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Local demand drew Cabela's

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at 6:16 a.m.

Fifty years ago, Dick Cabela just wanted to sell a few fishing flies.

Today, the $2.65 billion company that grew out of his fly collection is planning an 80,000-square-foot store in the Regency Lakes Shopping Center at 21st and Greenwich.

The reason? Wichitans voted with their wallets, said Cabela's CEO Tommy Millner.

"We build our stores where our customers live," Millner said. "We rely on them to tell us, through their support, where to go in the future."

Specifically, catalog and Internet sales figures, along with the company's strong brand recognition in the Wichita area, played a major role in the decision to build the company's second Kansas store, company spokeswoman Kristin Lauver said.

"Our goal is to better serve our customers in the Wichita area by combining our catalog and Internet capabilities with our outstanding in-store experience," she said.

The company typically operates only one retail store per state, so the Wichita move was "quite a milestone," Millner said. Sixteen of the 22 states in which Cabela's operates have only one store.

The Wichita store is scheduled to open in spring 2012.

Regency Lakes was targeted because of its proximity to major highways, Lauver said.

"Historically, Cabela's stores have drawn a lot of traffic from major highways, so convenience for these people is a factor," she said. "The growth in the area is also a positive, as was the support and cooperation we received from the city and the developer."

Roots of the company

The 6,300-employee company got its start at Cabela's kitchen table in 1961, a family touch that Dick Cabela's brother, co-founder Jim Cabela, says has never wavered.

Dick Cabela bought a collection of fishing flies in Chicago, then placed an ad in a Casper, Wyo., newspaper to sell some of them.

He and his wife, Mary, filled enough fly orders from around their kitchen table that it piqued the entrepreneur's interest.

So Dick Cabela began stocking other outdoor recreational items and launched a direct-mail campaign, with his mimeographed product lists.

A year later, the inventory grew to the point that a backyard warehouse. By 1964, the Cabela brothers moved the operations into the basement of the family furniture store in Chappell, Neb.

A year later, the business was incorporated and made the first of two moves into bigger Chappell buildings.

And in 1969, the company moved into a vacant four-story John Deere building near downtown Sidney, Neb., where it now occupies a 250,000-square-foot headquarters.

There's no thought of moving, Jim Cabela said.

"Our roots run deep here. Though we've been courted by other communities, we have never seriously considered relocating the company headquarters," Jim Cabela, who is vice chairman of the company's board of directors, said in an e-mail.

"Sidney has been our home since we moved from Chappell. This is where we got our start, where we experienced tremendous growth, and we have an exceptional employee base here, a family of knowledgeable employees. We would be giving up a lot if we moved from Sidney."

Outdoors first

Cabela's business model has never wavered either, Lauver said. The focus remains on "customers of all ages who share a passion for outdoor recreation," she said.

"We want to be a part of family traditions and the passing down of a rich outdoor heritage to future generations," Lauver said.

That focus also drives the company's hiring and employee retention, Lauver said.

"Many employees are attracted to Cabela's because it's more than a job, it is a lifestyle, an active outdoor lifestyle of hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating, wildlife-watching and so on," she said.

"They are here because it is a lifestyle they want to live and they find they are joining a family of people with the same passions."

Today, the foundation of the company is its catalog business; Cabela's produces almost 100 catalogs a year that go into all 50 states and 125 countries.

Cabela's operates 31 retail stores, with plans to open stores in Allen, Texas; Springfield, Ore.; and Edmonton, Canada; in addition to Wichita.

The company also has announced plans to build another store in Canada in 2012, though the location has not been named.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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