Rick Canfield, the second-generation owner of Canfield's Sporting Goods, wants to ensure that the store enjoys continued success as an independent, family enterprise — so he sold the business to a former employee he almost fired.
Canfield, 60, about to retire and move to Prescott, Ariz., will officially turn the keys over to the store's new owner, Scott Marble, 40, on Jan. 1.
The 67-year-old family business will be in good hands, said Canfield, who took over the business from his father, LeRoy, in 1976.
“Scott is a family man. He's ethical and he treats people fair,” Canfield said.
Marble also has some big plans for the store.
However, his first encounter with Canfield 20 years ago was nearly his last.
While still in college, Marble was hired in 1993 to oversee fishing gear sales, but instead of attending to the rods and reels, he would drift into the camping equipment and help out there.
Canfield was about to give him the boot for leaving his post, but decided to give him “one last chance” — selling camping supplies.
“He blossomed,” Canfield said with a grin.
“Fishing just wasn't my passion,” Marble said.
Marble eventually became head of the camping department and worked at Canfield's for 10 more years. In 2003, he left to take a job with a retail buying group.
Through the years, the two men crossed paths at trade shows, and in recent years, Marble — by now a vendor's representative in Seattle and the father of three — would often say, “'Someday I'm going to buy the business,'” Canfield said.
Two years ago, Canfield began contemplating retirement. His son had no interest in running the family store, so Canfield had to look elsewhere. His search quickly led to Marble.
“About a year ago, I said 'Scott, let's make this work,” Canfield recalled.
The change in ownership won't affect the store's offerings. Canfield's will continue to carry men's, women's and children's outdoor apparel, tents, kayaks, hunting and fishing gear, backpacks and boots and, in season, live bait, including crawdads and night crawlers.
That selection has led Cheryl Bouckaert and her husband, Dave, to make repeat shopping trips to Canfield's for hunting and outdoor gear and hunting licenses.
“My husband shops here a lot,” Cheryl Bouckaert said. “He can always find what he wants.”
The store's extensive work-wear line attracts contractors such as Tom Shaver, who can find the cold-weather gear he and his crew require: “I just know they have what I want,” Shaver said.
The store will continue to carry Girl and Boy Scout apparel and military surplus, an eclectic mix that includes Swiss Army jackets, sailor white jumper shirts, mummy bags and Russian camouflage shirts and themed rod and reel sets for the kids — Barbie, the Disney Princess set, Spider-man and Sponge Bob.
Canfield's was founded in 1946 by LeRoy Canfield, a World War II veteran who found himself with a pile of military surplus items to unload.
“Some relatives of a friend of mine had bought some Army surplus, and he said I ought to try to sell some of it,” LeRoy Canfield told The World-Herald in 1994. He brought items to his father's tailor shop and instead of just sitting there, they sold.
Canfield left a job at Safeway and opened an Army surplus store near 16th and Cass Streets. Over the next several decades, the store occupied several addresses, eventually moving to its current location at 84th Street and West Center Road in 1994.
LeRoy Canfield died in 2004, but Rick Canfield followed his father's business plan, offering hunting, fishing and camping and equipment instead of footballs and baseball bats.
Marble plans to follow the same path, but with a twist.
Last April, Marble returned to Omaha and Canfield's, bringing his wife, Denise, who handles the administrative tasks, and his 16-year-old daughter, Lauren, to try her hand at sales, and a vision to renovate the store.
Marble plans to bring the outdoor equipment and apparel store into the digital age with the addition of two dozen electronic kiosks and into the Jurassic age with the construction of an eight-foot in-store mountain.
The mountain will feature an interior cave so would-be campers can test headlights, flashlights and lanterns. Customers also will be able to try on and try out new running shoes or hiking boots on an indoor trail with a variegated surface —- smooth, rocky, rough — that will run the width of the store.
Also on the drawing board: a 20-foot in-store paddle pond, “large enough for customers to try out kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.”
Marble said he plans to make 53,000-square-foot outdoor store “leaner and meaner” —- more functional and more attractive.
Leaner means losing a 5,000-square-foot area that now houses tents. Canfield, who will retain ownership of the building and Canfield Plaza, said he plans to turn the extra square footage into a new storefront.
“Meaner” includes adding interactive displays where shoppers can price compare, increasing the store's social media presence and boosting the number of employees from 40 to 50 or more.
“We look for knowledgeable people. We try as much as possible to hire enthusiasts,” Marble said.
Marble said he intends to increase the active community role the store already embraces, along with its partnership with the Greater Omaha Area Trail-Runners (GOATz), a nonprofit outdoor group.
And Canfield's will continue to offer personalized service and the flexibility that comes with being a local, independent business, Marble said.
Renovations, which will begin next year, are expected to take 12 to 24 months. The store will be open during the remodeling and its open-door dog policy remains in effect. “Bring in your dog,” Marble urged a visitor.
“It will be a smooth transition,” Canfield said. “We've agreed on everything.”