T.J. Kvilhaug of South St. Paul, his wife, Bria, and daughters Avery and Madison were taking it a little slower this Black Friday. They were at a favorite outdoors store — Gander Mountain in Woodbury — looking for bargains.
But, unlike the big-box retailers, the pace here seemed a little calmer, a bit quieter, a tad more sane. Kind of like the difference between casting a line into a calm fishing hole vs. racing rush-hour traffic to make happy hour at a favorite watering hole.
“We like this store. I come here a lot for my fishing gear during the rest of the year,” said Kvilhaug, who was searching for a toy bow set for a young nephew. His daughters, ages 5 and 3, have just started fishing with their folks, too. “It’s just not too crazy.”
It’s not that outdoors-focused retailers don’t do Black Friday big. From Gander Mountain to Cabela’s to Mills Fleet Farm to Midwest Mountaineering, officials said this day, this weekend, are huge to the success of their bottom line. At a time when they are busy anyway — with hunters and winter-sports enthusiasts pushing through the doors — this weekend is an opportunity to reach out to those who might not otherwise frequent their stores. The biggest difference, they say, might just be the pace.
“We are certainly different from the stores that have the big-screen TV specials that people line up outside the door for,” said Rod Johnson, founder and owner of Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis, whose store was closed Thanksgiving and opened at 7 a.m. Friday, instead of its usual 10 a.m.
“We do see much heavier traffic on that day. But, out of our top 10 days, it would maybe be No. 10.”
Wes Remmer, a spokesman for Cabela’s, said Black Friday “definitely ranks pretty far up there for business. We are busy this time of year anyway, with the tail end of deer season and the start of ice fishing. But Black Friday adds to the fun.”
At Cabela’s, though, don’t expect Black Thursday anytime soon. Like Midwest Mountaineering and Mills Fleet Farm, Cabela’s refuses to open its doors on Thanksgiving Day, giving employees and customers a day away from the rush. To some outdoors customers, that, too, has its appeal.
Scott Anderson of Maplewood, who was looking at guns and had just bought a backpack and a coffeemaker at deep discounts, said that “Keeping Thanksgiving sacred” is what draws him to Mills Fleet Farm’s Oakdale store.
“Last night [Thursday], my girlfriend worked at Target, and it was crazy. There were huge lines, cops to keep order. I do enjoy getting a good deal, but I like that [Fleet Farm isn’t] open on Thanksgiving,” he said.
So, too, did Rob and Jane Kerber of Woodbury, toting a new kayak through the checkout line at a savings of more than $100. They admitted they shopped for televisions at Best Buy and Wal-Mart after finishing the Thanksgiving dishes Thursday. But they don’t like it.
“It’s just different here,” Rob Kerber said. “It’s more low-key, more laid-back.”
Said Jane Kerber: “I don’t like the crazy, Thanksgiving night thing at all. This is just more sane.”
Paul Gilbert, advertising manager for Mills Fleet Farm, said his firm is proud of its “Closed on Thanksgiving” heritage. Friday is busy enough, he said.
“When you look at it through the eyes of the customer, it’s a big shopping day no matter what you sell,” he said. “Black Friday starts on Friday and we do have lines waiting for us when we open at 6 a.m.”
Gander Mountain, though, has no such qualms about opening its doors ever earlier. Their stores, based in St. Paul, were open all day Thursday and until 2 a.m. Friday. Then, four hours later, the doors opened again. Steve Uline, Gander Mountain’s executive vice president of marketing, said the store is simply responding to the desires of its customers.
“We keep expanding our hours because the consumers keep voting,” he said. “I think it’s probably pretty much the same beast [as other large retailers], to be honest. It’s a huge day, it’s a huge weekend.”
The expanded hours and focus on holiday giving pull even more people into the stores to buy gifts for the outdoors people in their lives — people who might not otherwise consider Gander Mountain, he said.
“It’s just a huge opportunity to pick up new loyal customers going forward,” Uline said. “What pulls them in is the same for every other store across the country. It’s value. It’s great deals.”