One need look no further than Cabela's newest retailing concept to see how the sporting goods behemoth is finding its footing in a digital age.
The Nebraska-based retailer is betting its so-called "Next Gen" stores, the latest of which will open in Woodbury on May 15, will help it hang on to customers and fend off online rivals such as Amazon. Twenty-three more of these prototype stores are planned across the country over the next two years, company officials said.
The new Cabela's resemble the old, starting with the indoor archery range.
The new stores are part of a trend in the sporting goods retail industry to build smaller stores to improve cost controls and increase profit margins. Cabela's recently opened three such stores in South Carolina, Delaware and Georgia.
Hundreds of taxidermy mounts and dozens of interactive video displays dot the sales floor. And, as in its 150,000-square-foot-plus megastores in Owatonna and Rogers (Cabela's has a third, smaller store in East Grand Forks), a multistory mountain, made of fiberglass-reinforced concrete, rises above aisles and aisles of fishing, camping and hunting gear in the new store.
Cabela's managed to squeeze "the same amount of merchandising space" into a smaller area — 85,000 square feet — said Shelby Rockhold, the Woodbury location's general manager.
"They have different museums throughout the stores, so you're not going to have those extra museums with different square footage, but your shopping experience is still going to be the same," Rockhold said.
That immersive in-store experience, "which you can't get online," has long been the company's calling card, he said.
Walking into the new prototype store gives shoppers the feeling of being outdoors, Rockhold said. Built into the mountain is an aquarium, stocked with walleye. Nearby, a motion-sensor stuffed mountain lion growls at anyone who ventures into the hunting area.
That kind of atmosphere is one of the things that keep people coming back, Rockhold said on a recent afternoon as he led a tour of the premises.
Besides creating 185 full- and part-time jobs, the company will generate tax revenue for the city.
The question remains whether Cabela's is likely to find a receptive market in Woodbury, where shopping opportunities abound.
But Bruce Schwartau, an extension educator in community economics for the University of Minnesota, said there are several advantages to opening a store in Woodbury.
Schwartau, who studies retail trends, said the city has one of the metro area's highest retail "pull factors" — a measure of annual retail sales per capita — for hobby and sporting goods; the figure is 2.77, meaning "the average sales there are 2.7 times what we would see for an average Minnesotan."
Schwartau said Cabela's would also face competition from Gander Mountain, a nationwide outdoor lifestyle retailer that already has a store in Woodbury, and general merchandise retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.
Still, Schwartau, a casual outdoorsman, said he thinks Cabela's will be just fine.
"It's a store where, even if you're not a big-time buyer, you know their reputation and you want to go check it out," Schwartau said. "We are looking at an experience economy, and people want to have experiences and that's that these stores are trying to do."