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It's Not The Size Of The 'Big Box"

5/07/2012 08:52:00 AM

My last post was only one of many similar recently debating the role store size plays in a retailer’s financial performance. If you missed that, let me summarize my position: It’s not the size of the box, but rather what you do with it.Sometimes it helps to put aside everything you think you know and look elsewhere for inspiration, and what could be more different from CE retail than outdoor gear retail? Things like guns, bows and arrows, canoes, boats, fishing and camping gear, and the clothes that go with all that.

Just as with CE, outdoor retail ranges from “small box” to “big box” — in fact, boxes so big as to make CE’s biggest boxes look a bit puny. Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shop Outdoors are at the big-box end of outdoor gear retail, and while not every community has one, if you spend any time driving on an interstate, you may have seen one or more of these behemoths.

Consider some of the numbers associated with these two increasingly head-to-head competitors:

• Bass Pro Shops has 50 retail locations in 26 states plus Canada.

• Cabela’s has 34 locations in the U.S. and Canada, mostly in the Midwest, West and South.

• Stores range from 40,000 to 330,000 square feet for the large “destination stores” now being opened by both chains.

• Each location averages more than 2,000,000 visitors per year, per store, with Bass Pro Shop’s flagship Springfield, Mo., store attracting more than 4,000,000 shoppers per year.

• Back in 2002, prior to the introduction of even larger stores, Cabela’s reported that the time a shopper spends in their store averages 3.5 hours. Bass Pro Shops said that 80 percent of their shoppers average more than three hours, with 10 percent staying all day.

• Each produces or sponsors original outdoor programming seen by millions of outdoor enthusiasts on cable and satellite TV.

They are called “destination retail” for good reason and certainly not just because they are big. “How to” seminars for adults and kids, seeing the more than 10,000 live fish in the 1.7 million-gallon indoor aquariums, using the indoor rifle/pistol and bow and arrow shooting ranges, or dining at what are really good full menu sit-down restaurants are the reasons millions of people spend tens of millions of hours and billions of dollars at these stores each year.

But they weren’t born big. Cabela’s began life in 1961 when Dick Cabela decided to sell 12 hand-tied fishing flies for $1 in a Casper, Wyo., classified newspaper ad. Bass Pro Shops said their 1971 beginning was 8 square feet of fishing tackle in the founder’s father’s Springfield, Mo., liquor store.

Could it be that big-box outdoor retail does better than big-box CE retail because more people want to buy guns, canoes, and fishing poles than they do TVs, AVRs and computers? Probably not, but even so while most estimates of “outdoor gear and clothing” sales are greater than equivalent numbers for total “consumer electronics,” much of what is included in the outdoor estimates is not even carried by Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s.

No, I think it’s more a case of them just doing a much better job of getting a lot of people who would never otherwise think of visiting an “outdoor” retailer to visit their stores, and in that there is a lesson for all CE retailers.

Whether it’s fishing poles or tablets, camo hunting blinds or 3DTVs, you can’t sell someone if you haven’t first given them a reason to visit you. And these days, that takes much more than deciding which product to sell or the size of the box to put it in.

William Matthies is the CEO of Coyote Insight (www.coyoteinsight.com) and can be reached at wmatthies@coyoteinsight.com or at (714) 726-2901. Visit Business Wisdom at http://businesswisdom101.blogspot.com/

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