Unless you’ve been residing in a cave above the Dix River sans cell phone, Wi-Fi and satellite uplink or without UPS, FedEx and U.S. Postal Service delivery, you have probably heard that Cabela’s, the Sidney, Neb.-based giant outdoor retailer, has opened its newest store about a stone’s throw from the I-265 and I-71 interchange in Louisville.
The 88,000-square-foot facility—the first Cabela’s in Kentucky—opened in April amid much pomp, ceremony and large crowds.
The store likely will become a magnet for folks who harbor interests in fishing, hunting, shooting, hiking, off roading, camping, cooking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, geocaching, bird watching, archery, fly tying … just about anything, really, that legally can be done recreating outdoors.
Nearly all sportsmen are gear heads, and Cabela’s has become a multi-point source (mail order, online and brick-and-mortar retail) to help ease our seemingly insatiable addiction to outdoor tools, toys and other stuff. The company is, by self-definition and registered trademark, “The World’s Foremost Outfitter.” Many friends and colleagues have the company’s telephone order number on speed dial and the Web address bookmarked. And they are not alone.
A couple of weeks prior to the store’s grand opening, local media were invited for a close look at the green-roofed facility, which is located in Old Brownsboro Crossing at 5100 Norton Healthcare Blvd.
The place was all but complete, with finishing touches only awaiting the boat showroom. Company executives and a few newly hired workers (the store will employ 200 full-time, part-time and seasonal workers, according to manager Bob Johnson) were on hand. Many were dressed in field apparel to set the mood and answer questions, including one gentleman in full turkey-hunting camouflage and set-up (with ground blind and decoy) and another in complete fly-fishing regalia (including chest waders).
It was an impressive display, especially the gun room, which included a 1850s-era Colt Dragoon and other vintage firearms—all of which were for sale. I strolled up and down aisles flanked by shelves piled with decoys and calls, caps and boots, rods and reels, ATVs and outboards, and a thousand other items—aisles that soon would be clogged with customers.
Later that afternoon I stopped by a local specialty sporting goods store, where the owner agreed to talk only on promise that his name wouldn’t be mentioned.
“Because I think I know what you want to talk about.”
Cabela’s history and strength are rooted as a catalog and, since 1991, an Internet company. It all started in 1961 at Dick Cabela’s kitchen table. The young Nebraskan recently had purchased a few outdoor supplies while attending a furniture show with his father in Chicago. He placed an advertisement in a Wyoming newspaper offering a dozen hand-tied flies for $1 and was rewarded with one response. “The World’s Foremost Outfitter” could have ended there. But Dick Cabela retooled his sales strategy with a foreshadowing of simple business genius. This time, he placed a small ad in a couple of national outdoor magazines for a free introductory offer of five fishing flies plus 25 cents for postage and handling. Orders began to flood in for this seemingly too-good-to-be-true offer. The flies were returned as promised along with a four-page mimeographed catalog offering outdoor gear by mail order.
Two years later, Dick persuaded his younger brother, Jim, to join the business. A few years after that, in desperate need of more room for their growing business, they moved to Sidney, Neb., and into a 50,000-square-foot abandoned John Deere building.
Today, Cabela’s enjoys international brand recognition and a large business footprint. The first retail store outside the Sidney headquarters opened in 1987. The Louisville store is its 44th. Ten more are planned to open in 2013 and 2014. In the wake of this business tidal wave, local competitors are sometimes swamped. When Cabela’s comes to town, the outdoor business dynamic shifts—sometimes slightly, occasionally wildly, but always some.
“Yeah, it’s probably going to have some effect on my business,” the local owner said. “Especially at first. But our customers are pretty loyal, and we do some specialized service things [Cabela’s] won’t be able to do. I’m not worried. We’re going to be fine.”
He probably will be fine. After all, Cabela’s started at the kitchen table, too.