Bass Pro Shops founder, owner and CEO Johnny Morris stopped by the Dale Jr. Download this week to talk to Dale Earnhardt Jr.and his sister Kelley about how the massively successful company got started and what it was like in the early days.
John says he grew up loving to fish, especially on Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri near Branson, and when he was 21, he fished in the first National Bass tournament and met fishermen from all over the country.
It solidified that he wanted to be in the sport and try to make a living somehow in the fishing business.
He recalls being a loyal customer of Gibson discount store that was on the way to the lake that had a good selection of fishing supplies, though the manager couldn’t get permission from the home office to carry the more advanced, specialty lures all of the professionals were using at the time.
So, Johnny talked his dad into letting him put tackle in his liquor store that was also on the way to the lake, and they of course called it Bass Pro Shops. Located in Springfield, Missouri, the rest, as they say, is history, after Johnny started selling supplies in an eight-square-foot of space on a shelf in the liquor store.
It was his only store for the first 13 years, and his dad co-signed the original $10,000 loan at the bank to help his son get started.
Johnny then rented a U-haul trailer and drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1972 to get their first supplies, telling Dale Jr. that he purchased it all from a wholesale distributor the day they got there, and went out honky tonkin’ that night:
“There’s a little shop… with wholesale out of the back door, we filled that up and put a pad lock on it and went out on the town honky tonkin’. The trailer was still there…if that trailer [went missing], that would’ve been the end of the company before it started.”
Johnny sounds like my kinda guy…
“Everything worked out, we called it Bass Pro because it was real descriptive. We wanted to be specialists in bass fishing gear.”
In his 20’s at the time, Johnny was in the store every day selling gear and the business grew over time.
They eventually moved to a new building down the street and of course, have become a household brand recognized all over the country with 171 retail stores across the U.S. and Canada.
And according to Forbes, Morris has a net worth of $8.3 billion, and continues to maintain majority ownership of the company and innovate with new store ideas constantly.
He’s also a big fan of NASCAR, with the Bass Pro logo prominently featured as a sponsor of Martin Truex Jr. and several other drivers.
Johnny seems like such a down-to-earth, nice guy, and his story is truly incredible… I would definitely recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to watch this: