Richard N. Cabela, Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Cabela’s Inc., passed away at his home in Sidney, NE Monday. He was 77.
“Dick,” along with his wife, Mary, and brother, Jim, founded Cabelas somewhat inadvertently in 1961 when he purchased $45 worth of hand-tied fishing flies while in Chicago on a furniture and housewares buying trip with his father for the family’s Chappell, Neb. furniture store. With the flies not moving off the store shelf, Dick came upon the idea of selling them through the mail. His first ad, in a Casper, WY newspaper, produced one sale. Rethinking his situation, Dick placed an ad in Sports Afield magazine: “FREE introductory offer!!! 5 popular Grade A hand-tied flies. Send 25c for postage and handling.” Orders started coming in and Mary typed the names and addresses of each customer on recipe cards and placed them in a shoebox. Realizing the potential for mail-order sales, Dick purchased more fishing gear and he and Mary produced a three-page mimeographed catalog which was mailed with each order.
Today, Cabelas is a $3.6 billion company with a worldwide catalog and Internet business and 50 stores in the United States and Canada.
Cabela served as chairman of the board until June 2013, when he transitioned to chairman emeritus and Jim Cabela became chairman.
Cabela and his brother made it possible for sportsmen and women to get quality outdoor products no matter where they lived, said Tommy Millner, Cabelas Chief Executive Officer. “They were not the first to offer outdoor goods through the mail, but nobody did it better or with more care about providing customers a good value for their money,” Millner said.
“Outdoorsmen and women have lost a true friend, a man who improved their lot by putting them first, by working to provide what they wanted and needed for their hunting and fishing adventures,” Millner continued. “He pushed for research and development in every outdoor field. Dick always looked out for the customer and if he couldn’t find a vendor to provide what he wanted, he pushed Cabelas to design and make it. Because of that passion, the Cabela's brand and its products are iconic throughout the world.
“The outdoor industry has lost an innovative thinker and a tireless supporter of wildlife and habitat conservation; the business world has lost a true original, who built a business model that will be studied and emulated for years; a man who, through perseverance and hard work, achieved the American Dream.”
Michael McCarthy, Cabelas lead independent director, said that like most great enterprises, Cabela's began with the passion of a single person, Dick Cabela. We are all very grateful for the opportunities he shared with employees, customers and shareholders, and are committed to sustaining the enterprise he began.
Cabela garnered numerous accolades in his lifetime, including induction into the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame in 2006. Dick and Mary traveled the world pursuing their shared passion for hunting. In 2001, Dick was honored with the Safari Club Internationals prestigious C.J. McElroy Award for his dedication to preserving and promoting the heritage and tradition of hunting. In 2007, Dick and Jim were honored by Outdoor Life magazine as being among the top 25 most influential people in hunting and fishing.
Cabela is survived by his wife, Mary, and their nine children and their families; as well as two sisters and three brothers.