With amenities like an indoor Ferris wheel, a giant aquarium where divers feed fish and 220,000 square feet of retail space, Billings has never seen anything quite like the new Scheels sporting goods superstore scheduled to open in 2014 at Shiloh Crossing.
“Next to our 300,000-square-foot store in Reno, Nev., this will be the largest sportswear and footwear store in the western United States,” said Steve Scheel, chief executive officer of Scheels, the Fargo, N.D.-based retailer. “We feel very strongly about Billings for the future.”
At a Tuesday reception attended by local officials and businesspeople, Scheel said the new store will provide an eye-popping, family-friendly retail destination that will draw people from throughout the region.
Some describe the Scheels concept as the Disneyland of sporting goods stores. Scheel said the investment in nonretail attractions will prompt customers to drive past the competition in search of a unique shopping experience.
Beneath the Billings store’s 96-foot-high ceiling, Scheels will operate a 65-foot-high Ferris wheel; a 16,000-gallon saltwater aquarium; a shooting gallery; and sports simulators for golf, baseball and hockey. It will offer 24 flavors of homemade fudge and Italian gelato along with other food, Scheel said.
“We think that Billings is the best market in Montana for Scheels, and we’re going all out,” Scheel said.
Steve Corning, co-developer of Shiloh Crossing, declared that the new Scheels store “is arguably the most significant retail development in the history of Billings.”
“In terms of size, scale, scope and quality, Scheels has defined experiential retailing better than anyone else,” Corning said. “They’re proving that great retailers come not only from the likes of New York, San Francisco and Seattle, but from humble beginnings in North Dakota, our sister state.”
In an interview, Scheel said Billings has always been one of the company’s stronger markets, and expansion makes sense here.
“If things happen in Montana, they happen in Billings, just like they happen in Fargo,” Scheel said. “We don’t see that ever slowing down, and we want to be where the economy is strong. It’s not just oil and gas here. It’s finance. It’s ranching. It’s everything.”
Corning, who is developing Shiloh Crossing with the Long family, has been courting Scheels as an anchor tenant for more than three years.
Site preparation — including water, sewer, street work and paving — will begin within weeks, weather permitting, Corning said.
Scheel said the 2014 store opening gives the company time to honor its lease with Rimrock Mall, which has been home to the Billings Scheels store since 1998.
Scheels entered the Billings market in 1955 when it purchased the former Yellowstone Hardware store downtown. At that time Scheels sold hardware, housewares, lawn and garden merchandise, plumbing and some sporting goods.
Scheel oversaw the switch to the company’s first all-sporting goods store in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 1980.
“After we switched to sporting goods, the rest of the company couldn’t keep up,” Scheel said, mentioning that the chain still operates one hardware store.
Despite widespread retrenchment in the retail industry, Scheels, with 24 stores in nine states, is in an expansion mode. Next fall, a new Scheels store will open in Sandy, Utah. In 2013, Scheels will complete a 100,000-square foot store in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Its store in Grand Forks, N.D., will be renovated, with completion scheduled for the same time the Billings store opens.
Scheel said the new store will employ more than 300 people, triple the number who work at its Rimrock Mall store. The store will carry 2 million items, compared to 700,000 at the Rimrock Mall location.
The store will be organized into 95 specialty shops dealing in sportswear, footwear and other departments.
Scheels will also invest heavily in employee training.
“This ensures that every customer is met by a passionate and expert sales associate,” Corning said.
The store will be about triple the size of the 80,000-square-foot Cabela’s store that opened in Billings in the spring of 2009.
Cabela’s, a major powerhouse in sports retailing, competes head-to-head with Scheels in a number of markets.
Scheel acknowledged that Cabela’s is a worthy competitor, but more segmented in its product mix.
“They’re a men’s store. We cater to the entire family,” he said.
Big Bear, a Montana-based outdoors chain with stores in Billings and Great Falls, made a splash in the Billings market in the 1990s by building a store on King Avenue West.
Sports Authority, previously known as Gart Sports, has been in the Billings market for several years on 24th Street West.
Sportsman’s Warehouse, a recent entry in the Billings outdoor retail market, closed its Billings store in February 2010 after only 18 months of operation.