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The Cabela’s store of the future might look much different from today’s: Think more rock climber than deer hunter.

So called blood sports, such as deer and pheasant hunting, might not be as popular with up and coming shoppers the all important millennials as with past customers, retail watchers say.

That could leave Cabela’s stores out of style and with declining sales, even though the retailer, based in Sidney, Nebraska, still is popular with the baby boomer set, which hasn’t turned its back on hunting and fishing.

As a Wall Street investor that scooped up a big stake in the company continues to press for change, might Cabela’s find itself swapping out some of its taxidermy animals for biking shorts and yoga pants?

Andrew Burns, a research analyst with DA Davidson Co. who covers Cabela’s, told The World Herald that the company could capture a bigger audience and start reinventing its image if it shifted some focus from hunting and fishing sports that, like golf, aren’t necessarily attracting millennials to camping, hiking and kayaking.

“There’s just two camps of outdoors, and they don’t mingle very well,” Burns said. “You either view the outdoors as an opportunity to participate in blood sports or you view it as a very outdoor granola hiking camping” experience, he said. Right now, some analysts say, Cabela’s is missing out on much of the second group.

Before the New York hedge fund that took an 11 percent stake in Cabela’s announced its purchase in October, the Sidney retailer’s stock had fallen 37 percent in 2015. It was under pressure from several factors, including:

Some industry watchers say the outdoor retailer, like many others, has struggled to make a compelling case to a new generation of shoppers.

Most recently, when the company released its third quarter earnings, comparable store sales were down 4.2 percent over the same quarter a year ago.

The apparel sector took an especially big hit. Chief Executive Tommy Millner at the time blamed unseasonably warm weather, but Burns said it was likely that competitors were taking a bite out of the retailer as well.

Among other issues, too many shoppers simply didn’t like the assortment that Cabela’s had to offer, Burns said. The company needs to expand assortments in the modern brands shoppers want and those aren’t focused on blood sports: North Face, Columbia and Under Armour. “These are growth brands,” he said.

Cabela’s didn’t comment for this story. The company previously has said it’s undergoing a “strategic review” often Wall Street speak for selling itself or part of itself.

In October, the New York hedge fund, Elliott Management Corp., declared it had purchased an 11 percent stake in Cabela’s. The “activist” investor in the 1980s they were called corporate raiders said it would press for big changes in Cabela’s to juice its stock price. Elliott,
the north face hoodie sale Is it time for Cabela's to reinvent its image
too, didn’t comment for this story.

Even though its core retail business is challenged, two other parts of Cabela’s are seen as good performers by Wall Street analysts: its attractive real estate portfolio, valued at around $1.5 billion, and its money making credit card business.

Those two parts could be what attracted the hedge fund: Elliott could hit a big payday if it can push Cabela’s to carve off one or both of those units into a separate entity.

But the retail stores are the company’s reason for existence, and there’s an opportunity for them to improve their showing, analysts said.

[More coverage: New Cabela’s investor pushes for big change]

The company started as a catalog business, trade that is now migrating online. The original stores often secluded “outposts” that draw from large areas are going by the wayside for smaller format stores, about 70,000 to 100,000 square feet.

The company operates 77 stores throughout the United States and Canada.

And even as Cabela’s struggles with certain segments of its sales, the outdoor retail sector is growing while many others are shrinking. That means there still is opportunity for Cabela’s. It might require changes to the brand, the marketing, and in store and online assortments, experts say, but with changes the hunting and fishing giant could continue to grow.

Matt Powell, senior analyst for sports with NPD Group, said the outdoor industry is split into two groups: “One pejoratively called ‘tree huggers,’ those who want to experience and share the outdoors. And then the hunt/fish group.”

Although there is some overlap, he said, “they really are two separate industries,” and most retailers at least emphasize one over the other.

One can find ultralight backpacking products at Cabela’s and RV camping gear at competitor REI.

“They look very similar at first glance, but they’re coming at it from two very different angles and there are plenty of REI consumers who would never under any circumstances set foot in a Cabela’s,” Burns said.

Powell said hunting and fishing require a lot of time and money, two things millennials don’t have. Meanwhile, camping, hiking and kayaking are on the rise among the younger generations, largely driven by the growing interest in health and wellness.

And the health and wellness craze is seeping into general retailers, not just specialty ones, said Leon Nicholas, senior vice president of consulting firm Kantar Retail.

“They’re just becoming much more part of mainstream retailing,” Nicholas said of outdoor products. Under Armour, for example, makes clothes that 20 years ago would have been for elite athletes and marathon runners. Now they are for “virtually everybody.”

That’s upping the competition for companies like Cabela’s. It’s all the more reason why the retailer might want to expand its offerings to focus on a more holistic outdoor “lifestyle” beyond hunting and fishing,
the north face hoodie sale Is it time for Cabela's to reinvent its image
Nicholas said.