories- mountain, road, specialty and urban. Each style is available in a unisex frame with three bikes also available with frames designed specifically for women. Along with 2 hard-tail mountain bikes, three road bikes and five urban styles, the MEC own brand bike line also features a folding specialty bike. Kids bikes will be introduced in 2010.
The MEC bikes were designed by in-house designer and product manager Tim McDermott. The bikes are produced in Taiwan. Despite the competitive risk, MEC discloses all of the factories they work with in order to be transparent on their ethical sourcing practices.
Is this an indication of more own brand lines to come? Will REI or Backcountry bikes be next?
Paul Kirwin, founder of 3point5 and now Channel Signal, recently posted about the tension between outdoor retailers and outdoor brands on his Channel Signal blog. Supposedly a large retailer had been threatening to drop some big name outdoor brands if they started selling through Amazon. Paul argues that outdoor retailers are famous for using big outdoor brands as bait to get into the store then offering own brand products of the same quality at a lower price.
I think we are going to see the competition between outdoor retailers own brand and big name outdoor brands heat up in months to come. Both retailers and brands are "verticalizing" in order to improve overall margins, as with Columbia Sportswear's move to open branded stores and sell direct online.