May 16, 2008 in Business

Cabela’s targets real estate market

By The Spokesman-Review
 

For decades, outdoorsmen have turned to Cabela’s catalogs for hunting and fishing supplies in hopes of landing trophy game. Now they can set their sights on prize tracts of Inland Northwest recreational property.

Kelly Davis, himself an avid hunter, is one of about 350 real estate brokers internationally who pay undisclosed amounts to use the Cabela’s name to market their properties, including on Cabela’s high-profile Web site. Cabela’s Trophy Properties LLC selected him as its exclusive broker for Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

But Nebraska-based Cabela’s real estate venture has been controversial. After coming under fire last year by Montanans worried about losing public hunting and angling access to private land, Cabela’s changed its marketing approach and pledged to encourage access and conservation efforts.

Through a recently formed brokerage, Mead-based Northwest Outdoor Properties, Davis markets properties as varied as 625 acres of “affordable hunting property in a game rich environment” near Lake Roosevelt to 159 timbered acres with a house overlooking the Columbia River. For $1.3 million, hunters can pick up a 60-acre Stevens County horse ranch – including mule deer, whitetail deer and turkeys – adjacent to the Colville National Forest.

Davis declined repeated interview requests.

Cabela’s last fall opened a 125,000-square-foot retail outlet in Post Falls along Interstate 90. Part big-box store, part sportsman’s fantasyland, it includes a giant aquarium and a faux mountain populated by more than 75 mounted animals.

Cabela’s Trophy Properties started about four years ago in response to “demand from our customers who were looking for a different experience when it came to buying or selling recreational real estate,” said David Nelson, Cabela’s Trophy Properties manager. Trophy properties are parcels that are “simply memorable and special,” Nelson said.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the price, the size,” he said. “It’s purely an opportunity for the public to use our free system to find that memorable property that they’ve been looking for, regardless of the price.”

As a recreational-listing service, Nelson said, Cabela’s isn’t directly involved with real estate transactions, instead relying on its network of brokers.

Davis, the broker, has been affiliated with Trophy Properties for a little more than a year, Nelson said.

A short biography of Davis, of Colville-based Century 21 Kelly Davis, on Cabela’s Web site describes him as a lifelong resident of Eastern Washington who’s “been an outdoorsman all his life” and entered real estate shortly after graduating from Gonzaga University in 1975.

“It has been extremely rewarding, seldom boring and the best possible business to be in if you love to be outdoors,” he’s quoted as saying.

Mead-based HuntsInc.com, a business founded by Davis that markets hunting equipment, shows him posing with a variety of freshly killed game, including antelope and a huge bear.

Coeur d’Alene Realtor Kim Cooper said he considered applying to Cabela’s as an affiliate but decided against it after talking with his broker. Affiliating would have cost an upfront fee and a percentage of commissions, Cooper said.

“I thought it was a good idea, personally, because I’m an outdoors guy,” he said, adding Cabela’s name recognition “couldn’t be a bad thing.”

But for some Montana hunters and Cabela’s customers, the retailer’s involvement in soliciting private purchases of land where the public once enjoyed access has raised concerns.

“A lot of folks, me included, kind of felt betrayed by Cabela’s,” said Shane Colton, a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioner from Billings. “You know they’ve made a business out of selling sportsman goods and equipment, and now they seem to be in the business of marketing properties to the exclusive users rather than your average, everyday sportsman.”

Criticism began after the sale last year of the massive Weaver Ranch, north of Winnett, Mont. The new owner removed it from the state’s Block Management program, which pays private landowners to allow public use, Colton said. The property also had allowed access to public lands, he said.

Some members of the conservation group Montana Wildlife Federation returned Cabela’s catalogs and called for a boycott, the Helena Independent Record reported.

Cabela’s later said future properties sold through affiliated brokers would retain public access, at least for the term of an existing agreement – a promise Colton calls unenforceable – and publicly donated money to the state management program.

Cabela’s has addressed the concerns, said spokesman Joe Arterburn.

The company encourages “all landowners to participate in conservation programs and easements and utilize other tools that protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat,” according to an online statement. The company also “does not condone or promote the subdivision of large or historic ranches or other unique properties that are valuable to fish or wildlife,” the statement says.

“We strongly urge all new and existing landowners to thoroughly research and consider public hunting and fishing access programs, low-impact development, and conservation easements. Our affiliates are prepared to assist in these efforts.”


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