Cabela's, other outdoor retailers take aim at Twin Cities

  • Article by: JANET MOORE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2013 - 9:18 PM

When a slimmed-down Cabela’s arrives in Woodbury, the struggle among outdoors retailers will become much more intense.

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For many hunting and fishing enthusiasts in Minnesota, a trip to Cabela’s means trekking to Owatonna, Rogers or East Grand Forks for a daylong experience that is a mix of mercantile and museum. There’s fudge, too.

But now, Cabela’s is plotting a move into the belly of the suburbs — Woodbury’s Tamarack Village, home to big-box stalwarts Old Navy, Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond. The Sidney, Neb.-based retailer, known for its expansive destination stores, is betting that Twin Cities urban dwellers and suburbanites are yearning to unearth their inner woodsman (or woodswoman).

The 85,000-square-foot Woodbury store, set to open in the fall of 2014, will be far smaller than Cabela’s traditional layout — some stores span 250,000 square feet (a little less than six football fields). The smaller next-generation Cabela’s stores, usually in suburban areas like Woodbury, still feature the retailer’s signature wildlife displays, trophy animal mounts, gun library, aquarium, bargain cave and fudge shop. The only difference is that the footprint is condensed.

The pared-down merchandise mix will still “maximize floor space,” explains Wes Remmer, a spokesman for Cabela’s.

Yet other retailers — some national, some homegrown, others online — have made a similar bet that outdoors-crazed Minnesotans will continue to spend their deeply stretched discretionary dollars on rifles, fishing rods and associated accouterment. A national survey of recreational activity by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated that hunters, anglers and other wildlife-recreationists spent $145 billion in 2011 on their outdoors pursuits, roughly 1 percent of the country’s gross national product. Of that amount, they forked over about $43.2 billion on equipment alone.

In the Twin Cities, there’s no shortage of bricks-and-mortar retailers (and their websites) enticing hunters and anglers, including Gander Mountain, Mills Fleet Farm, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Joe’s Sporting Goods, even Wal-Mart. Others, such as REI and Midwest Mountaineering, attract paddlers, campers, climbers and cyclers.

The Mall of America has long courted Bass Pro Shops, a destination-style concept for fishermen, hunters and campers that has yet to open a store in Minnesota. MOA spokesman Dan Jasper won’t say whether Missouri-based Bass Pro is interested, but he confirmed that the Bloomington megamall is looking for a “recreational anchor” for its expansion.

“The plan is to attract a male demographic, ages 25 to 54,” he said.

When asked about the Mall of America, Bass Pro spokeswoman Katie Mitchell said, “We are interested in lots of places around the country and constantly looking for new retail store locations; however, there is nothing to report for this particular location at this time.”

Not quite recession-proof

Despite the plethora of shopping options, “I wouldn’t say the overall outdoors industry is recession-proof, although it is resilient,” said Sean Naughton, senior research analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co. But “there’s a lifestyle component that seems to resonate with consumers” despite a sluggish economy.

Traditional activities in Minnesota such as treks to the lake, annual deer hunting outings, even weekend hikes in nearby state parks, are often easier on the family budget than expensive trips. “The recession led people to take staycations and explore what’s in their own back yards,” Naughton said. “You really don’t have to travel far to get outside.”

Shifts in the nation’s demographics also favor spending on outdoors equipment and apparel, Naughton said. Baby boomers are retiring, so they may need gear for leisure activities. And millennials — the generation born after 1980 — consist of “a consumer very interested in experiences. They’re experiential,” Naughton said. The great outdoors beckons both.

In addition, some outdoors retailers have seen a recent surge in firearms sales as enthusiasts stock up in light of pending federal legislation that could limit access to certain types of weapons and ammunition. However, it’s unclear how long that phenomenon will last.

Still, sales of winter-sports gear and apparel have dampened in recent years due to the “challenging weather economy,” said Jim Silburn, director of client services for the Minneapolis advertising firm Colle+McVoy. “When it’s not snowing outside, that presents some unique challenges,” not only for retailers, but also for gear manufacturers, he said.

A saturated market?

Some analysts suggest that the highly fragmented Twin Cities retail market for outdoors enthusiasts may be hard-pressed to support so many options. The new Cabela’s store may cannibalize sales at its current stores in Minnesota, Naughton said. However, the smaller Cabela’s stores tend to rack up sales per square foot that are roughly 30 percent higher than its traditional stores, he said.

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