The closure of Gander Mountain stores throughout the nation hit the outdoor world hard. Few were pleased to see the outdoor retailer fall into bankruptcy, especially with the two largest retailers looking at merging. Now, throughout the country, vacant buildings stand empty.
But some of those empty stores will get new life in them starting next year.
The first round of re-branded Gander Mountain stores will open early next year, according to federal regulatory filings.
Camping World — the nation’s largest recreational vehicle dealer — detailed its plans in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Monday to open the first 15-20 new Gander Outdoors locations by the end of the first quarter on March 31, 2018. Another 40-45 could open by the end of next year’s third quarter in September.
CEO Marcus Lemonis — who led the investor group that bought out Gander Mountain’s intellectual property and store leases in an April bankruptcy auction — said in August some of the new stores would open as early as next month. So far, the company has spent more $8.7 million on “pre-opening costs,” according to the filing.
“We believe to have a unique opportunity to expand into the broader outdoor lifestyle market and leverage our existing array of products and services,” Lemonis said during a conference call with investors in August. “We’re focused on locations that can offer all of our Gander, Overton’s, Camping World and Good Sam products and services for the RV, boating and outdoor lifestyle.”
Yet the new company faces a great deal of uncertainty. In particular, there are concerns about lawsuits regarding products sold by Gander Mountain including, as listed in the filing, “firearms, ammunition, tree stands and archery equipment.”
While concerns regarding tree stands and archery equipment might make some sense, firearms and ammunition don’t. After all, Gander Mountain is actually legally protected from lawsuits regarding those products.
In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, effectively shielding gun makers and dealers from liability when criminals use their products. The bill came in response to a series of lawsuits in the 1990s and early 2000s claiming the gun industry engaged in “negligent marketing.”
The bipartisan-backed effort offers a few exceptions to the law. If a gun malfunctions, the manufacturer could be held liable. Likewise, a gun dealer who knowingly sells a gun to a buyer intent on using it illegally could be sued by the buyer’s eventual victim.
Meanwhile, the company claims liability insurance difficulties may force the chain to stop selling these products entirely. While tree stands and archery equipment have no legal protections like the gun industry, they’re also not the target of frivolous lawsuits designed to shut down the entire industry because of the misuse of their products. Why would liability insurance be such a significant issue?
Or, is it something deeper.
Lemonis has made some anti-hunting remarks previously, pulling sponsorship of The Apprentice after photos of an African hunting trip by the Trump sons’ went public. The gossip website TMZ quoted Lemonis as saying he was “disgusted” by the photos. Lemonis later backpedaled, saying he has no anti-hunting position but simply lacked education on hunting. The fact that a boycott of his company was called for was, I’m sure, completely irrelevant.
Could that be a case of trying to cover his rear to hide his anti-hunting bias? It would explain seemingly nonsensical explanations regarding difficulty with liability insurance on products used for hunting. It would also go against Lemonis’s previous comments regarding gun sales.
At this point, it’s pure speculation as to the meaning of a single comment in the filing, especially when it may also simply be a case of covering their basis as they branch into product categories the company has never ventured into before. Still, it’s something worth watching as Gander Outdoors open early next year.