Cabela’s Incorporated, one of the world’s leading and most well-known outdoor outfitters, announced on Monday that its co-founder Richard Cabela passed away in his home in Sidney, Nebraska. He is survived by his wife, Mary, their nine children, and their families. Cabela also leaves behind two sisters and three brothers. Commonly referred to by his nickname “Dick,” Richard Cabela founded the company in 1961 with the aid of his wife and brother, Jim. No cause of death was given.
“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,” said Tommy Millner, Cabela’s Chief Executive Officer. “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 Cabela’s to design and make it. Because of that passion, the Cabela’s brand and its products are iconic throughout the world.”
Strangely enough, Cabela did not set out to establish what would become a billion-dollar business, saying later in life that it was something of an accident. Cabela accompanied his father on a trip to Chicago early in 1961 to purchase stock for the family furniture store in Chappell, Nebraska. On a whim, Cabela also purchased $45 of hand-tied fishing flies to resell. According to the company history, when Cabela had trouble selling the flies locally, he began running classified ads. His first attempt in a Casper, Wyoming newspaper read simply, “12 hand-tied flies for $1.”
It got exactly one response.
Cabela revised his strategy and later placed an ad in Sports Afield that proclaimed: “FREE introductory offer!!! 5 popular Grade A hand-tied flies. Send 25c for postage and handling …”
The orders flooded in. Cabela and his wife soon began running a mail-order business straight from their kitchen table. The budding entrepreneur purchased more fishing products and included a three-page mimeographed catalog in every order. The ease of purchasing through direct-mail orders meant quick success for the Cabela family. By 1964, Cabela moved his operations to his father’s furniture store. In 1969, Cabela had settled his business within a 50,000 square-foot facility in downtown Sidney. For the first few years, Richard, Mary, and Jim Cabela declined to take a salary from the growing company. Instead, they used the funds to expand to new equipment and reaching more customers.
In 2013, Cabela’s Incorporated generated more than $3.6 billion in revenue. While the company still does business through its catalog and internet store, Cabela’s also boasts 50 stores in the United States and Canada.
“Like most great enterprises, Cabela’s began with the passion of a single person, Dick Cabela,” said Michael McCarthy, Cabela’s Lead Independent Director. “We are all very grateful for the opportunities he shared with employees, customers and shareholders, and are committed to sustaining the enterprise he began.”
Richard Cabela served as Chairman of the Board until June 2013, at which point he turned over the seat to his brother Jim and became Chairman Emeritus. According to Forbes, Cabela still owned nearly nine percent of the company he helped build. An avid hunter and angler, Cabela also received a host of honors for his conservation work and for efforts to promote hunting and fishing in the public realm. In 2001, Cabela received the Safari Club International’s C.J. McElroy Award and several years later was named among the top 25 most influential people in hunting and fishing by Outdoor Life.
Cabela’s home also contained a 15,000-square foot room where the outdoorsman kept trophies and mementos from his adventures.