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Cabela’s founder passes away at 77


Richard N. Cabela, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the $3.6 billion chain of 50 Cabela’s stores, has died at his home in Sidney, Neb.

Cabela served as chairman of the board until June 2013, when he transitioned to chairman emeritus and Jim Cabela became chairman. Cabela and his wife, Mary, and brother, Jim, founded Cabela’s in 1961. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and their nine children and their families, as well as two sisters and three brothers.

“Dick and Jim made it possible for sportsmen and women to get quality outdoor products no matter where they lived,” said Tommy Millner, Cabela’s CEO. “They weren’t the first to offer outdoor goods through the mail, but nobody did it better or with more care about providing customers a good value for their money. Outdoorsmen and women have lost a true friend, a man who improved their lot by putting them first, by working to provide what they wanted and needed for their hunting and fishing adventures. He pushed for research and development in every outdoor field.”

According to Millner, Cabela always looked out for the customer and if he couldn’t find a vendor to provide what he wanted, he pushed Cabela’s to design and make it. Because of that passion, the Cabela's brand and its products are iconic throughout the world, Millner said.

“The outdoor industry has lost an innovative thinker and a tireless supporter of wildlife and habitat conservation; the business world has lost a true original, who built a business model that will be studied and emulated for years; a man who, through perseverance and hard work, achieved the American Dream,” Millner said.

That dream began in 1961, when Cabela purchased $45 worth of hand-tied fishing flies while in Chicago on a furniture and housewares buying trip with his father for the family’s Chappell, Neb., furniture store. With the flies not moving off the store shelf, Cabela came upon the idea of selling them through the mail, according to the company. His first ad, in a Casper, Wyo., newspaper, produced one sale. Rethinking the sales strategy, Cabela placed an ad in Sports Afield magazine that declared, “FREE introductory offer!!! 5 popular Grade A hand-tied flies. Send 25 cents for postage and handling.” Orders started coming in and Cabela’s wife Mary typed the names and addresses of each customer on recipe cards and placed them in a shoebox. Realizing the potential for mail-order sales, Cabela purchased more fishing gear and he and Mary produced a three-page mimeographed catalog which was mailed with each order.

From those origins and a dedication to serving customers outdoor needs, along with operating some pretty spectacular stores, Cabela’s grew to become a $3.6 billion company with a worldwide catalog and Internet business and 50 stores in the United States and Canada.

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