Bringing the outdoors in: National outdoor retailers converge on greater-Chattanooga area

Bringing the outdoors in: National outdoor retailers converge on greater-Chattanooga area

August 17th, 2014 by Alex Green in Business Diary

Americans spend $646 billion a year on outdoor recreation. Trendy sports like paddleboarding and kayak fishing are seeing significant spikes. Above, stand-up paddleboarders compete at RiverRocks on the Tennessee River.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

Bass Pro Shops in East Ridge along I-75 is set to open in 2016.

Gander Mountain, located in the Hixson Walmart shopping center, is set to open September 2.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Cabela's is set to open August 21 in Acworth, Ga., 80 miles south of Chattanooga.

Bass Pro

New Location: East Ridge along I-75

Store Size: 85,000 square feet

Targeted store opening: 2016

Company history: Started in 1974, based in Springfield, Mo.

Number of stores nationwide: 85

Gander Mountain

Location: Hixson Walmart shopping center

Size: 50,000 square feet

Opens: Sept. 2

Company history: Started in 1960, based in St. Paul, Minn.

Number of stores nationwide: 127

Cabelas

Location: Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., behind Costco

Size: 70,000 square feet

Store opens: Fall 2015

Company history: Started in 1961, based in Sidney, Neb.

Number of stores nationwide: 50

Cabelas

Location: Acworth, Ga., 80 miles south of Chattanooga

Size: 100,000 square feet

Store opens: Aug. 21

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

This must be hunting territory.

And fishing, boating, trapping, Carhartt- and camo-wearing, rugged outdoor and lifelike decoy country.

Because the biggest names in outdoor outfitting and retail are clamoring to get in here, even if it means rubbing elbows with the competition.

Which they're willing to do, obviously.

This year, Gander Mountain, Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops announced stores either in Chattanooga, or in its immediate perimeter.

And that's on top of a handful of outdoor retailers already in the city and surrounding area.

St. Paul, Minn.-based Gander Moutain struck first, of the newcomers. The franchise is opening a store next month in the empty storefront at Hixson's Oak Park Town Center formerly occupied by Old Navy, which moved to Northgate Mall this year.

The Hixson store is Gander Mountain's fourth location in Tennessee. Jackson, Nashville and Knoxville already have Gander Mountain stores.

Gander Mountain officials say the store will create 50 to 70 new jobs, up to 30 of which will be full-time. Gander Mountain received no tax incentives for coming to Chattanooga, and the chain is privately-owned and does not release financial information.

"We generally do not seek or accept money," said Jess Myers, a company spokesman. "This is in sharp contrast to other major outdoors retailers who routinely accept millions in public money."

He said Gander Mountain's interest in Chattanooga was "independent of the practices and locations of any competitors."

Meanwhile, two of Gander Mountain's biggest competitors -- Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops -- are following close behind.

Cabela's -- based in Sidney, Neb. -- announced earlier this year that in 2015 it will open its first store in the greater-Chattanooga area, behind Costco Wholesale alongside Interstate 75 near Fort Oglethorpe, just south of the Georgia-Tennessee line.

Cabela's received $1.5 million in taxpayer support for the construction of its store, to be paid back out of its estimated $750,000 a year tax revenue, over seven years. Cabela's officials said the store will employ around 140 people.

And next week, Cabela's is premiering a 100,000-square-foot store in Acworth, Ga., a town just north of Atlanta and about 80 miles south of Fort Oglethorpe.

When both stores are completed, Cabela's will bookend the drive between Atlanta and Chattanooga on Interstate 75 -- a stretch of road that averages 91,540 cars daily near the state line and 220,037 nearer Atlanta, according to 2013 Georgia Department of Transportation numbers.

Which isn't lost on the competition.

In June, the latest big outdoor box arrival, Bass Pro Shops, threw its cap into the mix, announcing its intention to build an 85,000-square-foot store in East Ridge. The new store along I-75 is bound for completion sometime in 2016.

In the news release announcing the store, company officials specifically cited traffic volumes along the interstate, which near Exit 1, sees an average 92,517 cars daily, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

The East Ridge Bass Pro Shops store is expected to produce $2 million in tax revenue annually, one of the conditions of its consideration to be a major economic development qualifying East Ridge to get tax breaks under the state's Border Retail Tourism Development District package, intended to keep major developments inside Tennessee lines.

In turn, the Bass Pro Shops development gets $5 million in taxpayer support, which is over time paid back using the extra sales tax revenue allotted to the city's industrial development board under the border region program.

The Bass Pro Shops franchise, headquartered in Springfield, Mo., is currently adding three stores in Tennessee, doubling its Volunteer State store count and lifting Tennessee up to a shared third place for states with the most of its stores.

There are 14 Bass Pro Shops in Florida, seven in Texas, six in Missouri and will be six in Tennessee by 2016.

Bass Pro has three stores in Georgia, with another in the works for Emerson -- a little town about eight miles north of Acworth, home of the Cabela's store opening next week.

A growing trend

It shouldn't be surprising to see America's big outdoor retailers showing up in force around here, or anywhere for that matter.

The industry's exploding.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, consumer spending on outdoor recreation reached $8.2 billion last year in Tennessee alone. In Georgia, consumers spent $23.3 billion.

And nationally, Americans spent $646 billion on outdoor recreation.

"Consumer purchasing is at an all-time high," said Lorna Caputo, market insights manager at OIA.

Consequently, there are now 6.1 million jobs directly related to outdoor recreation. Tennessee has 83,000 and Georgia has nearly 231,000.

More people are going out and taking up outdoor activities than ever before in this country.

According to OIA, nearly 143 million Americans participated in at least one outdoor activity last year, with trendy hobbies like paddleboarding and kayak fishing seeing significant spikes.

Millenials, too, are having an impact, said Caputo.

The generation of 13- to 30-year-olds seems to enjoy activities like paddleboarding and other things considered "not traditional."

They're helping drive retailers to carry outdoor gear and accessories for their favored activities, and in some cases, their favorite colors.

"The outdoor industry is reacting to consumers' demands for more fashionable clothing," she said.

And with a little help from pop culture, clothing and gear traditionally associated with outdoor activities is already fashionable in some circles.

"You got Duck Dynasty, you got all the different reality shows on TV now," said Kristi Manning, of Carter Shooting Supply. "And all these revolve around hunting, camo and beards."

Carter Shooting Supply no longer carries clothing and accessories because it can't compete with big-box store prices, said Manning, who runs the store alongside her husband, Richard.

Manning said she was shocked to hear that Gander Mountain, Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops are all coming here.

"It scares me a little bit," she said.

Carter has done well despite other relatively new competitors like Dick's Sporting Goods, Academy Sports + Outdoors, which came to Chattanooga in 2010, and Sportsman's Warehouse, which came to the city in 2006.

She says the gun range has been a lifesaver -- even wooing a handful of Academy gun sales staffers out and becoming a favorite, and recommendation, of theirs.

Manning said Carter Shooting Supply will dig in and hang on in the face of new, steep competition. She said there's enough of a loyal base to sustain the business.

"Your trustworthy ones always come back," she said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.