Maybe it’s unwise to take a store the size of a typical Best Buy and stock it almost exclusively with guns and ammunition.
Last spring, Minnesota-based outdoor gear retailer Gander Mountain launched a large expansion of a new store concept: the firearms super center. The stores—a half-dozen or so, opened in the Midwest—stood out because they were big (30,000 square feet) but more importantly because they sold guns, ammo, a range of gun accessories and gun-related gear, and little else.
At the time, the nation was still reeling in the aftermath of the Newton shootings, when gun sales were surging due to fear that tougher firearm regulations were inevitable, or just because of the simple urge to protect oneself. So the concept of a retail megacenter focused almost exclusively on firearms seemed like it would stand a reasonable chance of success.
“Taking a whole store and devoting it to guns is fairly radical but, from a business standpoint, it makes sense,” one retail analyst told the Columbus Dispatch in early 2013, around the time two Gander Mountain firearm super centers were opening in Ohio.
Lately, however, gun sales have been tanking. In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that in the further quarter of 2013 sales declined by 10% at Cabela’s, a direct Gander Mountain rival, largely due to a falloff in demand for guns and bullets. Cabela’s CEO referred to the previously soaring gun sales as a “bubble” triggered by the 2012 reelection of President Obama and a series of high-profile shootings, it was a bubble that had apparently burst. Sales were down 50% during the first month and a half of 2014 compared to the same period a year prior, which was just after Newtown, and Cabela’s has forecast subpar sales going forward. Likewise, background checks have fallen sharply in recent months, indicating that the once-frenzied pace of gun sales had subsided significantly.
Lately, Gander Mountain has been undergoing major remodeling initiative, and the result is that its firearms super centers now sell a lot more than firearms and directly related gear. A grand reopening of a super center in Grandville, Mich., takes place this weekend to introduce a new “flex” retail concept, in which there’s still a focus on firearms, but in which many aisles will also offer camping, fishing, boating, and other seasonal gear, as well as outdoor and active fashion apparel. A similar remodel, with a influx of new non-gun products, took place a month ago in a Gander Mountain near Toledo, Ohio. A company representative told the Toledo Blade that both the “flex” and firearm super center models were doing well, but that it made more sense to broaden the range of products at several stores.
It’s unclear to what extent, if at all, the larger nationwide gun sale slump played a role in Gander Mountain’s decisions to play down its focus on firearms. By some account, the remodel initiative has been in the works at least since last fall, before the most dramatic falloff in gun sales had become glaringly apparent.
Surely, the move is an effort by Gander Mountain to expand its customer base, in particular to reach younger consumers, including women and those who are fit and fashion conscious. In a recent tour of a new Gander Mountain store opened in the St. Louis area—the first in Missouri, and one of 23 new locations planned for 2014—company president and CEO Mike Owens explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the rows of brightly colored running shorts and T-shirts and apparel from Under Armour and other popular brands should make it apparent the store isn’t just for hunters and gun enthusiasts. “In a typical outdoor store, you’ll see a lot of black and gray,” Owens said. “We’re trying to attract men and women and, really, any active person.”