Say what you will about our challenging climate: Minnesotans love the outdoors. And nowhere is that love more evident than in the popularity of the World’s Foremost Outfitter, Cabela’s. Sixteen years after beginning its national retail expansion in rural Owatonna, Minnesota, Cabela’s opens its fourth brick and mortar Minnesota store May 15, 2014 in Woodbury, just east of St. Paul. Currently 54 stores strong and coast to coast, stretching into Canada and Alaska, Cabela’s plans to open 14 stores this year, and 20 more in 2015. For 16 years and over 20 new store openings in 12 states, Cabela’s has taken KA along for the adventure.
For the uninitiated, Cabela’s is a sort of Disneyland for sportsmen and women. Every lodge-like store is stocked with all manner of temptations for lovers of the great outdoors: everything from rods and reels, to hunting and camping gear, to the equipment and seasonings for grilling up your catch and home furnishings that evoke the great outdoors. The atmosphere is further enhanced by nature murals, faux stone columns, hyper-realistic trees, and nostalgic displays of authentic and replica gear: creels, canoes, snow shoes, trophy mounts, and other rustic artifacts. The hallmark of every Cabela’s is the centrally-located indoor mountain, covered in wild game displays.
At 85,000 s.f., the new Woodbury store reflects Cabela’s next generation format, with some added attractions for the eastern Twin Cities metro/western Wisconsin demographic. (As the largest mail order, retail and Internet outdoor outfitter in the world, Cabela’s knows a thing or two about demographics). While more compact than Cabela’s legacy stores (over 110,000 s.f.), the next gen holds almost as much inventory, as most of the décor is elevated and displayed from platforms, trees, or from the ceiling. Other highlights include a two-story walk-through mountain and built-in aquarium stocked with freshwater fish, an extra-robust fishing department, a gun library, archery range, boating department, a new wildlife and land management department, and a two-story fireplace with buttery–soft leather arm chairs for those contemplating their next move. For KA Project Manager Pat Mulcahey, the next move is another Cabela’s project- his tenth.
“The biggest change I’ve seen has been the size of the stores,” says Mulcahey, whose largest store to date has been a 190,000 s.f. Buda, Texas store. (In addition to the next gen format, Cabela’s also has some Outpost stores that are sized around 40,000 s.f.)
“What has stayed the same is the fast-track schedules to get these stores completed,” said Mulcahey. Despite the hard-hitting winter of 2013-2014, the Woodbury store is opening on schedule, he said.
“One area that we’ve improved is better communication amongst the teams working on the Cabela’s,” said Mulcahey. “Right now we have four teams working on Cabela’s. We have two teams doing retail stores, one team doing an Outpost, and one team doing a remodel. We have a weekly call and can give everyone else a heads up if there’s a material supply issue or a change on one project that will be coming to another one,” Mulcahey said.
Another regular on the Cabela’s team is KA Project Superintendent Greg Deppa, whose first project for the client was the 150,000 s.f. Owatonna store in 1997/98. He fondly remembers those early years, getting to know Jim Cabela and then-President and CEO Dennis Highby; and Dick and Mary Cabela, who started their mail order operation in 1961 at their kitchen table, tying fishing flies.
Now with 15 Cabela’s store builds under his belt, Deppa has seen quite a bit of the country, from Texas to Wheeling, West Virginia. He is usually on the project “from the first shovel of dirt to handing over the keys.”
He’s even been called back on remodeling some of the stores he originally built. As primary tourist attractions, Cabela’s draw millions of visitors a year, which takes its toll on carpets, doors, floors, walls, check-out lanes and so on. A recent remodel of the 10-year old Wheeling store was performed in 12 phases over about 10 weeks’ time, working from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and restoring the area to customer-ready at the end of each work night.
The store experience reflects Cabela’s product, and finding quality contractors in each new market is a challenge. “It takes a good interview process,” said Deppa. The KA team comes out about a month prior to construction start to conduct interviews and do background checks. In addition, many of Cabela’s signature elements from the mountain to the faux bark on the trees come from specialty vendors that travel with Cabela’s from state to state.
In addition, while every store is highly branded and designed to give guests a similar experience, there are subtle differences based on region and municipality, says Deppa. “You’ll see the stone work in Texas is more of a dry stack limestone, where in the northern states it is more of a field stone type. And in Woodbury, the store is faced with brick in accordance with the city.”
While the work is uniquely challenging and the schedule can be demanding, the perks of working for Cabela’s are also one-of-a-kind. Among Deppa’s favorite locales so far, the Hamburg, Pennsylvania store is high on the list for its Appalachian beauty. He also enjoyed the relatively mild weather and great fishing in the Kansas City area; as well as the neighboring NASCAR track, where he rubbed elbows with Warren Buffett and Richard Petty at a Cabela’s function. Other highlights include taking a helicopter ride from the airport to the Dundee, Michigan Cabela’s project, accompanied by his son Steven and by legendary University of Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Tom Osborne. In addition, each new store opening provides hundreds of new jobs, and the enthusiasm with which each community greets the new stores is great to see, Deppa adds.
Deppa finishes up construction of the new Cabela’s store in Cheektowaga, New York early this summer, and then immediately digs into another new store project for Cabela’s Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison that will become Cabela’s fourth Wisconsin location. The Sun Prairie store will mark yet another milestone for the Madison-based KA team that manages all KA’s work with the client. Sun Prairie is right in their back yard. Wherever Cabela’s takes him next, it will be “Another Day at the Country Club,” says Deppa.