Sportman’s Warehouse

By late 2007, Sportsman’s Warehouse operated 67 locations and had expanded to both the East and West coasts. And then the economy hit the skids. But rather than throwing in the towel, the company restructured, refocused, and emerged in August 2009 from Chapter 11 four months after filing.

Although the company has evolved over the years, Sportsman’s Warehouse has never strayed from its focus as being more than a retail store to the communities in which it’s located—it’s an outdoor adventure partner. Today, Sportsman’s Warehouse caters to enthusiasts of hunting and shooting, archery, fishing, camping, boating and ATV, optics and electronics, and knives and tools. It also offers a selection of men’s, women’s, and youth apparel, as well as footwear by brands such as Timberland, Merrell, and Danner.

But handling such an extensive customer base requires significant expertise, which is where Karen Seaman, chief marketing officer, says Sportsman’s Warehouse’s employees come into play. “Our salespeople live what they sell,” she said.

“They know the ins and outs of what they’re working with because they also take part in those activities. Their job is to pass their knowledge onto our customers.”

Turn it around

Seaman came to Sportsman’s Warehouse as CMO shortly after the company appointed a new CEO, John Schaefer. They had worked together before, and Schaefer, who was handpicked by the company’s owners, had previous experience in retail turnaround.

“The rest of the management team stayed the same, but I was brought in to head up the marketing focus, and John was brought in to lead as CEO,” said Seaman.

One of the first steps the company took after declaring bankruptcy was to downsize its store count. By August 2009, Sportsman’s Warehouse had streamlined its footprint and operated only 26 stores, primarily in the western part of the US. “We recognized where our strengths were, where we had the strongest salespeople, and where we were leaders in our categories, and we focused on building up our presence in those communities,” Seaman said.

The company then looked at how to improve its inventory selection. At the time of the bankruptcy, many of the stores had empty shelves. To prevent a reoccurrence, Sportsman’s Warehouse worked closely with its vendors to strengthen the in-store appearance of its locations.

With a footprint that includes states such as Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky, and South Carolina, the inventory strategy became regionalized, a philosophy that is still in place today. “Someone in Northern Alaska has very different needs from someone in Tennessee,” said Seaman, “so we need to focus on their needs from both regional and seasonal perspectives.”

This is where Sportsman’s Warehouse’s vendor relationships come into play, as the company is very brand focused. To supply its stores with the right equipment at the right time, and to focus on consumer needs and wants, it relies on industry leading vendors to help it make the right decisions.

Seaman said Sportsman’s Warehouse uses some regional players, some national players, and even some local players to make sure its customers walk away from its stores feeling as though they were offered the right selection. “Our goal is to always focus on the customer,” Seaman said. “With our salespeople, our product assortment, and our local focus at each location, we do just that.”

Online kick off

Sportsman’s Warehouse also takes a regional approach to its marketing campaigns. Seaman said the company ties its marketing and merchandising approaches together closely to make sure it’s on target for what its customers are looking for and is letting them know using the appropriate media channels. So whether through print inserts or online, TV, or radio ads, the company finds the best way to talk directly to each location’s specific audience.

In late 2010, the company took a slightly different approach when it launched its e-com site. The purpose of the launch was twofold: to offer consumers a chance to find items that might not be available in their local store and to reach out to customers in areas where a Sportsman’s Warehouse had closed.

“We are excited to offer outdoor enthusiasts our quality products and expert services online,” Schaefer said in October. “By offering an online store option, we are making the Sportsman’s Warehouse experience available to all consumers.”

Seaman said going forward, the company hopes to offer more than merchandise on the website, including tutorials on hunting tips, how-tos on equipment, and video reviews. “We started marketing our e-com site a little in 2010, but we’re really going to kick it off in 2011,” she said.

In the social media realm, the company is taking its time, studying the best direction to go and the best way to benefit both the company and its customers. “We expect to dive into social media in the third quarter of 2011,” said Seaman. “Until then, we’ll continue focusing on the best way to serve our customers no matter where they live.”