By Ray Gildow
The recent news that Gander Mountain, a St. Paul based company, is filing for bankruptcy is very alarming to those of us who work in the sporting industry. Gander Mountain has 162 stores in 27 states. Most stores have 20-30 full time employees and 20-30 seasonal and part-time employees. The company currently employs 1280 full time employees. The plan is to close three stores in Minnesota, plus others, and to then put the company on the open market and look for a buyer.
Sports Authority, another national sporting goods chain, closed 450 stores last year and MC Sports, a 70-year-old privately held sporting good business also closed 66 stores last year laying off 1,300 employees. There have been eight or nine smaller sporting goods retailers that have also filed for bankruptcy in the past two years. The trend may not be ending. Fourteen percent of all retail operations being monitored in February, 2017, were deemed to be in distress. That report includes national brands like Sears and Kmart.
These traditional retail stores are running into major competition from emerging online powerhouse retailers like Amazon and Zappos as well as Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, two businesses working on merging.
The obvious impact of closing these stores is the loss of jobs for all the employees. The not so obvious impact is the loss of business for the long lines of manufacturers of the goods that are stocked in these stores. Can you imagine producing a line of fishing rods or rain coats and suddenly loosing 500 outlets for your products? There is no way to immediately recover from a loss of that magnitude. We see the loss of jobs at the store, we don’t always realize there is a loss of jobs at the plants where they make the products.
Another impact in the communities where these stores have been located is the loss of financial and product support for activities like golfing, fishing, hunting and water sports. Most of these companies have always been ready to help when community groups come to them for donations of dollars or equipment. That support will no longer be there through the online retail operations. Smaller retail businesses also help when they can but they typically just don’t have the resources to make continuous donations on a large scale.
For those of us who work in the industry we have seen this change coming for some time. On the fishing side, many of the old big name tackle companies are gone or have been sold and gone through name changes. The same is true for rod and reel companies. This trend is showing no signs of slowing down.
With all the bankruptcies, the sporting goods industry is experiencing the biggest change in modern history. It is not a good change but one that seems beyond the control of the average shopper. It is important to remember that we all lose whenever a sporting goods store is forced to close its doors!