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Store design makes waves for Bass Pro Shops


A $20,000 boat normally doesn’t qualify as an impulse item, but that could change considering the tantalizing fashion in which the category is merchandised at Bass Pro Shops’ newest store in the Dallas area.

Located along the western shore of Lake Ray Hubbard, the store is designed in a way that makes customers who aren’t already boat owners want to become boat owners, and makes customers who are consider trading up. Architects and merchants involved in the creation of this store understood they were working with a special piece of real estate and took full advantage of the waterfront location.

Although not readily apparent upon entering the store’s upper level, as customers move toward the interior they are treated to a panoramic view of the lake through floor-to-ceiling windows that extend across nearly the entire eastern exposure of the building. The view of the shimmering lake is suitable for a postcard, but once customers arrive at the landing on the mezzanine level, the picture is completed: An assortment of 20 different boats comes into view with the lake in the background. To reach the vessel of their dreams, customers descend twin staircases that circle past waterfalls and around a swimming pool-size aquarium, allowing prospective boat buyers just enough time to fantasize about skimming across the lake in a gleaming new bass boat or cruising the shoreline on a pontoon boat before they reach the sales floor.

The indoor boat showroom at this location, east of Dallas, is clearly a high point, but it is hardly the only example of merchandising excellence on display from a company that continually finds new ways to raise the industry’s merchandising benchmark. From an overall design standpoint, Bass Pro builds earthy stores that lend an outdoor feel to the shopping experience. Materials such as wood timbers, stone and water features are common, as are stuffed animals, artificial plants and artwork with outdoor imagery. The stores stock a dominant assortment of merchandise in core categories such as fishing, hunting and camping, as well as footwear, apparel, home decor, boating and marine accessories.

BASS PRO SHOPSSource: RT estimates based on company researchFor fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2006
HEADQUARTERSSpringfield, Missouri
2006 SALES$3.18 billion

Beyond the appealing presentation of products, Bass Pro stays engaged with its customers and gives them a reason to increase the frequency of their visits by offering all manner of activities related to the categories of merchandise it sells. For example, the Lake Ray Hubbard store sponsored a fishing tournament every Tuesday night from May through July. Participants paid $50 to enter, and the person who showed up at the store’s dock with the three heaviest live fish won a cash prize equal to the entry fees paid. Other activities include safe boating and hunting courses, how to skin and clean game, fly tying and GPS classes and even a “Glock days” promotion named after the popular handgun brand.

As if the boats, lakefront setting and cool products attractively displayed in a rustic environment weren’t enough to satisfy its customers, another reason to visit Bass Pro stores can be found in the World Famous Islamorada Fish Company Restaurant. The Lake Ray Hubbard location features a substantial and tastefully appointed 365-seat restaurant with a 125-seat deck area that overlooks the lake. It has hosted wedding receptions and business meetings. Inside, there is a 20-seat bar facing a 13,000-gallon saltwater fish tank where patrons can ponder a possible boat purchase while munching on venison-stuffed mushroom appetizers or macadamia nut-crusted flounder with tropical fruit chutney.

Of course, 365-seat restaurants with custom-built fish tanks, lake-front real estate near urban areas and spectacular store designs don’t come cheap. In addition, many of the products in the hardline categories of merchandise that Bass Pro sells tend to experience slow turns, and the company is challenged by unfavorable trends among its core customer segments.

Those factors, and the investment required to open Bass Pro’s large stores, explain why they aren’t found on every corner: they need to draw from large trading areas to achieve adequate sales volumes. The company ended last year with only 38 stores and this year it is in the midst of its most aggressive expansion to date with a total of 10 new units planned.

The popularity of its stores and the commitment to growth indicate that the company is doing a lot of things right. However, just how effective the company is in its efforts is subject to debate as the privately held company enjoys the luxury of not disclosing sales, profits or any of the other financial metrics used to dissect the performance of other retailers. Then again, such comparisons aren’t valid given Bass Pro’s differentiated brand proposition and unique position in the retail landscape. It has few, if any, peers.

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