Updated: November 20, 2013 at 12:58 am
When outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops opens its Colorado Springs store this week, expect thousands of people to be waiting in line - including some who will have camped out for days.
"That doesn't happen with a J.C. Penney," said Gary Erickson, developer of the Copper Ridge at Northgate retail complex, on the Springs' far north side, where Bass Pro has built its first Pikes Peak region store.
Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro doesn't just draw casual shoppers who might want the latest outdoor gear. With large selections of merchandise, instructional classes and special features such as bowling alleys and aquariums, Bass Pro Shops draws people from neighboring states, not just nearby neighborhoods. The chain says its customers typically stay for 2 1/2 hours and average a more than 50-mile drive to reach a store.
"It's got a cult following, for lack of a better term," said Patrick Kerscher of national real estate firm CBRE Inc. "The folks that are into the fishing and hunting and that world, it's their mecca."
Bass Pro is expected to become a big fish that will have a ripple effect on Colorado Springs' retail scene. It will lure other stores and restaurants to Copper Ridge, although experts say it also heats up competition with national and regional chains, as well as mom-and-pop stores.
"It's a store we don't have," said Sierra Commercial Real Estate broker Mark Useman. "And it's going to draw other retailers we don't have."
More than a shop
Like other Bass Pro locations, the 120,000-square foot Springs store - roughly twice as big as the city's only Sportsman's Warehouse - will sell equipment and apparel for camping, hunting, fishing and boating.
Shoppers can take part in workshops, watch equipment demonstrations, dine at a 450-seat restaurant and bowl at a 16-lane bowling alley.
The store's footprint and windows were designed to showcase mountain views. Inside, Bass Pro artists spent weeks hand-painting sprawling murals on store walls, depicting their visions of Colorado life - including a majestic scene of Garden of the Gods.
In another area of the store, bighorn sheep, goats and other wildlife stand on a mountain ledge, overlooking a Seven Falls-inspired waterfall that empties into a 27,000-gallon aquarium filled with a dozen species of fish.
"They've got entertainment-type things in there that are significantly different than just a big Sportsman's Warehouse-type store," Useman said. "They make it a more family-oriented type of environment that's going to draw the whole family to come there for more than just an hour. They're going to come there for half a day. Consequently, they're going to buy more things."
Chris Koeninger, who came from a Bass Pro store in suburban Tulsa, Okla., to be general manager of the Springs location, said the retailer seeks to have features and activities for everyone - whether they come to shop or not.
Early spring classes will include fly-fishing lessons for parents and children in an outdoor pond. Camping and boating events will serve as primers for adults and kids. Summer events for children will include lessons on archery, building a safe campfire and tracking animals.
The store will have about 450 full- and part-time employees.
"The goal for us, for families that know Bass Pro and don't know Bass Pro, is to give them a reason to come," Koeninger said. "Even if they don't buy anything, even if the intention is not to buy anything. It's to give them a good experience that when they leave, they actually come out with something tangible."
5 restaurants on the way
Bass Pro is the lone anchor so far at Copper Ridge, which Erickson envisions as a 2 million-square-foot retail complex that will include an enclosed mall and outdoor lifestyle center. But Bass Pro is showing its drawing power.
Five restaurants are either under construction or planned at Copper Ridge, including Bourbon Brothers Southern Kitchen, scheduled to open in January, C.B. & Potts and an Asian restaurant and sushi bar.
"Not one of them would be here if we didn't have the carrot of Bass Pro," he said.
Bass Pro also might be the spark that ignites movement on a hotel and water park at Copper Ridge. A developer has bought land for the project from Erickson, but it's still in the planning stage.
"The presence of Bass Pro will help get the hotel across the finish line," Kerscher said.
Competition heating up
Bass Pro's arrival will be watched closely by competitors.
Utah-based Sportsman's Warehouse likely will see an impact on its sales, Kerscher said. On the other hand, Dick's Sporting Goods, a national chain with two locations in the Springs, probably wouldn't be affected as much because it sells more sports equipment and apparel, he said.
David Leinweber, owner of Angler's Covey, a fly-fishing store on Colorado Springs' west side that's been in business since 1981, said he's been girding for the arrival of Bass Pro - or Cabela's or other big-box competitors - for years. In general, mom-and-pops that face off against national retailers try to emphasize what makes them special - promoting their knowledge of the region and providing quality customer service the big guys don't tend to offer.
Leinweber said he's counting on that as Bass Pro opens.
"The guy that's buying for this store lives in Missouri," he said. "He doesn't know fishing the Arkansas River, or the South Platte River or Spinney Mountain Reservoir. He doesn't know the latest trends, the latest things that are going on."
Not only do Angler's Covey employees know the sport, equipment and trends, but they're trained as professional guides who can take fly-fishing enthusiasts on Colorado rivers, Leinweber said.
But even before Bass Pro announced it was coming, and with Sportsman's Warehouse in town, Leinweber said he changed marketing strategies. His store began promoting the sport of fly-fishing over the sale of products.
"Our focus is now more on helping people get out and go fly-fishing," Leinweber said. "If we can get more people fly-fishing, then we believe we'll have more customers."
To that end, Angler's Covey conducts free classes on fly-fishing basics every Saturday from May through September, while partnering with national fly-fishing outfitter and retailer Orvis, which has endorsed the store as a location of fly-fishing experts.
Leinweber also launched "business on the river," a program that encourages businesses to entertain clients or conduct staff team-building exercises while fishing.
The Angler's Covey website, meanwhile, lists places to fish around Colorado and contains information on how to hire a guide, obtain one-on-one lessons and the like.
"Even if a big box comes in, they may actually help motivate people to go and do the sport," Leinweber said.
"If they do that, we'll be the expert that helps them learn how to do the sport. And hopefully, within that exercise, we will make a relationship with them and perhaps a loyalty that will have them choose us over a big box."
BASS PRO opening: AT A GLANCE
Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro Shops opens its first Colorado Springs store at the Copper Ridge at Northgate retail center, southeast of Interstate 25 and North Gate Boulevard. The address is 13012 Bass Pro Drive. The opening takes place over several days:
A store kickoff takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and other company officials will attend.
The event includes Bass Pro's "Evening for Conservation," in which local conservation groups and agencies will set up booths and displays to generate awareness about their efforts and local projects. In addition, 50 cents of every $1 spent at Bass Pro during the event will be donated to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's "More Fish" campaign.
Celebrities scheduled to appear and sign autographs Wednesday evening include Willie Robertson, one of the stars of the "Duck Dynasty/Buck Commander" television show; Ty Dillon, who drives the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Silverado in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series; Richard Childress, president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing; and Edwin Evers, a champion pro angler in the Bassmaster elite bass fishing tournament series.
The official grand opening runs from Thursday through Sunday. Experts on fishing, hunting, boating and more will be available to talk with customers. Manufacturer representatives also will be on hand to answer new product questions. Gifts will be available from Thursday through Sunday for the first 200 people in line each day. The store opens at 8 a.m. Thursday, 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. Sunday.