Gander Mountain, founded as a catalog retailer in Wisconsin in 1960, has expanded into the nation’s largest and fastest growing network of outdoor specialty stores with 164 stores in 27 states. While it’s known for hunting, fishing and camping equipment and apparel, many Minnesotans might not realize it’s a St. Paul-based company. Once publicly traded, Gander is now privately held by David Pratt and the Erickson family that owns Holiday Station Stores. The company is the nation’s top seller of new and used firearms, as well as a leader in teaching responsible gun ownership. It oversees a national campaign that encourages safety. Derek Siddons was named president of Gander Mountain in 2015 after joining the company in 2009 as a store manager in Wisconsin. Here are excerpts from a recent interview:
Q: What is your focus at Gander Mountain?
A: Growing our business in hunting, fishing, camping and shooting. We’ve seen nice lifts in those areas. That’s our core.
Q: How do you differentiate yourselves from competition at Cabela’s, Fleet Farm, Sportsman’s Guide, Bass Pro Shops and other outdoor stores?
A: We dedicate resources to finding regional products. The local standpoint is important. Fishing is different in Duluth than it is in Bemidji, just as Minnesota fishing is different from Florida. Our stores have autonomy. They didn’t used to have that.
Q: Gander Mountain calls itself the nation’s top retailer of new and used firearms. It appears that you take that responsibility seriously.
A: Being America’s firearms supercenter is a pillar in our business. We know that with rights come responsibility, so we go above and beyond to teach safety and handle the training.
Q: How so?
A: We have six Gander Mountain Academy and Firearms Supercenters that we started in 2010. Each is focused on training and safety in firearms. We also do Minnesota conceal and carry training. More than 250,000 people have taken our training in the last five years. This weekend, we’re offering free safety seminars in our centers nationwide. On Sunday, there’s a family safety seminar in every Gander Mountain store in the country.
Q: How does the Academy work?
A: We have three segments. The virtual training range to get new shooters more comfortable with firearms, the live range and the simulator to model shooting sporting clays, target, three-gun shooting and scenario training.
Q: How significant are online sales?
A: Our web category has grown significantly. Customers research online but come in to touch and feel. Even a novice fisherman wants to touch the goods. We sell fun, so we want to make the in-store experience as big as we can.
Q: Can customers buy online and pick up in the store?
A: Yes, we started offering that in 2014. We’re the only retailer in our category that offers it, and the orders are often ready within two hours.
Q: How concerned are you that younger people are not taking up hunting and fishing as often as their parents or grandparents?
A: Industry data shows that youth in the outdoors is something we need to support. We support organizations that get youth on the lake like Fishing for Life. Once a kid is hooked on hunting and fishing, we find they do it for life.
Q: What’s next for Gander Mountain?
A: We’re committed to growth. We opened 55 stores in the last five years and three more recently in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas.
Q: What’s your favorite part of working at Gander Mountain?
A: I love hearing stories from customers about the gear we sold them that helped them catch a record muskie. What we sell is about going out on the weekend and having fun.
Q: How price competitive in the outdoor sporting goods category?
A: You have to be promotional. We launched the best price plus promise last November that offers customers a match plus 10 percent of the price difference if an identical item is found for less at a competitor within 30 days.
Q: What do you see as your contribution to Gander Mountain since you became president in 2015?
A: Aligning the core strategy of hunt, fish, camp and shoot.