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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why Cabela’s Is Coming to Erie (and other news)

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 30, 2013.)

Road trip to Cabela’s? We can do this year’s Christmas shopping there because Cabela’s is finally coming to northwest Pennsylvania.

Cabela’s has announced plans to build a store in Erie, on the hill above the Millcreek Mall overlooking Interstate 79. Barring any disruption to its plan, it’s expected to be open by Thanksgiving.

Cabelas will be going head-to-head 
with Gander Mountain in those small markets.

Now that Cabela’s has placed huge stores in strategic locations all across the country, the giant sporting goods retailer is shifting its strategy to enter smaller markets. That’s good news for local Cabela’s shoppers who live a 4 to 5 hour drive from the nearest store, whether it’s in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, or Wheeling, West Virginia, or Dundee, Michigan.

The Erie Cabela’s will be a smaller-format “Outpost” store, reflecting Cabela’s new strategy in areas populated by roughly 250,000 people, with a high concentration of hunters and fishermen.

Cabela’s Outpost in Erie will be approximately 43,000 square feet. Their big stores are several times that size, but sales per square foot and profit per square foot in other new Outpost stores are running 30% to 40% higher than in their super-sized stores. That’s a lot, but the big stores have lots of square footage devoted to huge taxidermy displays, dioramas and aquariums, where the sales per square foot are virtually nil.

Cabela’s CEO Thomas Millner says the Outposts will also feature new store technology with “an innovative, flexible floor plan, which will provide our customers an ever-changing visual look at the center core of the store, complemented by a revolutionary digital signage concept.”  Customer experience will definitely be different from the big stores, but the Cabela’s brand will remain prominent.

A few readers might remember that back in 1999 Cabelas bought Gander Mountain’s mail order business – a deal which included a no-compete clause – and Gander Mountain became a small market retain chain. Now, Cabelas will be going head-to-head with Gander Mountain in those small markets.

The competition will likely be good for hunting and fishing consumers who shop the chain stores, but lots of smaller businesses fight for those customers, too. So unless locally owned sporting goods stores in the markets Cabela’s is entering have a unique niche with some kind of specialized expertise, or a devoted customer base, they may face some challenges.

What else is news? Harrisburg’s big Eastern Sport Show will be back.

Most sportsmen know the 58th year of Harrisburg’s big sport show was canceled. Explanations have been confusing and insufficient, but aside from possible lawsuits that’s all water under the bridge now.

Although the 2013 Eastern Sport Show never took place, its prospects for 2014 are bright. According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners anted up $58,000 to reserve the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex for next year’s show, so the show is on for 2014.

Who will run it? Who will sponsor it? What might change? No one knows. But everyone – from those who shared in suffering the $80 million loss the show’s cancellation caused, to those who welcome the cabin fever respite the show offers – can thank the Dauphin County Commissioners for their foresight and action.

One more thing. Comcast, the cable company which was the only major sponsor of the Eastern Sport Show that didn’t pull out, has been pulling TV ads of companies that advertise guns. Not “assault rifles,” but common bolt action hunting rifles. It happened to an Athens, Georgia pawn shop and a few other stores.

The company explained that since the tragic December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Comcast no longer permits anyone using its services to advertise firearms. Comcast, part of NBC Universal, says it adheres to NBC standards.

Some are calling this censorship, but Comcast is a private company, and has a right to allow or prohibit the advertising of legal products of any kind. So, censorship is the wrong word.

The right word is hypocrisy – unless Comcast and NBC are planning to stop broadcasting violence involving firearms. Gun companies are often accused of being all about money, but the money flowing into the pockets of Remington, Winchester and other gun makers is pennies compared to the money the entertainment media makes by featuring the misuse of guns.


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