If you want to get a good feeling for the state of nation, visit a Cabela's store. Headquartered in Nebraska, Cabela's brands itself as the World’s Foremost Outfitter® of hunting, fishing, camping and related outdoor merchandise. Although I did not visit my first Cabela's retail store until 2011, when I started a side-business in the outdoor sports and recreation industry, it turns out that Cabela's and I go way back. The company was founded and I was born in 1961.
The signature, large-format Cabela's retail location, exceeding 150,000 sq. ft. and topping out at an outdoor orgiastic 247,000 sq. ft., is a giant wonderland of guy gear: firearms and ammo, fishing tackle, hunting and camping gear, and everything else to outfit a red-blooded, meat-eating (hoofed, winged, or scaled; it's all good), freedom-loving, conservative-minded guy or gal (think camo apparel with pink accents).
Wander the floor of a large-format Cabela's and gain insight into the troubled psyche of that most fragile of species, the endangered American Male. Picture for yourself a male consumer under constant attack for his political views, his recreational pursuits and his purchasing habits. That's the Cabela's customer. That's the guy who works for a living, pays taxes (grudgingly), believes in the Second Amendment as written, and takes American Exceptionalism as a given.
I am am a business owner and investor. I am always looking for indicators of how industries and companies are doing, and where they seem to be headed. On my recent visit to the Cabela's store in Rogers, MN, I had the impression that in-store traffic was lighter than I recall from previous visits to other Cabela's locations. Oh, sure, customers are buying the usual guns and ammo (it is, after all, prime hunting season), but there's a sense of buying while under siege, before the gate comes down on what still remains for law-abiding citizens a relatively and appropriately unfettered process for purchasing firearms and ammo.
An inveterate country-of-origin label checker, I was not surprised, but was still annoyed, that Cabela's branded apparel is largely "Fabrique en Chine." Yeah, I get it. Lower manufacturing costs help Cabela's to keep a lid on retail prices, but, come on, Cabela's executives. Get with the new program. Get off the globalization bandwagon and get behind your country! Make stuff here! People will pay more to buy American, provided manufacturers don't screw-up the quality. Got it? Good. For me and, I suspect, many of my fellow Cabela's patrons, tramping through the Great American Outdoors while sporting camo gear made in China just doesn't cut the Jack Daniels Mustard.
What else did I observe? The Cabela's retail environment seems a little tired. Not wrong, but, in need of new energy. No more resting on what has always worked. Out with the folksy, in with the fabulous. Update the home furnishings department's offerings and displays. Amp-up the old-staple lifestyle offerings (foods, confections, home decorating). Revamp the in-store dining experience (make it more energetic and inviting). Re-imaging under-performing floor space (does that shooting gallery really generate sales?)
Guess what? I am not the only one noticing that Cabela's could be doing better, given its proven appeal as a retail destination. Cabela's stock has under-performed. Sure enough, on October 28, just days after my recent store visit, Cabela's stock jumped 19% after Elliot Management disclosed an 11.1% stake in CAB and said the investment firm would seek talks with Cabela's board about strategic options, including a possible sale. This makes sense to me. Cabela's has a great franchise, but could use a little kick in the camo pants. To which I will add that a better economy and a Republican President would help.