An “Only in America” Retail Experience

Posted on Posted in Store Design

More than just a “Wow” factor, Cabela’s has what Bob Thorn* once memorably termed the “O.F.F.” – the Oh F*** Factor. Walk into one of the “world’s foremost outfitter’s” 40 megastores across the US and Canada and your reaction is likely to be just that – “Oh F***” – for a number of reasons.

I came across Cabela’s this January during a trip to the United States. The store I visited was in Tulalip, about an hour north of Seattle, and it made an imposing statement on the landscape by the side of Interstate 5. Roughly 10,000 square metres in size, the store is equal parts retail destination, hunting lodge and amusement park.

A massive stone fireplace with generously proportioned leather armchairs dominates the entry. Beyond the portal lies every red-blooded redneck’s dream – acres of huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ gear, complemented by two 25,000+ litre aquariums, an indoor archery range, displays of over 200 stuffed animals, a fudge shop, a deli and a boat showroom. About 300 employees are on hand to serve passionate customers who “are known to travel hours and even take mini-vacations to visit”, according to the store manager.

Cabela’s checks every box in the retail experience handbook – it is seriously impressive, engaging, informative and entertaining in a way that online could never hope to be. In the fishing zone alone, there are thousands of rods and associated accessories, and regular store events like fly fishing demonstrations. And the locals absolutely love it. But from the perspective of a visiting Australian, it all got just a little weird and a little worrying the more I explored the store.

In the “Bargain Cave” at the rear of Cabela’s I noticed a discounted crossbow. I then came across Cabela’s famous “gun library”, filled with “the finest new and used firearms”. In the apparel area, I noted “field-tested, field-proven Baby Berber Camo Clothing”. Yes, that’s right, you can outfit your toddler in camouflage gear for your next hunting trip.

Now, with all this, you may think that Cabela’s doesn’t support gun control, in a country bruised and battered by numerous recent massacres. Well, it depends upon how you define it. According to the slogan on a sold-out t-shirt on Cabela’s website, “a solid grip and a steady trigger squeeze are key to good gun control”!

So Cabela’s is very NRA friendly, but in an effort to somewhat retail responsibly, a sign on the door at the exit of the Tulalip store states that “ammo purchases are limited to 10 boxes per customer”.

In 2011, Dick Cabela, one of the eponymous founders said that “we’re not selling medicine, we’re selling fun. And it’s fun stuff to have, fun to do.” While he’s not talking specifically about firearms, that’s 20% of Cabela’s business. And while Cabela’s is undeniably a great retailer, it might be time to question the role of guns in their retail mix, even while millions of Americans still fervently protect their “right to bear arms”.

To quote the title of a new book by the founder of US organic grocer Whole Foods, this is (or should be) the age of “Conscious Capitalism”. And it ‘s up to all retailers to regularly review and question the merchandise they sell, and the way in which they sell it.

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