Should Newfoundland & Labrador look at a Social Enterprise Model As A Possible Fix?
By Andrew Goldsworthy
A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders. I’ve had this desire to investigate social enterprise in the context of the Newfoundland & Labrador Snowmobile Federation. This motivation came about as a result of the bumpy season opener that the NLSF was having. I’m not being negative and I don’t want to. This is about investigating alternative models that could be investigated further. To find a solution, you sometimes have to say what would this industry look like completely turned upside down. So this is where I have posed the question, could the Newfoundland & Labrador Snowmobile scene operate as a Social Enterprise?
I looked deeper into the Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) model and how they started. Formed in 1971 by passionate mountain climbers with a desire to better serve their collective group of like minded individuals. MEC was focused on providing their members the best possible gear at the most affordable price. Founded on strong principles and morals with an objective of seeing 1% of funds going back into community projects each year. At present, MEC has over 5 Million members that shop at both their retail stores and online. The membership fees have not changed since 1971 at $5 and annual revenue is over $250 Million (MEC.ca). The key here is that MEC started with a vision of wanting to better serve a user base and things snowballed from there.
I then asked myself, why are folks not supporting the current model? Now don’t get me wrong, the NL scene gets support from a core group of users, but it’s far from where it should be. I thought of five reasons why the industry has some issues; 1. The NLSF does not do an ample job with the Marketing and Communications to the current and potential user base. Every business should ask themselves…how do you attract new customer, retain existing and finally, optimize those current relationships. I’m not laying blame on the NLSF because the Province of NL doesn’t have their heads wrapped around this thing called winter either. Good money has been spent to deliver mediocre strategy around winter, but if my ice maker is broke, I’m not going to call in the propane dude…just saying, if you hire a propane person to solve your ice maker issue, you’re going to get a propane solution. 2. The NLSF has been way too confrontational. This organization has to be a mediator and work to bring the industry together and stop taking things personal. If the industry is going to be looked upon as a personal pissing match, guess what? Nobody will win. 3. The approach of the future has to be a win-win. If only one stakeholder wins, that can last in the immediate but for the long haul, nobody will win. 4. Jeff Bezo’s of Amazon realized that their ultimate success would only come when they became 100% Customer-Centric. The NLSF needs to become 100% Customer-Centric and in this context, the customers are the users of the system. To become 100% Customer-Centric, you must know the determining attributes of your customer. This is marketing insight but determining attributes are simply the items your target customers uses to make their buying decision. Step one is knowing thy target customer. 5. Make a promise to your customers, build trust and then, marketing is simply how you promote the fact that you keep your promise.
Like I mentioned earlier, this piece wasn’t about being negative but evaluating alternative models. If we’re not willing to at least do that, we’re not going to innovate the industry. Here’s one final thought for you…if Netflix didn’t innovate and become an on-demand entertainment hub, but stayed in the Mail Order CD industry, they’d be long gone. I’m sure nobody wants our snowmobile industry to collapse but if it doesn’t innovate, it might become a dinosaur. And guess what, there are no dinosaurs out there anymore. This piece isn’t about laying blame or calling folks out…it’s about investigating options and maybe the Social Enterprise route might work. If the NLSF became the NL Snowmobile Co-op, I’d certainly become a member. Being a member of something bigger with vision, could that solve issues? That’s the million dollar question…and maybe this needs to be investigated further.