1-Back to nature
As we enter into the later half of the summer, scores of adventurous, and not-so adventurous individuals and families alike will be venturing out into the great outdoors to rough it, head up to the cottage, commune with nature, and generally enjoy outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, hiking, backpacking, hunting, canoeing, and the like.
Cottage on Lac Noir near Chemin des Faucons, Nominingue, Québec
For some, finding a momentary refuge of down-time from the hustle and bustle of city life is a welcome and necessary break from the daily routine.
Central Park viewed from Rockefeller Center Observation Deck, New York City, New York
Inversely, being in the great outdoors, in any and all season and climates, is simply a year-round way of life for others.
Ice Fishing on the Outaouais River near Hawkesbury, Ontario
As such, there is an ever-growing retail presence of stores that offer wares for those that wish to reconnect with, and enjoy nature.
Once the domain of smaller local-focused stores and “pourvoiries”, the outdoor supply store marketplace was geared towards a core group that consisted of what one could sum up as rugged individualists, sportsmen, fishermen, outdoor enthusiasts and survivalists.
Catering to defined consumer groups, small communities and distinct geographical regions, the traditional outdoor supply stores typically offered a selection of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor gear. In order to prosper, these smaller stores had to develop a dedicated following of regular customers, often by stressing the value of knowledgeable experienced staff, as much if not more so, than providing the right equipment at the right price point at the right place.
Dépot du plein air, 8267 Boulevard St-Laurent, Montreal, Québec
Restricted by physical size, and limited in scope, the traditional outdoor supply stores had several markings of a small and limited industry. Difficulty in scaling, multiple small market players, no obvious market leader, and a narrow consumer retail market segment resulted in an industry dominated primarily by small, independent businesses.
Additionally, few of the retailers managed to develop a truly unique built-environment design presence.
Le Baron, 8601 Boulevard St-Laurent, Montreal, Québec
Uninspired, nondescript and indistinguishable from other retailers, outdoor supply stores routinely blend into the retail landscape amongst numerous similar storefronts. Inconceivably, it seems illogical that stores selling adventure-inspired goods and products could adopt such a tepid and muted aesthetic.
However, changes were afoot as the small local market fixated stores began to experience the ascent of the destination-type outdoor supply “lifestyle” stores.
Growing out of smaller operations, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s Incorporated and Gander Mountain Company, Inc., now find themselves at the forefront of the large-format outdoor supply store phenomenon. Individually, each retailer generates in excess of a US$1.0 billion annually (source: wikipedia.org). Comprising three of the most popular large-format retailers specializing in hunting, fishing, camping, shooting, and related outdoor recreation merchandise in the United States, they collectively exert a dominance on the outdoor equipment supply marketplace.
Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 1 Bass Pro Mills Drive, Vaughan, Ontario (source: maps.google.com)
Bass Pro Shops (Side 3/4 view), 1 Bass Pro Mills Drive, Vaughan, Ontario (source: maps.google.com)
Cabela’s (Front view), 4550 King Avenue East, Billings, Montana (source: maps.google.com)
Cabela’s (Side 3/4 view), 4550 King Avenue East, Billings, Montana (source: maps.google.com)
Gander Mountain (Partial front view), 5864 Carmenica Drive, Cicero, New York
This market dominance also affords these retailers an opportunity to directly, and indirectly, influence and even dictate the marketplace.
Bass Pro Shops, 18001 Bass Pro Drive, Independence, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)
Proposing grand, cavernous, massive stores, these retailers are aptly bringing the outdoors to the masses. Operating stores with building footprints in excess of 100,000 sq. ft, 200,000 sq. ft, and up to 300,000 sq. ft, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s Incorporated and Gander Mountain Company, Inc., cast long shadows on their competitors (source: wikipedia.org). The overwhelming scale of these stores simply dwarfs that of the traditional stores in size, as well as depth, and breadth of product offerings.
Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 3629 Outdoor Sportsman Place, Kodak, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)
Bass Pro Shops (Rear 3/4 view), 3629 Outdoor Sportsman Place, Kodak, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)
Sited on large tracts of land, many large-format stores include earth berms, ponds and water features on site. When sited at mall locations, the stores tend to have anchor positions, exterior frontage and reasonably high visibility.
Bass Pro Shops (sire 3/4 view), 300 Cincinnati Mills Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)
Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 3501 Paxton Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google)
Additionally, having to accommodate trailers, boats, and the larger/heavier vehicles needed to tow them, parking spaces, turning radii and drive lanes generally tend to be on the larger and more generous end of the allowable vehicular circulation/traffic design spectrum.
Rather misplaced in the dense urban environment, these mega-stores populate the suburbs/exurbs, and the outer fringes of larger, denser cities.
Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 7777 Victoria Gardens Lane, Rancho Cucamonga, California (source: maps.google.com)
Located within practical driving distances, these stores attract customers in from outlying areas, often times drawing in from denser and larger surrounding population poles.
