Bass Pro is suing two startup retailers in Sidney, NE, started by former Cabela’s managers, charging they stole proprietary information and violated non-compete agreements in starting their businesses.
Bass Pro acquired Cabela’s in September 2017.
One lawsuit was filed in the Court of Chancery in Delaware against NexGen Outfitters, founded by Ryan Wellman, Trent Santero, Mike Riddle and Jeremy Nesbitt–all formerly Cabela’s employees. Wellman had been Cabela’s director of merchandising; Santero, business development manager; Riddle, a category manager and Nesbitt, senior director planning and inventory.
The other lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Delaware against Highby Outdoors, founded by Matthew and Molly Highby, who are married. Matthew Highby was formerly Cabela’s optics and cutlery category manager, while Molly Highby was previously Cabela’s sourcing manager, softgoods. Matthew Highby’s father, Dennis Highby, was Cabela’s president from 2003 through 2009 and served on Cabela’s board through late 2017.
Bass Pro is asking to courts to prevent the former managers from “unfairly” competing given their access to confidential Cabela’s information. The suit also claims the mangers agreed not to compete against Cabela’s for at least 18 months after leaving the company. The managers left in early spring.
The lawsuits seeks damages and requires the managers to return severance payments and profits from stock they received from Cabela’s.
In response, according to the Omaha World-Herald, the defendants claim they didn’t misuse trade secrets, and that the non-compete agreements are void in Nebraska and were negated by later agreements.
Matthew and Molly Highby wrote in court papers that the lawsuit “renegs on (Cabela’s) professed ‘generosity’ to former employees by crushing their future livelihood, as well as the hopes of Sidney, NE.”
The Highbys added, “At its core, this case is about a large company belatedly deciding that a soon-to-be small business may become a threat in the future.”
Cabela’s was based in Sidney, and headquarter’s jobs have transferred to Bass Pro’s headquarters in Springfield, MO.
Bass Pro in an e-mail to the Omaha World-Herald stated, “The issues in the litigation were vitally important to the lenders and investors for the acquisition of Cabela’s. These types of agreements were an essential consideration in order for Bass Pro Shops and its partners and lenders to justify the premium price paid to Cabela’s shareholders.
“As part of the acquisition, there are a number of individuals with similar agreements in place beyond those listed in the litigation, and it is critical we take action to protect the interest of our team members, outfitters and co-investors.”
Photo courtesy Cabela’s