New Gander Outdoors stores dial back focus on hunting, shooting

Gander Outdoors prioritizes fishing, outdoor recreation over its historical focus on hunting and shooting sports. (Photo: Gander Outdoors/Facebook)

Leadership at Gander Outdoors told investors last month the refurbished retailer will prioritize fishing and outdoor recreation over its legacy of hunting and shooting sports products.

The former Gander Mountain chain began reopening across the midwest in December — eight months after Camping World Chief Executive Officer Marcus Lemonis bought the bankrupt retailer’s store leases and branding for $38 million.

“As I’ve said many times, we’re being very calculated and disciplined in how we open stores and how we manage this business,” he said during a Feb. 27 conference call with investors. “We are only interested in operating stores that we believe have a clear path to profitability. We’ve aggressively negotiated rents, diversified the mix of merchandise, added a service department and layered out on a number of new benefits and savings to our Good Sam Club for the Gander Outdoors and Overton’s customers.”

Part of company’s new look, however, features a smaller retail footprint with less of a focus on “the historical Gander business” of firearms, archery and hunting, Lemonis said.

“The historical Gander business is really significantly less than it used to be, because we want to be a marine superstar and an active lifestyle superstar as well,” he said.

Gander Mountain, the brainchild of Robert Sturgis, an avid outdoorsman from rural Wisconsin, began in 1960 as a mail-order catalog for other shooting sport enthusiasts. After a 1968 federal law prohibited catalog sales of firearms, Sturgis grew the business to include camping and fishing gear.

Over the years, Gander moved headquarters to Minnesota and, by 2012, had branded itself as “America’s Firearms Superstore,” embarking on an aggressive expansion campaign to open 60 new locations across the country — a move Lemonis said ultimately led to the company’s downfall.

“I spent a day talking to a number of store managers and customers who have said that the current most recent management at Gander got really away from its core customer and really bet a $100 million on guns and was wrong,” he told investors in May. “Terrible, terrible inventory, terrible overhead, and candidly they didn’t need 160 stores.”

Gander Mountain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections in Minnesota court on March 10, indicating its intention to shutter 32 stores in 11 states and liquidate more than $500 million worth of assets.

After the April 28 auction, Lemonis wasted no time revamping the company — changing its name and crowd-sourcing a new logo within six weeks of taking over. He told investors last month Camping World Holdings hopes to open 72 new Gander Outdoors by June, including the 11 already up and running.

“The most important thing for us in this Gander Outdoors opening process was to get it right the first time,” he said. “And so many retailers are in such a hurry to open stuff that they end up signing up for leases that they shouldn’t, taking on product that they shouldn’t, opening at the wrong time, hiring staff that they shouldn’t.”

“I was very clear with everybody that 2018 was the year that that was all going to get built and that I expected ’19 to deliver real results,” he added.

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