OUTDOOR SPORTS ICON
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”
—A River Runs Through It
When most people think of hunting and fishing supplies, there is one name that usually comes to mind: Bass Pro Shops. The man behind that name is Missourian Johnny Morris. He took his love of the great outdoors and turned it into a multi-million-dollar company, which enables people all over the world to enjoy their leisure time more than ever.
THE EARLY YEARS
Johnny Morris was born and raised in the Ozarks, where he also built his fame and fortune. His father was a Springfield business owner, so his son was exposed to running a small business at an early age. That exposure included everything from stocking the shelves, greeting shoppers, and offering good products at fair prices.
After he graduated from Glendale High School, Morris enrolled in Drury College to study business. The business he was interested in was the business of being outdoors. Drury’s location in the heart of the Ozarks, and his early business dealings, helped him understand the needs of outdoor lovers when it came to hunting and fishing products. This passion may have seemed like a good hobby to most people, but his knowledge of nature and his good business sense were
enough for him to turn his passion into a career.
RISE TO FAME
Morris’s career in merchandising started from the back of his father’s Brown Derby liquor stores. He was an avid outdoorsman, but he was frustrated that he could not find the equipment he needed for fishing tournaments. He realized that other people were also having the same problem, so he got permission from his father to put up an eight-by-eight-foot display of fishing products inside his father’s store. This small business turned out to be a good money-making opportunity, while also serving as a primary stimulus for the Ozarks to become a tourist destination.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
By the early 1970s, Morris was stocking enough supplies to publish a sales catalog. It featured fifteen hundred items and was mailed to people in twenty states. Conservationists, hunters, and fishermen were hooked on his gear, so an expansion was the only way to keep up with the growing demand. Stores popped up across the Midwest, with the granddaddy of them all on the drawing board in southwest Springfield.
The Outdoor World National Headquarters Showroom opened in 1981, which made it one of the largest retail stores in the world. It included a four-story waterfall, live animals, acres of outdoor items, and an upscale restaurant. Word spread quickly about the amazing store, and it soon attracted more than 4 million visitors a year. Additional stores opened around the country, and the catalog expanded to more than thirty thousand items that was sent to a mailing list of 34 million homes around the world.
Morris’s business expanded after the success of the Outdoor World shops. He added the luxurious resort, Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake, Tracker Marine, Top of the Rock Golf Course, and Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. He was also instrumental in building the Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Springfield, right next door to his retail complex. With his success, Morris remained committed to conservation efforts and civic support. His admiration of nature and a love for fishing certainly worked well, which made him Missouri’s contemporary natural pioneer.
*Morris has received numerous awards, including the Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist Award, bestowed upon him by President George Bush.
*Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Springfield is Missouri’s largest tourist attraction.