Cabela’s doing well, boss says

Mounted on the wall of Jason Hammeren’s office are two unusual office accessories – a pair of Maryland wild turkeys – trophies of a hunt he took several years ago.

Those turkeys are entirely apropos for a man in Hammeren’s job, manager of Cabela’s huge Lacey sporting goods store.

Built in 2007 to resemble a mammoth wilderness lodge of rock and logs, the store at 185,000 square feet has more retail space than the Tacoma Dome has exhibition space.

The store is as much a museum to hunting, fishing and camping as it is a retail establishment. An artificial mountain in the center of the store displays record trophy animals in an alpine atmosphere complete with stream and waterfalls. A display on the store’s balcony exhibits African game.

Beneath the “mountain” are aquariums filled with native Northwest game fish.

From the ceiling hangs a bush plane, and stuffed bighorn sheep guard the balcony.

On the main floor is a hulking Ford pickup truck, a “Cabela’s edition” painted in forest green.

Outside, fishing boats flank the front entrance.

Hammeren, who’s been with Cabela’s since 1998, first in Minnesota, then Michigan and now Lacey, recently talked with The News Tribune about the retail attraction he manages.

The recession hasn’t been kind to the sporting goods business. Just recently, Joe’s Sports & Outdoor began a bankruptcy liquidation and Sportsman’s Warehouse sold off 15 Northwest stores to a Canadian company. How’s Cabela’s faring in Lacey?

We’re doing well. We’ve got a tough economy but it seems like people are still out wanting to hunt and fish and camp. From a lot of reports we’re seeing, family camping is going to be good this year. You might not want to take a flight somewhere because of the expense, but it’s relatively cost effective to take the family camping. We’re doing well.

Cabela’s, with its huge inventory and its in-store hunting and fishing displays, has a reputation as a retail magnet and tourist attraction. Has that proved true in Lacey?

I don’t have a concrete number of the number of customers we’ve attracted. But it’s in the millions. Really from my experience, we see people who will drive 250 or 300 miles. Our nearest store is over in Post Falls, Idaho. That’s a four-and-a-half hour drive east of us.

How has Cabela’s adapted its merchandise mix in this store to suit the Northwest?

All the stores have a mix of merchandise. We change that mix to suit the regional needs. For instance, we’re the first store that had a big need for clam guns and crab pots. They hadn’t needed them anywhere else. That’s merchandise I wouldn’t have sold in the Dundee, Mich., store where I was before.

Did Cabela’s make any mistakes in the initial stocking for the Lacey store?

We had some issues not carrying enough salmon and steelhead merchandise when we opened. We turned that around pretty quickly. We also stocked some ice fishing merchandise that we didn’t really need here.

What’s selling well now during the recession?

Fishing and hunting and firearms are all doing well.

How much of that firearms business is being driven by the fear that gun laws may become more restrictive under the new administration?

Firearms and ammunition sales are on the rise, but I can’t really say why. We do hear from a few of our customers who say they’re concerned about the gun laws.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663">