4-Dramatic and thematic
All three large-format outdoor supply retailers share a similar theme to their building design, liberally applying wilderness/frontier design cues drawn from rugged/harsh, untamed, natural landscapes.
Influences are culled mainly from traditional log construction, log joinery details and frontier-era log houses/cabins and modern-era grandiose and luxurious log/timber-frame mountain vacation retreat lodge.
Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 1356 Bass Pro Drive, Manteca, California (source: maps.google.com)
Bass Pro Shops (Side 3/4 view), 1356 Bass Pro Drive, Manteca, California (source: maps.google.com)
Capitalizing on the imagery and majesty of the great outdoors, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Cabela’s Incorporated’s large-format destination-type stores mimic expansive and opulent log lodges.
Cabela’s (Front 3/4 view), 1 Cabela Drive, Allen, Texas (source: maps.google.com)
Rich in texture and imparting iconic wilderness charm and symbolism, the heavily adorned front-facing log cabin replicas often include ornate wood detailing, rough sawn lumber, covered entries, dramatic roof lines, dormers and gables.
Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 6112 West Grand Avenue, Gurnee, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)
Bass Pro Shops (Side 3/4 view), 6112 West Grand Avenue, Gurnee, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)
Cabela’s (Front view), 101 North Cabela Way, Post Falls, Idaho (source: maps.google.com)
Cabela’s (Side 3/4 view), 101 North Cabela Way, Post Falls, Idaho (source: maps.google.com)
Conversely, Gander Mountain Company, Inc. stores are a bit more subdued, proposing a simpler facade consisting of a lean-to roof structure with small gable. Exterior columns, wrapped to resemble large wooden columns, evocative of traditional post-and-beam construction, enhance the main entrance egress point.
Gander Mountain (Front view), Salmon Run Mall, Watertown, New York
Gander Mountain (Front close-up view), Salmon Run Mall, Watertown, New York
Generally, the bulk of the effort is concentrated on the front facade of the building, with the remaining sides rather bland in décor and enhancements.
Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 323 Opry Mills Drive, Nashville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)
Bass Pro Shops (Side view), 323 Opry Mills Drive, Nashville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)
Impressive in scale, the stores often also features other warm, natural and earthy materials such as brick and stone accents, woods, metal and glass in neutral tones and colours consistent with the wilderness theme.
Built as stand-alone buildings, or as an anchor tenant in a mall development project, the large-format outdoor supply stores convey an unmistakable design language that sets them clearly apart from other more pedestrian retail stores.
Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 11550 Lakeridge Parkway, Ashland, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)
Bass Pro Shops (Rear 3/4 view), 11550 Lakeridge Parkway, Ashland, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)
Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 20000 Bass Pro Drive, Spanish Fort, Alabama (source: maps.google)
Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 20000 Bass Pro Drive, Spanish Fort, Alabama (source: maps.google)
Of note, as the natural landscapes vary from region to region, there exists some willingness to explore and expand the framework of the “wilderness/outdoors” design vocabulary. Not being overzealous in the application of a preset design ethos allows for some level of localization, while still achieving the desired brand look and feel.
Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 4301 Legendary Drive, Destin, Florida (source: maps.google.com)
Although the three outdoor supply store brands have elementally different built-environment design approaches, they all follow a similar “wilderness/outdoors” design direction.
5-Into the great wild open
From outside to inside, the obvious outdoors overtones continue through to the indoor décor. The displays combine an amalgam of colossal log and rock works, taxidermy mounts, museum-worthy wilderness/wildlife scenes, indoor water features, archery ranges, gun libraries and shooting ranges. Additionally, several Bass Pro Shops stores even include restaurants and bowling alleys.
Bass Pro Shops gift cards with outdoors/wilderness inspired graphics
Authentic, realistic wildlife scenes/exhibits can be observed throughout the stores, recreating the outdoors, and presenting them in an approachable and immersive manner. The mystique of the outdoors on display, the store interiors quite successfully double as educational showcases and experiential living natural history pseudo-museums.
View onto the St Lawrence River, Rest Area along State Route 37, Ogdensburg, New York
In an effort to localize the stores, honour the region’s great outdoor heritage and tie into to the specific ecosystem, taxidermy mounts and fish species are typically native and/or indigenous to the local area. Additionally, some indoor aquariums are so generous in size that they can be used to perform educational demonstrations in the proper use of baits.
Creatively transforming their stores into pseudo-museums that also act as tourist magnets, these brands have expanded their potential sphere of influence beyond their traditional market sub-sets of fishing, hunting, boating, atv, camping, hiking, backpacking, and outdoors enthusiasts, to a broader and more mainstream consumer retail market.
Fall foliage, Rest Area along Interstate 81 near Watertown, New York
Merging retailing, outdoor/wilderness education, conservation and entertainment, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s Incorporated and Gander Mountain Company, Inc., have grown from their humble small-scale beginnings to dramatically revolutionize the very essence of the outdoor supply store.
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