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As Bass Pro Shops pursues rapid Florida expansion, it sheds jobs elsewhere

Bass Pro Shop has been expanding into Florida, including a store to open this week in Brandon and this store in Orlando, even as it has been cutting staff elsewhere. [WILLIE J. ALLEN JR.   |   Times] 
Bass Pro Shop has been expanding into Florida, including a store to open this week in Brandon and this store in Orlando, even as it has been cutting staff elsewhere. [WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times] 
Published Jul. 28, 2015

A much-anticipated Bass Pro Shops store opens Wednesday in Brandon, a 130,000-square-foot, 300-employee reminder that the outdoor recreation company has pegged Florida as big enough to handle at least 15 such stores — far more, so far, than any other state.

It's a clever strategy. Rival and similar-sized outdoor sports company Cabela's, also spreading nationwide from its Nebraska base, has yet to enter Florida and will now be sure to find it crowded.

Wednesday's opening celebration also happens to come just as Bass Pro Shops sheds hundreds of jobs nationwide.

Consider it a signal that rapid growth does not always mean success for everyone.

Bass Pro vice president Paul Shore recently told newspapers out West that the retailer was laying off an average of six employees at most of its nearly 90 retail stores. The private company, with annual revenues topping $4.2 billion, also laid off about 60 employees at its corporate headquarters in Springfield, Mo., and a woodworking shop.

By my estimate, that adds up to at least 500-plus job cuts, or more than 2 percent of Bass Pro's 22,000 workforce. Shore said the layoffs are an effort to be more efficient and have nothing to do with the company's financial situation.

Bass Pro plans to open eight stores this year. Five planned Florida stores will bring the state total to 15. Texas boasts seven stores, and Missouri — where the original Springfield store site is said to draw more than 4 million visitors yearly and is the state's top tourist attraction — has five stores and a catalog outlet.

Among private U.S. companies, Bass Pro Shops ranks No. 100, says a Forbes ranking. The company, largely family owned by founder John Morris, also rates on another Forbes list of best companies to work for.

Outdoor enthusiasts who pay homage to the Brandon store will enter through a reproduction of a Florida hunting lodge and enjoy giant fish aquariums and the jazzy Islamorada restaurant.

That kind of atmosphere is a key difference in stores like Bass Pro Shops or Cabela's, suggests Bruce Cohen, a senior partner at global consultants Kurt Salmon.

"When you go into one of these stores, and you're shopping, say, for a fly rod, you, the customer, are looking for an experience," he told the Deal Pipeline this month.

"That's very different than going into the local sporting goods store with 3,000 to 5,000 square feet and buying a pair of basketball shoes."

This month, Bass Pro Shops stores teamed up with the National Rifle Association to host NRA Freedom Days, which run until Sunday.

Hillsborough County commissioners debated whether to spend $6.25 million on road improvements to attract a Bass Pro Shops store to Brandon. They approved the deal in early 2013, despite complaints by small businesses that a larger competitor was being subsidized by the government.

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Small business was right. But as is often the case, all seems forgiven soon after the grand openings.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.