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Design leads to outdoor adventure at Bass Pro Shops

the first and largest Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World Showroom, located in Springfield, Mo., may be the most visited store in the country. Every year, the 300,000 sq. ft. Springfield showroom attracts more than 4 million visitors, making the store the No. 1 tourist attraction in Missouri, a position the store has held since not long after opening its doors in 1981.

The popularity of the 10 current Bass Pro Shops's Outdoor Worlds may offer a lesson to retailers thinking about retail as entertainment. Despite the tourist appeal of their showrooms, Bass Pro executives do not use the term entertainment-retail in the way it has come recently to be used by the industry. "We do not call what we do entertainment," says Tom Jowett, vice president for design and development of Bass Pro Shops. "We call it an exciting presentation of our product.

"Some retailers create what is described as 'Shoppertainment' with lots of bells and whistles, flashy colors and themed elements," Jowett says. "These elements can attract people, but they are not necessarily meaningful to the product or the experience. They are often only meaningful as attractions with little return on the bottom line."

Bass Pro Shops retailers may not talk the entertainment-retail talk, but they have walked the walk for many years.

Outdoor World Showrooms span 133,000 sq. ft. to 300,000 sq. ft., big by retail standards but designed to be viewed as a composition of smaller interior and exterior parts that make a whole. Showrooms contain one or two aquariums, typically around 30,000 gallons, although there are larger ones in the Springfield store. Most of the stores offer pistol and archery ranges, inside sound-isolated rooms sealed by protective glass. Golfers can practice at an indoor driving range. These ranges are staffed by experts who can talk about sighting a gun or the fine points of a shoulder turn. All stores have fly-tying demonstrations and some even have an outdoor pond for testing fly-fishing equipment.

All of the features provide the opportunity to display the merchandise in use, or in an authentic themed environment in such a way that it engages the outdoor enthusiast. Hungry customers can stop by a rustic wood-crafted Snack Shack set beside a waterwheel or pond and order a hot dog or ice cream.

Some showrooms also provide sit-down restaurants. In the Grapevine, Texas, store, a 500-seat Big Buck Brewery and Steakhouse will feed a legion of families. In Dania, Fla., Bass Pro Shops brought in a local Keys favorite, The Islamorada Fish Co., which has a facility adjacent to the Bass Pro Shops-owned World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada, Fla. In each of these cases, strategic alliances were pursued based on the themed venue. All of the above - food, merchandise testing and themed features - have a common retail goal: longer average length of stay, which has been proven to increase sales volume.

An Outdoor World contains all of the components of what has come to be called an Entertainment Retail Center - retail, amusements and food - all under a single roof. All that is missing from these stores to be considered Urban Entertainment Centers is a theater venue. Then again, the showrooms do offer regular seminars and product demonstrations by regional and national experts. On a given day, for example, a well-known professional fisherman will appear at a showroom aquarium to demonstrate how a new lure works. Crowds gather around the glass aquarium to watch how the lure performs amid regional logs and stone outcroppings set realistically in the base of the tank. The fish, representing species also characteristic of the region, reveal their likes and dislikes as they strike one lure and not another. Shows and seminars cover numerous outdoor topics, from bass fishing through dog training to turkey hunting. And, if customers want to see a movie, at most stores they can walk straight into a mall and go see movies such as "A River Runs Through It" at the multiplex.

Bass Pro executives don't like the term "entertainment-retail" for their Outdoor World Showrooms. Instead, they regard entertainment as a by-product of the merchandising tools the company uses to attract customers. Filling that toolbox are site planning, landscape architecture, architecture, interior design, authentic craftsmanship, authentic regionalized visual displays, thoughtful details and major events. The basic idea is that entertainment is not a prime design goal, but that good design has the ability to meet the desired result of entertainment that connects with customers at a psychological and social level.

Means to an end Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc. has served as the architect of record for Bass Pro's Outdoor World efforts. Generally, the firm's assignment is to transform into reality the Outdoor World design concepts developed by Bass Pro Shops' Design & Development staff, while at the same time enhancing the integrity, flavor and excitement of the original idea. The firm works hand-in-hand with Bass Pro's designers, architects, project managers and craftsmen. These relationships allow Bass Pro Shops' design staff to focus on customer experience, and give their project managers peace of mind that what is being designed will be developed into constructible details.

"In preparing to design a showroom, we research local architectural traditions, materials and motifs as well as the outdoor wildlife and lifestyles of the surrounding region," says Mark Tuttle, director of architecture for Bass Pro Shops. As the design evolves, the architects apply ideas selectively culled from research. Nothing is ever forced. Once under construction, the team, consisting of store founder, John L. Morris, designers, architects, contractors, subcontractors and craftsmen, work in unison to further enhance and develop the design. Morris plays an active role in the design - in tune with what customers need, because he still is one.

The adventure begins The experience, and therefore the design, begins with good site planning. For example, the showroom at the Katy Mills Mall, outside Houston, suggested a particular orientation, based on the structural grid of the mall already under construction. On reflection, the design team suggested orienting the showroom so it could be viewed from Interstate 10, and, more importantly, creating an overpass that drivers exiting from the interstate would cross to get to the store. This approach satisfied a key design goal common to all Bass Pro showrooms: To create a dramatic sense of arrival for customers.

