Outdoor Catalogs…They’re Not What They Used To Be!

This weekend I was forced by family to come up with a Christmas list.   It seems, or so they claim, that I am getting harder and harder to buy for every year.   No…it is not that I am so particular about what I get as a gift…quite the contrary, they all seem to tell me that I have everything I need and/or if I want something I usually buy the item before they get a chance to do so.

Well, naturally the catalog I grab first is the Cabela’s which just happened to be on top of the pile (well, okay…maybe it was a few layers deeper…but it was near the top).   Anyway, I begin perusing this catalog and it looks almost like a high-fashion catalog.   It’s not the catalog filled with fly-tying materials and ice fishing equipment I once remembered as a kid.   Come to think of it, hardly any of the catalogs I remember from 25 years ago resemble even in the slightest manner what the company once promoted.   No doubt about it there has been a big evolution with the purveyors of outdoor equipment.

Are you aware of the very popular and chic (is this term still used?) store called Eddie Bauer?   Browse their catalog today or better yet walk into one of their mall stores and you hardly feel a hint of the outdoor spirit left with this company.   But do you remember Eddie Bauer when it used to be an outdoor store even selling trapping supplies?   Well, those days are long gone I can assure you.   But Eddie Bauer was once a trapper who became famous for manufacturing and selling the first-ever quilted goose down garment.   Later the company made popular the bomber style jackets each lined with a natural fur collar.

Of course, today you would never know the humble origins of this store began with an outdoorsman specializing in expedition equipment.   No, today after selling out to owners who eventually ended up being General Mills, this company no longer targets sportsmen…instead, the emphasis is on casual lifestyle apparel targeting women.   Oh my goodness is poor Eddie rolling in his grave right now looking down and seeing what happened to his old store.   Surprising?   Well, we should have seen it coming, way back in the 70’s the store’s management shocked the outdoor world by banning all garments that contained fur…and soon one thing led to another.

There used to be the big three in the outdoor gear market.   Sure, Cabela’s has always been a favorite out of Sidney, Nebraska…but there was also Gander Mountain out of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin and Herters out of Waseca, Minnesota.   Each of these three stores has undergone considerable change over the decades.
Herter’s, for instance, was out of business for several years until a business in the Twin Cities bought the name and operated it as a companion store with Northern Hydraulics.   In recent years, this operation has failed and type in Herters.com today and you will get none other than Cabela’s web site.

Gander Mountain discontinued its catalog operation years ago after reorganization.   Today, Gander Mountain is still a vibrant outdoor retailer but you must visit the store to make your purchase.   Still, of the big three retailers, I’d have to say that Gander Mountain has maintained its long-standing, down-to-earth, sportsman’s image better than the rest.

Sure, there are many other good outdoor retailers such as Sportsman’s Guide, Dunns, Bass Pro Shops, Nite Lite, etc….but none of these carry the retail clout as does Cabela’s.   Over the years Cabela’s has evolved as an outdoor retail giant with a growing presence throughout the country.   Still, as much as Cabela’s has maintained the sportsman’s flavor, it has also recognized that perhaps others in the household make the buying decision as much as sportsmen do.

Indeed, as I peruse the new, modern Cabela’s catalog trying to build my Christmas wish list part of me still longs for the catalogs of old.   Oh how life back then seemed like such a simpler time…no decision on whether I should ask for a coat with Gore-Tex or Dry-Plus (neither existed)…or if I should ask for a new GPS unit (technology not available to consumers)…or if I should ask for an ATV accessory of some type (who had even heard of ATVs 25 years ago?).   Indeed, one can only imagine what changes are in store for the next 25 years when it comes to shopping for our favorite outdoor gear.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.