New Cabela's in Woodbury Intensifies Outdoor Retail Competition

Updated: 05/12/2014 8:10 AM
Created: 05/12/2014 5:17 AM
By: Jennie Olson

As Minnesotans, we love to fish, hunt, hike and paddle. We love our boats, our lakes and rivers. We love the woods, the pastures, and the fields.

Now, the competition for your outdoor dollar has never been more intense.

A new Cabela's store at Radio Drive and Hudson in Woodbury is Ground Zero for outdoor retail competition in Minnesota. An 85,000-square-foot Cabela’s opens May 15. Right across the parking lot is a Dick’s Sporting Goods, and just 2 miles away is a Gander Mountain.

This is the third Cabela's in Minnesota; the others are in Rogers and Owatonna.

Cabela's has become more than just a place to buy gear; it’s a destination with mountains of full-sized taxidermy and massive aquariums soon to be the home of trophy fish anglers can only dream of catching. 

"Their stores are so big and so compelling... people just want to go there," said Dave Brennan, a professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas who analyzed the market for KSTP-TV. "It doesn't matter whether they're going to buy something;  they just want to see it." 

Brennan added that Minnesotans love their gear. “Minnesotans spend 40 percent more than the average person,” he said.

His research found that every man, woman, and child in our state spends an average of $185 a year on outdoor gear, and that's why Cabela's is here.

So how are other stores getting ready for this outdoor gear retail war? For Gander Mountain, Cabela's plunking down in Woodbury is an invasion on their home turf.  Gander Mountain's headquarters are just 15 minutes away in downtown St. Paul, and Cabela's is based in Nebraska.

Gander Mountain President Mike Owens says the company has worked hard over the last five years to distinguish itself from Cabela's.

"When you walk into our store, you're going to see a lot of bright colors, a lot of athletic apparel, things that people work out in,” Owens said.

Gone at Gander Mountain is the warehouse style with stacks of just hunting and fishing gear.  Owens says it’s now a store that appeals to both men and women.

But don't be fooled. 

Gander Mountain claims to be the number-one firearms dealer in the state. 

“I think they're trying to distinguish themselves very clearly in terms of the gun market and in terms of hunting," Brennan said. "That is one of their points of difference."    

And it shows. 

Their Lakeville store has a plush, sophisticated shooting range: laser-guided guns on a virtual reality course, and an old-fashioned range for steel and brass.

Another new difference from Cabela's: Gander Mountain is toning down -- but not eliminating -- its taxidermy, the subject of many online rumors.

"We are not anti-taxidermy," Owens said. "It comes back to, 'How do you differentiate yourself?' If every outdoor store is filled with taxidermy, how different do they look?”

A smaller player with Twin Cities ties sure to feel the impact of Cabela's is Joe's Sporting Goods in Little Canada.

“They have beautiful stores... we welcome them into the area,” said Jim Rauscher, whose grandfather founded the store. Rauscher and his brother, Joe, are third generation here.

Joe's has its roots in St. Paul;  the first store was on Dale, an old car shop run by their grandfather that started selling bait 84 years ago.

Today, they focus on fishing, hunting, skiing, camping, kayaking and one-on-one personal service.

“We still have our core customers that have been loyal Joe's customers for many, many years, and we feel we will keep our customers,” Rauscher said.

The Oakdale Fleet Farm is also less than 10 minutes from the new Cabela's. Paul Erickson is the store manager, and he says Brainerd-based Fleet Farm is about a lot more than just outdoor gear.

“Our customers know us for a very well-stocked, priced sporting goods department,” Erickson said.

Price may be Fleet Farm’s path to surviving Cabela's invasion. That's good news for people like Tom Isley, who see the variety as a win-win.

“I like Fleet Farm," Isley said. "It's the man's mall. I like Gander Mountain and I like Cabelas... all three of them."

Brennan agrees: the winner here will be Minnesotans; more variety, more competition, better prices. 

But can they all survive? Is the market saturated?

“If we're not saturated, we're certainly coming very, very close to being saturated,” Brennan said.

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