In Rogers, a jumping-off point for hunters headed north, two of the nation's top gun retailers, Cabela's and Gander Mountain, are staging a showdown.
Until now, Rogers has been Cabela's town. The company's superstore on an Interstate 94 frontage road sold new and used guns of all descriptions, and was an unchallenged magnet location for hunters, target shooters and gun enthusiasts.
But, by the end of April, St. Paul-based Gander Mountain will ride into town with a guns-only store, its first in Minnesota. Its "firearms supercenter," in a renovated 30,000-square-foot former Best Buy store, is just a few blocks down the access road from Cabela's.
Competition seems inevitable, because, given the layout of Rogers' streets, most customers will pass the Gander Mountain store on their way to Cabela's, which, in addition to guns, sells hunting, fishing and camping gear and related clothing.
It's a battle of equals, because Cabela's, Gander Mountain and Bass Pro Shops are the three largest gun dealers in the country, Sean Naughton, a retail analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co. in Minneapolis, said in an interview Friday. Nearly 20 percent of Cabela's sales come from selling guns and ammunition, he said. Because Gander Mountain is privately owned, it's unclear what percentage of its sales come from guns and ammo, he said.
The competition for gun sales in Rogers comes at a time when gun sales are booming nationally.
The Newtown, Conn., shootings, which claimed 26 lives in December, launched the latest national debate on whether to strengthen gun control laws. Annual sales growth for guns jumped from about 20 percent over the past two years to 48 percent growth since December, Naughton said.
That has led Gander Mountain to make a big shift in its stores. While the Rogers store will sell only guns, plus a minimal assortment of hunting clothes, Gander's other 11 Minnesota stores offer a variety of outdoor gear and related clothing.
Gander said it's opening the new, gun-only store in Rogers because similar stores near Columbus, Ohio, and Milwaukee have been successful.
Rogers is a good location because "it catches people on their way north," said Steve Uline, Gander Mountain's executive vice president of marketing, in an interview.
Uline said his store's advantage in Rogers will be its larger selection of new and used guns, between 3,000 and 5,000.
"We'll be the top gun store in the country in terms of assortment," Uline said. "If you include our online selection, we have access to more guns than anyone."
Cabela's didn't return a reporter's phone call Friday.
But Naughton said Cabela's had a strong defensive position in its Cabela's Club Visa cards. By using the cards at Cabela's, customers earn rewards points on other Cabela's products. That could make customers reluctant to buy guns from a competitor, he said.
What remains unclear is whether demand for guns will continue to be as strong as it is now.
"Right now there is a spike in demand for guns that is driven by potential changes in legislation, and the fear of consumers that they may not be able to buy some guns in the future," Naughton said.
Uline agreed that there's been a surge in sales due to the gun control debate, but also sees an increase in gun sales due to growth in sport shooting at target ranges, a desire for handguns for home protection, and a slight uptick in sales of hunting rifles.
Naughton thinks the current level of gun sales probably isn't sustainable, but can't hazard a guess what they might be in the future.
"I don't think nobody knows what the run rate for guns will be moving forward," Naughton said.