Few, if any, businesses today survive the kitchen-table dreams of their founders, especially in the outdoor industry where businesses come and go with the changing seasons. Yet, the leader in the outdoor equipment business has done just that - survived, grown and prospered from simple beginnings to become the largest mail-order, retail and Internet outdoor outfitter in the world.
Cabela’s, the World’s Foremost Outfitter of hunting, fishing and outdoor gear, was born somewhat inadvertently in 1961 when Dick Cabela came up with a plan to sell fishing flies he purchased while at a furniture show in Chicago. Upon returning home to Chappell, Nebraska, Dick ran a classified ad in the Casper, Wyoming, newspaper reading: "12 hand-tied flies for $1." It generated one response.
Undaunted, Dick formulated a new plan, rewriting the ad to read "FREE Introductory offer! 5 hand tied Flies….25c Postage….Handling" and placing it in national outdoor magazines. It didn’t take long for the orders to begin arriving from sportsmen and women around the country.
In typical direct-mail style, each order was mailed out with a mimeographed catalog of outdoor items Dick and his wife, Mary, added to their product line. In the beginning, Dick and Mary ran the business from the kitchen table of their home in Chappell.
Initially, Dick and Mary were able to handle the growing business with the help of temporary typists hired for mail, label and catalog preparation. However, by the fall of 1962, they realized the demands of their new venture needed full-time attention. Dick urged his younger brother Jim to join the new company, which he did in 1963. Neither Dick, Mary nor Jim took any salary from the company in those early years. Instead, they invested in more mailings, new equipment and bigger facilities.
By 1964, continued success and growth demanded a bigger and better location. The operation was moved from their kitchen table to the basement of Dick and Jim’s father’s furniture store and then on to various buildings in Chappell. In 1969, Cabela’s was operating in a 50,000 square-foot vacant John Deere building in neighboring downtown Sidney, Nebraska.
Nearly 30 years later, in January 1998, employees moved out of the original Sidney headquarters building into a new 120,000-square-foot world headquarters. The two-story building, which is large enough to fit a football field on each floor, houses offices for nearly 500 employees. But even that facility was quickly outgrown. To accommodate the increased growth in all areas of the company, construction of a new, state-of-the-art addition more than doubling the size of the world-headquarters building was completed in the summer of 2002.
The foundation of the company is its world-famous catalog business. The company produces more than 76 different catalogs per year, including specialty books focusing on such outdoor pursuits as archery, fly-fishing and boating, as well as massive 500+-page Spring and Fall Master catalogs. Internationally known as a source of affordable, high-quality outdoor equipment, Cabela’s catalogs are shipped to all 50 states and 120 countries. More than 120 million catalogs are mailed each year with demand continuing to grow.
Cabela’s retail division operates popular destination stores throughout the country. As much wildlife museums and education centers as retail stores, Cabela’s showrooms provide a truly unique shopping experience.
After years of offering the best equipment and clothing to their customers, Cabela’s expanded their horizons by researching and recommending the best outdoor outfitters. In 1985, Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures was born and has grown steadily since to become the World’s Foremost Hunting and Fishing Consulting Agency. Voted Best Hunting Outfitter in the Robb Report’s Best of the Best in 1999, Outdoor Adventures works hard to help customers book world-wide hunting and fishing trips of a lifetime.
With its Internet department growing by leaps and bounds, Cabela’s has seen sudden growth in a new frontier. Besides the thriving e-commerce side of www.cabelas.com, which went live in 1998, the web site features a continuously updated content site, community pages, company information and catalog requests. Visitors to the site can also sign up for The Cabela’s Connection e-mail newsletter, informing them of new products, special offers and general outdoor news.
To provide support for their co-branded credit card, which was started in 1995, Cabela’s chartered the World’s Foremost Bank, in 2001. Headquartered in Sidney with operations in Lincoln, Nebraska, the bank provides customer service, risk management and payment processing exclusively for Cabela’s Visa cardholders. The Cabela’s Visa card allows consumers to earn points back from all their purchases, which they can apply toward their next purchase at Cabela’s.
Filling catalog and Internet orders, as well as keeping the retail stores well stocked with merchandise, is the monumental task assigned to employees at Cabela’s massive distribution facilities in Sidney, Neb,; Prairie du Chien, Wis. and Wheeling, WV. Several other Nebraska communities have also benefited from Cabela’s expansion with customer relations centers located in Kearney, Grand Island and North Platte and a returns facility in Oshkosh.
Cabela’s Cabela’s Outfitter Journal magazine and television show further enhance the company’s brand image and provide the public with two entertaining and educational ways to experience what Cabela’s is about. Both media outlets provide sportsmen and women the opportunity to learn what the outdoors has to offer through top-quality production and informative features from the nation’s most knowledgeable outdoor journalists and personalities.
Cabela’s success hasn’t gone unrecognized, as evidenced by the number of commendations and awards bestowed upon the company in recent years. In 2001, the Cabela’s Catalog was ranked as the fifth most popular catalog, behind such direct-mail giants as J.C. Penney and Sears, in a Consumer Shopping Survey administered by Catalog Age magazine. Recent awards include: ShotBusiness magazine’s 2002 Retailer of the Year; Sporting Goods Business magazine 2002 Specialty Retailer of the Year and BizRate.com 2001 Circle of Excellence Award for outstanding web site performance over the holiday season. In addition, Cabela’s employees were instrumental in naming the company one of the Top 100 Companies to Work For in Forbes magazine’s January 2000 issue.
Yet another chapter in the company’s history began June 25, 2004, when Cabela’s "CAB" made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange.
Despite the accolades and growth, Cabela’s continues to embrace the original philosophy that the customer is No. 1 - a philosophy instilled by company founders Jim and Dick Cabela. This dedication to the customer is just one of many reasons Cabela’s is what the family always knew it could be - a dream come true.