Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bass Pro Shop swallows Cabelas. . . a Distributist Sportsman's Lament

This past week the news broke that Bass Pro Shop bought its rival, Sidney Nebraska based Cabelas.

Ah, pooh.

News, truly, I wish hadn't come.

Now, why, doggone it, as a red blooded American, am I lamenting the time honored business model of one company swallowing another?  Geez Louise man, aren't I for motherhood, apple pie, and unrestrained acquisition?

Well, I'm for motherhood and I like apple pie, but. . . . 

I'm also for subsidiarity. 

Now, before I go on to explain that, I should note that Missouri based Bass Pro Shop says it'll keep the Cabelaas flag flying, so there will be,  they say,in some form, a Cabelas and a Bass Pro.

Well, I'm skeptical.

Generally, quite frankly, that's not how these thing go long term.   Bass Pro Shop and Cabelas are competitors. While they likely do not perfectly overlap, they do to a large extent, and long term, it won't make sense for both of them to keep on. At some point, I suspect, Bass Pro Shop will figure it makes more sense to just have all of those stores be Bass Pro Shops.  

But I suspect it won't be the best for them, for the same reason. 

Which brings me to subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity, according to Wikipedia, is defined as follows:
Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.
Put another way:
It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, pg.79
Now, there's a lot to this, but the basic gist of it is as noted above.  The concept is that needs are best met at the local level, and for that matter, the market is best met at the local level.  This isn't always true, but it tend to be.  It's best, generally, for the local employees, and its often best for the local market, or consumer.

As an example of that, I'd note, big chain sporting goods stores (and Cabelas is one, but I'm not pointing at them) often stock weird items for the local market.  We see that here on odd occasion when we'll have a big national chain that stocks something like gigantic fishing poles, or deer stands, neither of which are used here.  One Canadian based sporting goods store that has an outlet here stocks the gigantic fishing poles, and while they're interesting, I'll be they hardly ever sell one.

Which is why I favor a local sporting goods store here that is part of a chain, but just a statewide one.  It's the best store in town, in my view, and this is likely because it knows its market.

Indeed, occasionally there were rumors that Cabelas would come in here and I always hoped they wouldn't. So far they haven't.  But I'd rather have Sidney Nebraska based Cabelas around here than Missouri based Bass Pro.

Which goes to the fact that I tend to still look at Cabelas and Bass Pro as types of mail order outfits that were pioneered by Herters years ago. That is, while they have expanded to have retail outlets, it was really mail order that made them what they were and, in that sense, they occupied a different category than brick and mortar stores.  At least as to Cabelas it wasn't that they were cheaper, as they often were not, but rather that you could order stuff from them that you couldn't otherwise get locally.  So they were like a smaller singular entity in a certain fashion. When they started to have multiple outlets that sort of changed and while I certainly stopped in some of those outlets here and there, I was never really comfortable with it.

The consolidation of these companies always seem to be a market trend and its something that can only occur because of the corporate structure that all large companies adopt.  This gives them the ability to expand to giant size but that also works, at some point, to cause them to absorb their competition.  If corporate business forms didn't work the way that they do, retail operations could not expand like this.  And the absorption doesn't always go that well.  Bass Pro never impressed me that much, for example, as it seemed focused, to my mind, on a certain southern style of fishing that doesn't exist here.  Cabelas seemed more Mid Western to me. 

Well, as noted immediately above, if corporate business forms didn't work the way that they do, retail operations could not expand like this.

And perhaps its sad that they can. 

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