On the business side, Cabela's shareholder meeting was one positive after another. Earnings in the billions, 25 new stores planned by the end of 2014, all proxy votes affirmend, a successful transition at the top—each round met with applause.
But the meeting was also a chance to celebrate.
A gigantic, inflatable open-mouthed fish greeted shareholders as they entered Cabela's annual meeting Wednesday at Sidney High School.
Employees were lined up in a lengthy row inside the school Wednesday morning for a chance to meet with the company's founders, Dick and Mary Cabela.
"I think it's such an honor because I love Cabela's and I love my job," said Peggy Simpson, a nurse at the Cabela's distribution center.
Dick and Mary Cabela sat in high-backed leather chairs with big bouquets of yellow roses, Mary's favorite flower, to their right and left. They smiled at everyone they met and signed Cabela's merchandise for those who brought it.
"It's almost like sitting on Santa's lap at Christmas," said Gene Palumbo, founder of U.S. Warriors Outdoors, which is sponsored by Cabela's. "Cabela's is like family. I love these guys."
The lobby was packed with peopled eating, drinking and chatting surrounded by stuffed wildlife and bunches of white and black balloons.
In the auditorium, where the official shareholder meeting took place, a Cabela's timeline ran along both the left and right hand walls. Two flat screens hung above either side of the stage.
Tommy Millner, CEO, hosted the formal proceedings, which included the first live telecast of a Cabela's shareholder meeting.
He announced that six items were submitted by proxy for shareholder vote. These items were the election of directors, the ratification of Deloitte & Touche as its accounting firm, an advisory vote on executive compensation, approval of the company's 2013 stock plan, approval of the company's 2013 employee stock purchase plan and approval of the 2013 performance bonus plan.
"Based on the preliminary votes we received ahead of this meeting, all six items on the agenda passed overwhelmingly," Millner said.
The final results will be available next week on the investor relations portion of the Cabela's website.
The company's financial statistics were largely positive.
"I am very pleased to report that in 2012, the value of your company grew more than one billion dollars," Millner said.
In addition to that, in 2013, the value of the company increased $2 billion, according to the CEO.
He attributed this success to many factors. Some of those were the training of outfitters to free themselves of tasks that keep them off the sales floor and work to grow the base of Cabela's Club Visa card holders. Cabela's reported a record high for the company of $2.72 earnings per share in 2012.
Millner expressed optimism for the future and reassured shareholders that this good financial performance could continue. Some factors that Millner said will contribute to this were Cabela's potential for growth opportunity and its dedication to creating innovative, new products.
The company had 40 retail stores at the end of 2012 but plans to open 11 new stores in 2013 and 14 new stores in 2014.
"Cabela's, as we exited 2012, has never, ever been stronger," Millner said. "I can stand here in front of the shareholders and tell you, we have a great company."
After the meeting, shareholders were invited to question Millner.
One shareholder voiced concern about the decline of direct business in the past four to five years. Cabela's progressed to stop decline in the 4th quarter of 2012 and made improvement in direct sales in the first quarter of 2013, Millner said. The company did this partly through search engine optimization and email campaigns.
Another shareholder asked about the Cabela's diversity and inclusion efforts.
Diversity and inclusion is a never ending process that the company is always working toward, Millner said.
"The Cabela's tent is big enough for all people," he said.
An old photo of Dick and Mary Cabela in front of a modest house with three of their young children served as a backdrop to the meeting. In front of the picture sat a replica of their kitchen table, where they used to write customer information on recipe cards.
"Their dream became our dream," Millner said.
A video about the lives of Dick and Mary Cabela and the progress of the business from its humble beginnings to its current success played after the meeting and received a standing ovation. The tribute evoked strong emotion from the crowd and a close up on the big screens showed that Dick and Mary Cabela were both teary-eyed as well.
Dick Cabela reassured those present that even though he's transitioning from chairman to chairman emeritus, the company will keep up with its core values, morals and success.
"We're gonna keep going the way we have been," he said. "Things are gonna stay the same. They may get better. They're not gonna get worse."
After the meeting, shareholders and employees were mostly positive about the future outlook of the company.
"I think it's certainly at an all time high," said Cabela's merchandise planner Carter Kokjer. "It's an exciting time to be an employee."
Others were moved by the video tribute.
"I thought it was wonderful," said shareholder, Jean Lashley. "I was very emotional."
Before and after the official shareholders' meeting, the trade show in the high school gym was filled with crowds of people around booths and tables. The enticing smell of fudge permeated the room. Everyone was carrying a green Cabela's bag to take home free gifts, and as Cabela's employees, most of the guests understood what a huge undertaking the event was.
"I know they put a lot of work into it and it really shows off," said Lindsay Parker, a Cabela's administrative assistant.
The outside of the high school was full of food vendors shaded by canopies giving out root beer, kettle corn and other goodies to hungry guests who walked around and talked or sat under the shaded picnic tables as they ate. A spread of Cabela's tents were set up on the lawn, paired with camping chairs.
Right in front of the school, water fell through rocks surrounded by a snarling bear, a resting deer and other taxidermy.
Country music played in the gym as people wound around looking at Cabela's merchandise and learning about new products.
One of the new products was a compound bow, which Cabela's co-branded with Bowtech.
"The goal is a high performance bow at a great value that's easily adjustable for most shooters," said Bryan Shutts, a Cabela's archery category manager.
Mark Pezzoni, president of Bowtech said the reason the new bow works is because the partnership between the two companies is so strong.
"It's backed by two companies that care about their shooters," Pezzoni said.
Employees checked out gear such as fishing poles, tackle bags and lures surrounded by a scattering of green and yellow balloons. Even though there was a lot to look at, taste and touch many of the employees spent much of their time just chatting with one another.
"My favorite part was going out and seeing all the people Cabela's is involved with," said Mick Wright, a business process management developer at Cabela's.