Before the retail industry conceptualized "entertainment retailing," Bass Pro Shops debuted its Outdoor World national headquarters showroom in Springfield, Mo. Opened in 1981, it is now Missouri's No. 1 tourist attraction, with more than 3.5 million people a year visiting the four-story waterfall, wandering streams, natural rock formations, two-story log cabin with working water wheel and trout pool, and Wildlife Museum.
The 170,000 sq. ft. superstore features two restaurants, a barbershop, a 140,000-gallon aquarium system, indoor shooting facilities, and a 250-seat auditorium and conference room for fish feeding shows and workshops.
Fishing tackle, shooting and hunting equipment, camping gear, boats and marine accessories, recreational vehicles, taxidermy studio, cutlery shop, rod and reel repair, gifts, outdoors-related books and videos, wildlife art gallery, nature center, sportswear and footwear - all can be found in Outdoor World.
In addition to a 110,000 sq. ft. expansion now under way, a $40 million, 70,000 sq. ft. American National Fish & Wildlife Living Museum and Aquarium is planned adjacent to the Springfield facility. The state of Missouri will provide more than $12 million in grants and loans and another $9 million in tax credits. Other funding will come from an increased Springfield tourism tax and a sales tax at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World.
According to Dave De Cou, development director of Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, the tax is not expected to impact sales significantly. "The museum is going to be a world-class, world-recognizable space dedicated to hunters and fishermen worldwide," he says. "The museum will bring activity to Springfield that would not have occurred otherwise."
Fisherman Morris Also helping to fund the museum is the company's owner, John L. Morris.
While still a business and economics student at Drury College, the bass fishing enthusiast asked to stock new lures and high-tech fishing equipment in his father's Brown Derby liquor store. In 1972, his father co-signed an inventory loan and gave him an 8-foot display area. The stock was stored in a U-Haul trailer.
In 1974, Morris published his first catalog, containing about 1,500 items. The 180-page book sold for $1 and was distributed in 20 states. Today, 36 million catalogs featuring more than 30,000 items travel around the world.
In 1975, Morris established American Rod & Gun, a wholesale company serving independent sporting goods retailers. More than 7,000 sporting goods stores in the United States and several foreign countries now stock Bass Pro Shops products.
Morris, who is still very active in the business of Bass Pro Shops and its numerous corporations, partnerships and offshoots, recognized early the value of horizontal integration of products.
In 1978, he began selling Tracker Marine aluminum bass fishing boat packages, which contain boat, motor, trailer and an assortment of accessories. The line has expanded to 150 boat models, including other fishing boats, pontoon boats, houseboats, saltwater boats and high-performance fiberglass Nitro fishing and ski boats.
Angling in new markets In his first move outside Springfield, Morris opened Bass Pro Shops Sportsman's Warehouse in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth, Ga., in 1995. To test the market, explains Larry Whiteley, corporate public relations manager, the 90,000 sq. ft. store was designed as more of a warehouse-type facility than the Springfield showroom but does feature an interactive environment.
Following the Atlanta success, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World opened in November 1997 in Dania (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), adjacent to the $25 million national headquarters, museum and fishing hall of fame being built by the International Game Fish Association on land donated by Bass Pro Shops.
Also in November 1997, a 140,000 sq. ft. prototype store opened at Gurnee Mills north of Chicago. "It includes the best of our design elements," says De Cou. "It is very attractive, very comfortable."
Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World plans to open two to three stores a year over the next five years, says De Cou. The company anticipates exploring the West and Southwest for additional locations - probably after another four to five years in the East.
As of now, grand openings are planned for Dallas, Auburn Hills (Detroit), Concord (Charlotte, N.C.), Houston and Orlando. An additional store is planned for the $200 million Opry Mills in Nashville for the year 2000.
Researching the waters Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World tries to make each store a regional attraction with its own special design characteristics. "We want people to stop at all our stores," says De Cou, "because there is something different about each store."
Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World is interested in placing stores in major metropolitan areas with at least 2 million people within an hour and a half drive. Before selecting a city, the company researches the number of hunting and fishing licenses issued and the number of catalog purchases to verify the market.
It then looks for the highest profile location available in the area - with interstate frontage, high visibility and great access. "We want to show off the architecture and raise the interest of people driving by," says De Cou.
After that, selection of the showroom is developer-driven - who has the most exciting project available.
Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World typically leases the facility as part of a major development. Stores average 150,000 sq. ft. and can be freestanding, in malls or in multi-use developments near hotels.
The great outdoors Consistent with its mission statement, Bass Pro Shops sales associates are knowledgeable outdoor people. Each one is hired for a particular department that matches that person's expertise. The merchandise must also pass muster, with privately branded products tested in the field by Bass Pro Shops' professional teams, Redhead Pro Hunting Team and Tracker Pro Fishing Team.
Morris' plan for entertainment and destination retail, conservation and outdoor education has led to development of the 850-acre Big Cedar Lodge Resort, 25 minutes south of Springfield on Table Rock Lake. Although resembling turn-of-the-century sporting lodges, the resort also includes a par 3, nine-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, stables and trails, a marina, conference center and fitness center.
Every October, Big Cedar Lodge is home to Wonders of the Outdoor World (W.O.W.) Program, a national outdoor recreation and conservation school. The program is held in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Conservation, U.S. Forest Service and Missouri University-Tourism Research & Development Center.
Another development is Dogwood Canyon, a 10,000-acre private Ozark wilderness area on the Missouri/ Arkansas border that is open to the public. Herds of elk, buffalo and longhorn cattle wander the property, which includes a 4.2-mile stocked trout stream (catch-and-release only). Thunder Falls, caves, and memorabilia from Native American cultures and the Civil War offer additional activities.
The brand catches on Bass Pro Shops has explored seemingly every avenue of strengthening its brand name. For example, Internet users can access its website to make catalog purchases, obtain one of several Bass Pro Visa cards, have 24-hour access to hunting and fishing licenses in Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma, get a list of W.O.W. classes and workshops, and learn the latest scoop on sales and special giveaways.
A syndicated radio show, "Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World" with Larry Whiteley, can be heard on 450 radio station in 48 states and 139 foreign countries. A magazine of the same name is available by subscription and at newsstands throughout the country.
Further defining the Bass Pro Shops brand are the Fall Hunting Classic and Spring Fishing Classic. The events are essentially trade shows with manufacturer and service booths, professional sports persons, demonstrations, hot air balloon rides, NASCAR race cars and thousands of dollars in prizes.
"I have been with Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World for eight years, and the Classic is still unbelievable to me," says Whiteley.
In the entrepreneurial spirit, John L. Morris has built an integrated enterprise - providing worldwide access to merchandise, opening factories and stores, using partnerships when expedient, acquiring products and companies as needed, and yet staying true to the Ozarks culture of outdoor life and conservation.