Once a showroom has been oriented, planners develop a meandering drive that ends facing the main building entrance. While approaching the store, drivers usually pass by a themed campsite. The display may include a recreational vehicle or a tent with a boat set beside it. All represent important components of Bass Pro's merchandise lines.

After parking, visitors who look down will see one of the small details that Bass Pro Shops uses to strengthen its hold on the imagination. Instead of conventional parking lot striping, a showroom parking lot uses stripes made in the shape of fish hooked nose to tail. At that point, visitors begin to anticipate their coming adventure.

Landscaping is also a key site planning element for the stores - each store is planted with native trees, shrubs and bushes. At the front of the Katy showroom, for example, designers planted mature, 30 foot tall live oak trees to give the appearance of history and permanence.

For the purpose of accommodating large-scale outdoor events, Outdoor World showrooms sit on 3- to 15-acre sites that include RV and bus parking. These multiday events include the Spring Fishing Classic, Fall Hunting Classic, the Holiday Festival of Unique Crafts and Foods, Conservation Weekend, Kids Day and Turkey Week. As an example of Bass Pro Shops' drawing power, the company hosted World Fishing Fairs in 1988, 1992 and 1998. Each Fair attracted more than 200,000 visitors.

The Outdoor World experience A store's main entry works as a "decompression chamber," and consists of a one-story entrance canopy, a compact highly detailed vestibule and an entry into a lodge structure. This progression of elements works to scale down the three-story building and to give customers an opportunity to experience arrival at a destination with the grandeur of some of the country's finest lodges.

Typically, the architecture of the overall structure recreates images of a gabled Adirondack lodge - a unique American style of architecture that flourished in hunting and fishing resort developments in upstate New York around 1900. Built by local artisans, these lodges used local materials and featured exposed wood columns and beams, logs and stone, along with accents created by the craftsmen. The lodge of a modern-day Outdoor World showroom reprises the original Adirondack features, but employs materials characteristic of the region in which it is being built. "Our Fort Lauderdale, Fla., store is done with white clapboard, local coral-stone columns and metal roofing. The colors and details are reminiscent of old South Florida," says Tuttle. "But our showroom in Gurnee, Ill., featurescedar siding, traditional stone columns and diamond-shaped asphalt roofing shing les."

Upon entering most other retail stores, shoppers tend to hustle through the entry and down the main drive aisle before stopping and thinking about where they want to go. Once inside the front vestibule of an Outdoor World, however, visitors find a hunting lodge living area with huge stone fireplace, antique furniture and old photographs and artwork. The lodge entrance provides a natural stopping and planning point for customers before they begin their adventure, as well as a place to learn about the historical significance of the region. It also includes a finely detailed customer relations desk.

>From the lobby, visitors walk through a set of turnstiles, setting the >stage for more anticipation. The first part of the showroom they >experience is the main drive aisle set beneath an open clerestory >structure and a series of massive chandeliers. Once inside the clerestory >space, drive aisles, or paths, shoot off in multiple directions leading >customers to various departments and display features. Once on a path, >visitors develop a sense of discovery as they turn a corner and see >something not previously glimpsed.

Bass Pro Shops purchases many of its custom wall fixtures and floor gondolas from fixture manufacturers, but designs and builds its own display cases, interior features and themed elements in its company-owned fabrication shops staffed by skilled crafts men and women. "One of the supreme examples of the work of these artists is in the chandelier in the main drive aisle," Jowett says. "Each is designed with local accents. The Fort Lauderdale chandeliers, for example, mimic the unique shape of the branches of a mangrove tree." Other crafted features include a timber-framed White River Fly Shop, Boat House dressing room structures, and many other fine works of craft. These "jewels in the rough" are a hidden treasure of Outdoor World stores.

Stores that make friends Just as entertainment takes a back seat to good design in the Outdoor Worlds, good design remains a backdrop for the main attraction: The huge selection of merchandise in each department and the associates (salespeople) who talk to customers about the products. Unlike many other retail chains who specialize in a particular product or price point, Outdoor World showrooms cover nearly every price point for every product category, with merchandise that ranges from inexpensive novice items to top-of-the-line items preferred by experts. The stores were founded on the idea that the everyday person can afford to outfit themselves with quality equipment.

Customers browse the merchandise with the help of Bass Pro associates, all of whom have an expert knowledge of the products in their departments gained from practical experience and who love to talk about their specialty with customers. For example, Fishing Department associates post which flies and lures are working in local streams and lakes that week. Associates in the camping department can describe local river conditions for canoeing and kayaking. For many, it's the perfect job: Talking about a life passion with a customer whose passion for the outdoors is growing or just as great.

Bass Pro Outdoor Showrooms take the traditional means of developing a successful retail business - building relationships, trust and brand recognition - and link them to competitively priced quality merchandise selected to satisfy the hopes and dreams of outdoor enthusiasts and presented in an exciting environment. That's why Bass Pro Shops doesn't consider its Outdoor World entertainment. Instead, it's retail done so well that it's fun.

Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Worlds Springfield, Mo. Grapevine (Dallas), Texas Katy (Houston), Texas Auburn Hills (Detroit), Mich. Dania (Fort Lauderdale), Fla. Concord (Charlotte), N.C. Orlando, Fla. Nashville, Tenn.

Bass Pro Shops Sportsman's Warehouse Atlanta

World Wide Sportsman Islamorada, Fla.

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