Goosing Gander Mountain: Stores in Pa. and beyond to be rebranded

Firearms sales dropped following the election of Donald Trump.

Tyler James, 18, shops for ammunition for his hunting rifle, saying "everything's so cheap" with Gander Outdoors’ going-out-of-business sales.

Marcus Lemonis, the tough-talking guy who remakes struggling businesses on the reality series The Profit on CNBC, has a new project.

His company, Camping World Inc., bought out Gander Mountain sporting goods stores 2½ months ago and will soon be re-branding 57 of them as Gander Outdoors and Overton’s, the name of the company’s boating business.

Stores receiving the name change include those in Williamsport, Greensburg, York, and Chambersburg in Pennsylvania.

Retail analysts say several factors contributed to Gander Mountain’s demise, including the outcome of last year’s presidential election.

“Gander, which billed itself as America’s largest firearms retailer, likely saw a decline in revenue as firearms sales dipped after the  2016 [presidential] election,” said Edward Dittmer, senior vice president at Morningstar Credit Ratings LLC.

Dittmer said the company engaged in a rapid expansion, going from 118 stores to 162 by March 2017, after going private in 2010. “This likely saddled Gander with a significant debt burden just as one of its largest business lines was sagging.”

Steve Jellinek, also a vice president at Morning Star Credit Ratings, added: “The pullback in firearm sales took a toll on Gander as, under the prior administration, gun enthusiasts boosted firearm sales assuming that Hillary Clinton would take the White House. But with President Trump’s surprise victory in November, gun sales unexpectedly weakened, catching retailers off guard.”

The U.S. government reported a 17 percent decline in background checks in the first two months of 2017, and at Cabela’s, which also trades heavily in firearms, same-store sales fell 9.1 percent in the first quarter of 2017.

Gander stores are 50,000 square feet on average, and the closures will likely leave large holes in retail centers across the chain’s footprint, experts say.

Pam Flora, director of retail research with Cushman & Wakefield, said the re-branded Gander Outdoors will need to differentiate itself from the get-go.

“While Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s have a strong following among hunting and fishing aficionados, Camping World is strong in the RV market,” she said. “This is one area of retail where consumers can heavily research their purchase options online,” so brick-and-mortar stores that offer a memorable experience and expert advice will “bring more people through the doors.”

The closures will mean six fewer stores in Pennsylvania, down from 10. The store in Lower Paxton Township closed last year. There are no Gander Mountains in New Jersey.

The barely nine-month-old store in Warrington – which is slated to close by end of August – is offering 30 percent to 60 percent off most items.

“It hasn’t even been a year so it will be hard to miss it,” said Frank Garvey, 64, of Warrington, who works in road construction, as he shopped for winter shoes and boots Wednesday.

Garvey did lament one thing: “It’s a lot closer than Cabela’s” in Hamburg, Pa.

Several aisles away, Tyler James, 18, picked out two boxes of .243 Winchester 80 grain cartridges at $15 per box after 25 percent off, for his rifle.

“I can’t be too sad because everything is so cheap,” said Tyler, who will be a freshman at Pennsylvania State University in the fall.

Camping World Inc., a subsidiary of Camping World Holdings, operates the largest national network of RV-centric retail locations in the United States, with more than 130 locations in 36 states and an e-commerce site.

In late April, Camping World bought Gander Mountain’s assets in bankruptcy auction for about $400 million.

The company agreed May 5 to acquire all of Gander Mountain’s assets – including all 162 stores. Lemonis said then that his goal was to keep 70 to 75 stores open – contingent upon being able to negotiate acceptable lease terms with landlords.

On June 30, he announced scaling back to 57 specific stores that he said were currently profitable.

That was good news to Laurie and Chris Morgan, both 47, of  Jeannette, Pa., as they looked through the apparel on sale last Fourth of July weekend at the Gander Mountain in Greensburg, just outside Pittsburgh, among those to be re-branded.

“It’s sort of sad,” Laurie Morgan said of the wave of closures this year as online shopping has upended the retail industry. “It’s been one store closing after the other. I hope this makes it.”

Lemonis, who is known for his three-P mantra of right people, product, and process, said he plans to feature Gander Outdoors and Overton’s in separate episodes on The Profit between mid-November and the end of January.

“They have to trust the process,” he said of store owners now under his wing.

And is he worried about the looming mega-merger between Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, which the Federal Trade Commission approved last week?

“Those businesses should be worried about the new Gander Outdoors.”