Johnny Morris and Bass Pro

Starting a business can be hard. It takes constant work, time, money and sometimes even a bit of your sanity. In times like these, you may feel like aiming straight for your top goal. Go big or go home, right? Not necessarily. Despite popular belief, starting off a business small isn’t a bad thing.

There are many businesses who prove that baby steps can be huge when building your business. One such store started in a tiny section at the back of a liquor store and has grown to be a retail icon. Johnny Morris, the creator of Bass Pro Shops, proves that starting out small is nothing to be scoffed at.

Starting From Scratch

John L. Morris began his career modestly as a shop boy helping out in his father’s liquor store, the Brown Derby. Frustrated with the lack of tackle in local stores, Morris started a small, 8-foot fishing section at the back of the store where he sold worms and homemade bait. Soon, the bait grew to be so popular that Morris distributed a mail-order catalog for $2. After the catalog blew up in popularity, Morris decided to open his own store, American Rod and Gun Wholesalers, which supplied fishing and hunting gear to retailers nationwide.

Then, in 1984, Bass Pro Shop’s flagship store, Outdoor World, opened its doors in Springfield, Mo and soon became one of the most popular places in the area. The venue was large enough to house streams, aquariums, even live animals. Soon, other stores began to open across the nation and became top tourist attractions. In an interview, Morris said that Sam Walton would visit the stores in the 1980s with nothing but a pad to take notes.

Today at the Shop

Crowd of people inside of a Bass Pro Shop
Large crowds are not a rare sight at Bass Pro Shops. In fact, the stores can attract over 4 million visitors yearly.

Today, Morris’ small 8-foot fishing section in the back of his father’s store has grown to 56 retail stores in the U.S. and Canada and a still-popular mail-order catalog. In addition to selling products ranging from fishing tackle to tracker boats, the company even offers classes such as “Hunting Wild Hogs A to Z” and “Ten Things Every New Fly Angler Should Know”. Bass Pro's original Springfield store attracts over 4 million visitors yearly, making it Missouri's top tourist attraction. In 2010, Bass Pro Shops made number 96 on the list of Forbes top 100 Businesses, and last year the store jumped up to number 93.

Actively Involved

Interior of a Bass Pro Shop
Each store has a unique interior designed to mirror Morris’ beloved outdoors.

Though Bass Pro Shops has grown immensely over the years, Morris keeps a firm grip on his humility and remains active within his business. Even though he started his business small, he has kept an eye out for the smallest of details. One of those details is the interior of the stores. In an interview with Clay Self (a musician for Big Cedar) said if Morris sees a tree that interests him, he will insist the driver pull over and take what seems like thousands of photos. Morris even helps to test the products. In an interview with Bass Pro Shops President Jim Hagale, he said that Morris often described their roles and relationships well. “He (Morris) said, I think we’re a pretty good team. You stay here and work, and I’ll go and test the product.”` Remembering his roots, Morris is still making small steps to improve and build his business.

More Than Just Bait and Tackle

Though Bass Pro Shops is best known to be the biggest hunting, fishing and outdoor retailer in the world, Morris has expanded his reach to offer many different experiences to the people.

Lodge on a hill in the meadow
The luxurious Big Cedar Lodge is a definite must-see for all avid outdoor lovers.

  • Outdoor World Television: Yep, that’s right. A whole section of television devoted to capturing and showing the moments of catching trophy-sized bass or setting the cross-hairs onto a huge whitetail. In just a few seasons on the air, Outdoor World Television has won many top industry awards.
  • Dogwood Canyon Nature Park: Hidden deep in the Missouri Ozarks, the 10,000 acre wilderness is open to the public for historic tram tours, hiking, biking and horseback riding and, of course, trout fishing.
  • Big Cedar Lodge: Resting comfortably on the banks of Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, this rustic 850-acre resort offers many different experiences. Boating, skiing, hiking, trail rides, fishing, fine dining, spa service, you name it, they have it. The resort’s 240 luxurious rooms and cabins and unique conference center presents a great atmosphere for any type of getaway.

From a simple idea to an iconic brand in the retail world, Johnny Morris has proven that starting off small in business isn’t a bad move. It can help you focus on the details of your business and help you to retain your humility. It seems that starting small is the best way to grow big.

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