Vada Mure walked into the new Gander Mountain store just west of Tampa, grabbed the first official-looking employee he could and just told them over and over, “Thank you for opening here.”
He’s an outdoorsman at a near fanatic level and probably spent $4,000 last year online on hunting and outdoor gear. “Now I can just come here. I live right around the corner. It’s beautiful,” he said to store manager Scott Denney, and the two men promptly launched into a 15-minute conversation about the pros and cons of different rifles, ammunition and hunting seasons in different states. “What do you have in muzzle-loading pistols,” Mure asked.
Denney’s reply, “You know, if we don’t have it at the store, I can get you anything made.”
Pure hunting fanatics such as Mure are the core customers of Gander Mountain, which had a soft opening this week of its location at 11655 W. Hillsborough Ave., just south of Westchase. A grand opening is set for Nov. 22, complete with appearances by alligator-hunting TV celebrity Troy Landry.
But how does Gander Mountain compare with the growing field of other sporting goods stores already here or coming to town: Sports Authority, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Shops and, maybe, eventually REI and Cabela’s? And we should keep our eye on another entrant, Academy Sports + Outdoors, which already is huge and expanding in Florida, too. So, as a pre-holiday service to you, dear reader, we’ve walked a bunch of these stores, price checked, scouted their inventory and assembled an Almost Totally Official Sporting Goods Store Review By The Tribune. Since there’s a lot of overlap, I’ll mainly focus on the differences.
Let’s start with:
Who is this store for: Hunters, gun enthusiasts, campers and anglers. Here camo is the rule, not the exception. Really, 9 out of 10 customers I saw on the store’s second day in business were wearing camo clothing. Yes, the store has a few running shoes, but not many.
Examples, please: Fully one-third of the 30,000-square-foot store is devoted to firearms of some type. Rifles, shotguns, pistols, safes and motion-sensing game cameras. There are seven aisles of ammunition. Seven. And around the corner is a whole area for wild game “processing”: knives, sausage-grinders, dehydrators, spices, meat slicers, (wild hog pastrami, anyone?), smoking chips and “casings” to make hot dogs and sausages. We counted more than 1,000 fishing rods — saltwater and freshwater, fly and non-fly — and dozens of sonars to mount on your boat. There are no ball sports items here, but they do have a wide selection of camo fleece jackets for women.
Prices: Will match prices at stores within an hour, and websites of direct rivals, i.e. not eBay or Amazon.
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Who is this store for: All-around athlete and outdoors enthusiasts. Luxurious in-store design with something for anyone, in large varieties.
Examples, please: The shoe department would rival the size of a CVS and includes a mini running track. The hunting area is three times that size, with firearms and things such as a 17-foot-tall two-person Comfort Zone tree stand. There are a dozen kayaks hanging from the ceiling. The outdoor sports area has wide variety — for instance, a section just for Frisbee disc golf. The softball area has displays of women’s chest guards for $59, and there are six kinds of ping-pong tables, more than 100 bike types, and 18 treadmills and elliptical machines. An oversimplification, but rather than have six running shirts of the same size on the same rack, Dick’s will have five brand varieties in six different colors.
FYI: Dick’s has locations in places such as Citrus Park and Brandon but is building a massive, huge, expansive two-story flagship store attached to WestShore Plaza mall, set to open in 2014. (It’s the former Saks Fifth Avenue space.)
Prices: Will match prices at local stores. No official policy of matching websites of direct rivals.
Who is this for: All-around varsity athlete and serious fitness trainer interested in product, not retail flash.
Examples, please: The store design takes cues from The Home Depot. Here, there are racks of product. Besides a small selection of fishing poles, there is pretty much no hunting area. But there are racks of running shoes stacked to the ceiling, and 30 different kinds of baseball pants, ranging from Little League sizes to grown-ups. “I come here for the clearance rack in shoes,” said Marti Machado, who needs a new pair every two months. He’s into fitness. He makes his kids do 15 pushups every time they go to the bathroom. “Some weeks they’ll have nothing on clearance; then the next week they’ll have tables stacked high with everything on clearance.”
Prices: Will match prices of local, direct rivals. Officially, that must be printed ads, but I once found something there priced at $12.99 that sold for $9.99 at Dick’s. When I used my phone to show a store manager an item on the Dick’s website, they matched the price and took an additional 10 percent off.
Bass Pro Shops
Who is this store for: Some people would rather go hunting or fishing than to Disney World. This *is* their Disney World. Bass Pro is targeting a site in Brandon for a colossal store.
Examples, please: When complete, the store will stretch to twice the size of the average Publix and include giant aquariums, a restaurant, bowling alley and pond outside to test various boats. Bass Pro positions itself in marketing as a destination store that attracts people from 100 miles away to stay for the day.
Prices: Will match prices of competitors on ads that “are current, dated and nationally advertised,” not including “closeouts, clearance items, inventory reductions, special buys, discontinued, or reconditioned merchandise.” Will not match Internet-only merchants or membership-club store prices.
REI, Cabela’s, Academy, etc.
Who is this store for: Patient people, because they’re not here — yet. My real estate contacts are working on deals and scouting sites for potential REI’s and Cabela’s, but nothing is imminent.
Examples, please: REI is very much an upper-tier outdoor, hiking, fishing and mountaineering retailer with a world-renowned return policy. Please don’t abuse it, but REI will take back anything for nearly any reason at any time. Here, you’ll find backpacks you can take up to the peak of Mount Everest and sleeping bags thick enough so you won’t freeze, plus skiing gear to zip back down. When you’re not climbing the Hillary Step, REI has outdoor fashion wear so you can look like you could bust out and hike any second, plus high-end bikes for triathlons. REI even organizes extreme travel, like climbing Mont Blanc and scouting the Galapagos Islands. (There’s a location in Jacksonville if you want a peek.) Cabela’s is a direct rival of Gander Mountain, so, see entry above, plus potentially more gear for decorating your whole house in a “Duck Dynasty” theme. Lodge-genre quilts even.
It would also behoove us all to keep tabs on a relatively new name in Florida, Academy Sports + Outdoors. It’s essentially everything at Dick’s Sporting Goods plus everything at Gander Mountain plus a whole lot else. They already have 170-plus locations nationwide, including three near Jacksonville and one in Tallahassee. In 2011, they were acquired by the private equity firm KKR.
So, if you visit any or all of these stores, let me know what you think. We’ll be covering their development for many years. Meanwhile, here’s other retail, restaurant and trend news from around town, and there is a lot going on with the holidays coming up:
The Think Pink holiday shopping expo starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. It’s a huge event around Global Entrepreneurship Week, and much of the proceeds will go to scholarships for young women to pursue entrepreneurship in college. The event is part professional mixer and part shopping event, with dozens of vendors such as Invitation Consultants, Lulu Grace Salon, Holly Jean, Kelapo Coconut and Painting With a Twist. I suggest registering in advance at workingwomenoftampabay.com.
For fans of the indie retailers, the Shopapalooza is the event of the year not to miss. It’s set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at South Straub Park in St. Petersburg. Expect more than 125 local business exhibitors plus a beer garden. It’s organized by the LocalShops1 collective of indie stores that offers great membership cards for discounts across town.
For the artsy crowd, the Tampa Museum of Art will host a holiday shopping event from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday featuring jewelry by artists such as Meredith Haws and Westshore Diamond Co.plus photography by Stephen Bivens. For details, tampamuseum.org.