Written by Jessi Cole
It all started with a 16-year-old Jim Rogers selling fishing lures on the side to make a little pocket change.
From there, an industry icon was created—Rogers Sporting Goods
Jim Rogers was a legend in the sport of fishing. Not only did he start Rogers Lures in 1959, but he was also a professional fisherman—one of the iconic, original 106 members to fish the first All American Bass Tournament in 1967, the tournament which led to the creation of B.A.S.S.
Jim caught fame for his bass-catching lures Big Jim, Hawg Stick, Hawg Hunter, and Walk’n Jim, and he starred on the tv show Fishing with Jim Rogers, as well as hosted a radio show called The Fishing Report.
Jim’s son, Steve Rogers, grew up helping his dad make and sell lures, so he saw firsthand how to become a successful businessman—and a passionate businessman, at that. Really, it’s no surprise that he went on to open the retail store Rogers Sporting Goods at only 27 years old in 1980.
Steve opened and ran Rogers Sporting Goods successfully out of Branson, Missouri, but he felt like he could do even better if he caught his customer before they came to the lake, rather than selling to the last-minute consumer. He picked up and moved the store to Liberty, Missouri, where the iconic Rogers Sporting Goods remains to this day.
He started out in Liberty with a 90-day lease in a 20x60 building—he didn’t plan on staying long. He thought it would only be a stopping point to his next, more permanent, spot. He did so well, though, that he decided to stay. The small storefront had people packed in buying lures and others waiting outside in line for their turn to shop the performance fishing gear.
In 1985, Steve upgraded Rogers Sporting Goods to an 18,000 square foot building, still selling only fishing gear. It wouldn’t be until 1990 that they would begin carrying hunting clothes and gear—supplies for which they are so well known, now.
In fact, when expanding his supply, Steve was hoping hunting gear would account for at least 20% of sales in 1990—the other 80% coming from fishing sales. Now, in 2021, hunting gear accounts for over 95% of Rogers Sporting Goods’ sales.
The company is currently the largest retailer for steel shot ammo in the country. They’re a huge retailer in the waterfowl industry. To get to that point, though, they had to do some creative marketing.
In 1997, Rogers Sporting Goods had their first-ever truckload sale. They simply put a small ad in the Kansas City Star advertising a dozen free decoys with a case of shotgun shells. It turned into the best business day in the history of the company—it took them 10 years to ever sell as much again. That sale is what opened the doors for them and got them known for ammo. Again, the company had expanded and begun reaching a new market of customers.
The next step for company expansion was the introduction of online sales. In the early 2000s, a local boat seat company went out of business and Rogers Sporting Goods bought their inventory for a bargain, but they were a bit unsure of what they were going to do with them. The boat seats were made for nicer, larger boats, not the bass boats that most of their customers used.
They tried their hand at selling on Ebay. The seats sold surprisingly quickly, and they figured they’d try selling more store items on Ebay. Online sales soon snowballed from there, and they set up their own website to sell from—rogerssportinggoods.com.
Rogers Sporting Goods hit the internet sales at the perfect time, right in the burgeoning of online shopping. Suddenly the one brick-and-mortar store was reaching customers all over the country. Demand heavily increased, and they began planning and preparing for an increase in assets.
In order to make online product fulfillment, the company had 38 semi-trailers full of product parked outside of their store. It wasn’t efficient, but the company was making due. They knew they needed to expand quickly.
So, it was in 2007 that they moved to their current retail store. At 60,000 square feet, it still wasn’t big enough to manage all of their online orders. They leased an underground warehouse in the caves of Missouri to keep products in—a warehouse that vendors, understandably, found a bit perplexing.
But with the growth of Rogers Sporting Goods skyrocketing, they upgraded their warehouse yet again to a 200,000 square foot facility, complete with conveyers, plenty of heavy equipment, and great workers to get the job done. It now takes only 25 employees to ship out up to 5,000 orders.
And through it all—41 years of business growth and management—Steve Rogers has continued to steer the ship. The company’s success is largely attributed to his hard work—and according to his son, Stevie, he wouldn’t ask anyone to do something that he wouldn’t do himself.
Stevie Rogers, Steve’s son and Part Owner, Head Buyer and Head of Marketing for Rogers Sporting Goods, says of his father, “It was just last year that we finally got him to stop driving the fork lift. He’s had two knee replacements and a bad back but he was still out there leading by example.”
And the Rogers family does lead by example. Stevie and his two sisters all work and contribute towards the success of the company. Mandy works in Accounts Payable and Shannon runs the retail store. According to Stevie, his sister Shannon is the biggest hunter of the three kids. She’s a big duck hunter. And the grandkids are really getting the hang of fishing, he says.
It’s because the family is authentic that the company is an authority in the outdoor space. They know what to order for the store because they don’t buy things that they wouldn’t use themselves. A majority of the Rogers Sporting Goods staff live and breathe hunting, and that personal knowledge translates smoothly to their customer service, a benefit that big box stores can’t always offer.
And because the outdoor industry has so much to lose and so much to care for, it’s important to the Rogers family that outdoor conservation is a key part of giving back. Stevie Rogers says the best thing we can do for the future of hunting right now is through “education.” Teaching young hunters not only how to hunt, but how to protect the land—this is how the sport and industry will continue to thrive.
These ideals that make Rogers the giant it is today are the reasons why Mossy Oak is proud to be a partner. Love of the sport, love of the land, and thoughtfulness to the consumer—these are the qualities that make an outdoor company a great outdoor company. Rogers certainly fits that bill.
Though it’s been a sometimes-tough journey to where they are today, facing obstacles such as the 2008 bank crisis in the middle of a store build, the Rogers family has navigated the waters with a business sense to be admired. Stevie’s advice to young entrepreneurs is to “pick the thing you know the most.” And they know waterfowl.