For decades, anglers and hunters made pilgrimages to Cabela’s, their almost Mecca. They traveled hundreds of miles to places like Mitchell, S.D., to spend a half-day or more and hundreds of dollars on plastic worms, camo comforters, shotgun shell wastebaskets, and thousands of other items — and, of course, devote an hour or two to lusting over firearms in the famous gun libraries or gawking at lunkers swimming in the aquariums. Between pilgrimages, they were sated by the massive catalog and www.cabelas.com.
One reason for the devotion was the sense of community. Cabela’s aligned with the sporting public in conservation causes, and customers responded with rare one-of-us support usually reserved for members of the local rod-and-gun club.
But as Cabela’s expanded over the years with more and bigger stores, it attracted a raft of competitors such as Bass Pro Shop’s Outdoor World Superstores, Gander Mountain, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Gart Sports. And then the guys in the boardroom either got worried looking in the rearview mirror or greedy, or both.
Shortly after becoming a publicly traded company in 2004, Cabela’s started experiencing something new: criticism. Some of it came from Wall Street where the stock has tanked. But more worrisome for the company has been a revolt among some of its customers.
One major sore spot is Cabela’s Trophy Properties division, which sells “amenity” properties — sales that sometimes result in once-open hunting lands being closed off. The Montana Wildlife Federation, the state’s largest sporting group, told its 7,000 members to return or burn Cabela’s catalogs. And they did.
Cabela’s reacted slowly but strongly and assured hunters the company’s real estate listings would cause “no net loss” of public access; it started donating money to public access programs. But this wasn’t enough for some former customers.
Also causing controversy was Cabela’s aggressive subsidy requests for new store placements. The Cabela’s stores often become tourism destinations and can anchor large commercial developments, so the giant retailer started flexing its muscle — to the chagrin of some communities.
All this, plus a difficult national retail market, caused Cabela’s to announce a dramatic cutback in its store openings, delaying five of seven for 2008, including Billings, Mont. and Wheat Ridge, Colo.
Did the Montana trophy property controversy affect the decision not to locate in the state? Cabela’s spokesman Joe Arterburn had the short answer: “No.” Instead, he blamed “uncertain economic conditions” and a “challenging retail environment.”
But why would Cabela’s go ahead with a store in Rapid City, S.D., when the company already has a store in Mitchell, and pass on Colorado and Montana, among the most fervent fishing and hunting markets in all the land?
Read more from Bill Schneider on the Cabela’s controversy here:
- Cabela’s Still Fishing on Thin Ice, 1-31-08
- Cabela’s Putting the Arm on Realtors, 1-30-08
- Cabela’s New Policies Promote Stewardship, Preserve Historic Uses, 12-17-07
- Cabela’s and Orvis, Afterthoughts, 12-6-07
- Cabela’s Reacts to Land Sales Debate, 12-3-07
- Orvis, Don’t be Another Cabela’s, 11-29-07
- Cabela’s Desecrating its Own Brand, 11-22-07
— Bill Schneider is NewWest.Net Travel & Outdoors editor and can be reached at email@example.com