Scheels retail-tainment

Despite today's emphasis on new, new, new, an American retailer more than a century old has set the world record for the largest sporting goods story on the planet. Meet Scheels, and find out how free retail-tainment will be increasingly giving LBLs, LBEs and FECs a run for their money.

Dubai may be trying to outdo the rest of the world with the biggest of just about everything. However, a 107-year-old American retail chain has cinched one record by opening the world's largest sporting goods store. In September, Scheels opened a 295,000-square-foot store at the Legends at Sparks Marina shopping center in Sparks, Nevada.

The superstore is more than just retail. It is retail entertainment, offering a mostly free entertainment experience for visitors. In addition to showcasing the world's largest selection of sports, sportswear and footwear under one roof, the new Sparks Scheels has a collection of entertainment venues and special attractions including a customer tram; two 16,000-gallon aquariums; a 35-foot-tall, 800-square-foot Wildlife Taxidermy Mountain; a 65-foot-tall, 16-car Ferris Wheel; and shooting galleries and sports simulators (from golf to soccer to hockey) where customers can test their skills. A deli and fudge shop serves gourmet soups and sandwiches, Starbucks coffee and 32+ flavors of homemade fudge. And the Walk of Presidents features two fully animated talking presidents.

Three acres of potatoes were the seed for the first Scheels store in 1902. Frederick A. Scheel, a German immigrant, used the $300 he earned from his first harvest of potatoes as the down payment on the original Scheels, a small hardware and general merchandise store in Sabin, Minnesota.

Over the years, Scheels opened in surrounding communities, including Fargo, North Dakota, where the corporate office is now.

Firmly planted in the hardware business, Scheels started adding a small selection of sporting goods to their stores in 1954. Customer interest grew, and more and more sports lines were added, with athletic shoes and clothing introduced into the product mix in 1972. Scheels' first All Sports Superstore opened in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1989. Today, Scheels is a 23-store operation with locations in seven states.

Retail-tainment, in stores as well as shopping centers, continues to expand. The bar raises every year, with Scheels as a prime example. When consumers can find so many free entertainment experiences, location-based entertainment facilities such as FECs that charge for entertainment must raise the quality of their offerings to maintain a value perception. Especially in today's economy, consumers are quick to compare what they can get for your price to what they can get for free.