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Small stores unfazed by Bass Pro Shops' pending Hooksett move

Union Leader Correspondent

April 08. 2013 7:46PM
Cody Wibbenmeyer looks for deer hunting supplies as turkey decoys attract customers at Bass Pro Shops in St. Charles, Mo., on Nov. 13. Bass Pro Shops plans to open a 140,000-square-foot store in the former Lowe's building by Commerce Drive in Hooksett in time for the Christmas season. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)

HOOKSETT - The announcement that a mega-retailer will open in a community often serves as an omen to their mom-and-pop competitors.

Bass Pro Shops planned Hooksett store doesn't seem to have much riled the local small business community, with owners arguing that while some of their sales may well see a hit, a combination of customer loyalty and service advantages will keep them competitive and afloat.

Bass Pro Shops announced earlier this year thatit would be opening a 140,000-square-foot store in the former Lowe's building by Commerce Drive in Hooksett in time for the Christmas season.

The chain, headquartered in Springfield, Mo., has a reputation for not only being a mega-retailer, but also being a destination store for outdoor sporting enthusiasts.

Green's Marine, a 51-year-old family-owned Hooksett boat dealer, would seem to be at the apex of Bass Pro's market: a mom-and-pop shop in the same market as the corporate giant which will open just down the road.

Green's Marine owner Steven Green said not only is he unconcerned, he sees it as a boon to his business.

"We've been servicing Bass Pro products for over 20 years because they typically move a lot of product, but they don't seem to be able to service the product that they sell," he said.

In some locations where Bass Pro Shops have opened, boat dealerships have benefited because they picked up more service business, Green said.

"What we've been doing, we've been doing for 50 years. People come to us because they get answers, and typical big corporation, big box stores - you don't get answers," Green said. "You get product, but service is another key issue that they're not able to offer. I suppose it's like any other big store, like Home Depot: You go there and buy your lumber, but they don't tell you how to build a house, and don't help you out when you have problems putting a deck on your house. They just sell you more stuff."

The retailer appears to have an eye for a market beyond Hooksett-area consumers and may seek to lure tourists from southern New England who travel up Interstate 93 to the North Country.

The press release announcing the shop touted the location as being at the center of the main corridor to the north's "recreational areas," and notes that "approximately 9.9 million people within a 100 mile radius call this area home." Much of eastern Massachusetts would be within that radius.

Owners of area businesses such as Morse Sporting Goods of Hillsboro, share Green's optimism.

"We're more of a service-oriented business here," said Randy Gagne. "Bass Pro Shops is a box store, so they don't sell service quite so well. Our big thing is our customers are loyal, and they'll keep coming to us because of our service."

Gagne said he doesn't think Bass Pro will have no impact on his bottom line, but expects it to be limited.

"I think it'll affect our business a little bit," he said. "More so the fishing business. They're big fishing dealers, they carry a lot of stuff, and they carry it right there in stock, so it might affect us. As far as our archery and hunting equipment goes, probably not so much."

Owners of the Barn Store of New England in Salisbury have a similar perspective.

At the moment, the Barn Store has no direct competitors in the immediate area. Owner Katie Mason believes the distance from Hooksett - about 45 minutes - will prevent the new store from having a dramatic impact on her sales, but doesn't expect to escape completely unscathed.

"They're still 45 minutes away, so as far as direct competition, I don't think they're exactly in our neighborhood, but I think it'll take some of our firearm sales," she said. "I think it's going to have an effect on all the sporting goods shops in New Hampshire. It could also help them, because they have closer service and a local camaraderie with their customers over Bass Pro Shops. I think it's going to hurt, but at the same time it might help promote your customer relationships."

Mason also argues that given the difference in the size of the businesses, smaller stores such as hers can be more nimble in their pricing, but local managers of a corporate store might be bound by what the company determines should be their profit margin.

"I'm the owner, so I can make a decisions on how I'm going to price," she said.

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