Bass Pro Shops, the world’s largest outdoor sports retailer, understands that hunting and fishing aficionados also have a sweet tooth. Amidst gun and archery ranges, stocked rivers and fish tanks as well as hundreds of stuffed game, shoppers find candy and snacks - the perfect impulse buy.

By Bernard Pacyniak

It’s hard for a newcomer not to be overwhelmed when he or she first sets foot in a Bass Pro Shops (BPS) Outdoor World store. Beginning with the grand timber- and rock-lined entrance - typically featuring some kind of cascading water fall - shoppers are treated to a local wildlife safari, a combination of Disney entertainment and outdoorsy retail extravaganza that just doesn’t stop.

With 55 stores scattered across 26 states, and store sizes ranging from 42,000 sq. ft. to 300, 000 sq. ft., BPS Outdoor World shops are a virtual paradise for every wannabe Grizzly Adams or Annie Oakley.

But founder Johnny Morris, who can trace his beginnings to an 8-foot rack in his father’s liquor store in Springfield, Mo., never underestimated the need for fuel (personal fortification, that is) while fishing. Naturally, the ubiquitous outdoorsman’s snack, beef jerky, was always ready at the asking, be it at his dad’s Brown Derby spirits shop or Morris’ first Outdoor World retail shop.

And, as Larry Whiteley, BPS’s communication manager, points out, sweet as well as savory snacks were always part of the wild mix at Outdoor World.

“Since we opened our first store in Springfield in 1984, we recognized the need to give our customers something to snack on while taking in all of the exhibits and activities,” he says.

It’s no surprise then, that the company has - amidst giant aquarium tanks, gun and archery ranges, swift-flowing rivers with live native fish, and hundreds of stuffed wild animals - placed candies and snacks within easy reach of the shopper.

“We dedicate every other register for immediate consumable treats such as candy bars, salty snacks, beef jerky,” Whiteley says. “Additionally, our store design teams have created lots of unique and nostalgic displays where we can really stack out candy, jerky, and salty snacks. These include wagons, carts, and barrels.

“Moreover, we have a dedicated specialty food section located within our gift department that features an array of immediate, as well as future consumable items, including baking goods, batters, sauces, jams and soups,” he continues. “Many of our stores also include a fudge counter where fudge is made fresh daily.”

As a result, candies and snacks represent the largest segment of impulse sales at BPS retail outlets. Whiteley cites two reasons for the demand: First, the unique nature of the product offering inspires a fair amount of impulse purchasing. Additionally, because of the nature of stores, enormous selection and a theatre-like environment, the customer visits tend to be quite lengthy, “which inspires a certain amount of need-based snacking.”

Finally, the company ensures that all registers and register-driven aisles are loaded with candy, jerky, and plenty of salty snacks.

And, while beef jerky ranks high amongst all snacks sold, BPS’s private-label line of bagged candies runs neck and neck with the traditional manly chew. Private-label candy and snack sales, in fact, comprise the largest segment of all confections sold through the 56 stores.

Private label - packaged under the Uncle Buck’s logo - plays a significant role in BPS’s candy and snacks makeup, says Whiteley.

“Uncle Buck was actually a real person,” he adds, noting that it was Buck - Morris’ real uncle - who inspired a love of fishing in BPS’s founder.

That’s not to say that BPS doesn’t carry other confections as well. The company offers a broad range of nostalgic candies, such as divinity fudge, pecan logs, circus peanuts, hard candy, and brittle as well as nostalgic national brand candies such as Valo Milk, Clark Bars, Cow Tails, and Necco wafers, which can often be found in the company’s “General Store” section within many of the BPS stores.

As expected, seasonal promotions also play a role at BPS

“While it is not a huge part of what we offer, we do deliver giftable items at Christmas and Father’s Day, items ranging from nostalgic tins of caramel corn to sauce and salsa gift packs, cocoa and baking mixes,” Whiteley says. “Plus, we really have a fun array of Christmas-themed items in our Santa’s Wonderland area. Additionally, we will flow seasonally appropriate candies such as jelly beans in spring, saltwater taffy in the summer, candy corn in the fall, and assorted Christmas candies in December.”

To emphasize the experience of shopping at BPS, the company also provides a broad range of events at each store, ranging from fly fishing lessons and instructions on how to use a GPS system to guest appearances by professional anglers and hunters and assorted family-themed promotions, such as an Easter egg hunt.

As Whiteley asserts, “Family and children are very important to us. We look for opportunities to teach them our love of the outdoors by creating several family-friendly events each year. These include a family summer camp, which is a fun way to expose families to camping, fishing, hiking, and all things outdoors, including S’mores making. During this event, we give away tens of thousands of S’mores.

“At Halloween we offer a safe, fun trick-or-treat experience complete with free photo-ops with the Great Pumpkin,” he adds. “Kids dress in costume and trick or treat throughout the store. Santa’s Wonderland, our largest store experience, features several thousand square feet of Christmas activities, featuring a free 4x6 photo with Santa Claus. Free cookies and cocoa are a key element of this experience.”

Although gifting items don’t play a major role in candy and snack sales within the retail environment, they are a factor in the company’s mail-order sales, be it via catalogue or on-line, particularly during seasonal time slots.

Given that BPS’s growth initially stemmed from its mail-order catalogue business first, the company continues to emphasize that segment of the business as well. A glance at the company’s website reveals a broad range of individual and gift snack items.

But despite a sizeable selection of candy and snacks available in retail and mail-order, BPS does not have a dedicated candy/snack buyer.

As Whiteley says, “We have one buyer for all food. We are a one-stop shop.”

New products, which Whiteley says are key to driving growth for candy and snack sales, are introduced via samplings and pricing promotions. The company also recognizes that there are opportunities for its line of private-label products beyond BPS outlets.

“To date, we, along with our distribution partners, have had success selling Uncle Buck’s beef jerky and snack sticks to convenience stores and grocery chains,” say Whiteley.

Clearly, shoppers and visitors to BPS have bought into the company’s bait and sweet philosophy.

At a Glance
Bass Pro Shops
Headquarters: Springfield, Mo.
Employees: 18,000
Retail stores: 55
Sales: $3.65 billion (Forbes magazine estimate for 2009)
Founder: Johnny Morris