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Ryan Johnson, Published April 12 2013

Scheel says focus on integrity part of family company’s legacy

MOORHEAD – Steve Scheel said focusing on integrity gives the Scheels sporting goods stores he oversees a leg up on competitors, and has helped the Fargo-based chain grow to 10 states.

But during a Friday luncheon event hosted by Concordia College’s Lorentzsen Center for Faith and Work, he said he couldn’t take the credit for that focus. It has been part of the family company’s legacy since his grandfather Frederick Scheel opened his first hardware and general store in Sabin in 1902.

“This isn’t something that I started,” Scheel said. “My hope is that if I ever retire, I can look back and say that I was able to continue this.”

Scheel discussed maintaining integrity in the competitive business market during Friday’s luncheon. He got his start with the company in 1972, shortly after finishing his service in the Army, and has served as the CEO since 1989.

The Scheels chain has grown considerably since its first all-sports store opened in Grand Forks in 1989. The company now has 24 stores in 10 states, including the world’s largest sporting goods store in the Reno, Nev., area. A new store will open in Kansas City in 2015, bringing its total workforce to more than 6,000 employees.

Scheel said the business has thrived because of its efforts to be honest with everyone it deals with – vendors, developers, customers and employees – while also empowering its associates to grow in their career and love their jobs.

“There’s also no blame game at Scheels for our employees,” he said. “If we make a mistake, we learn from it. If we make a big mistake, we celebrate and learn from it. We want a culture where people seriously aren’t afraid to take chances.”

He said he faced a big challenge in late 2007, when the national economy “burst” and financing for the Reno store that was under construction at the time became difficult to manage.

Scheel said lenders stood behind the company because of their positive history together, increasing the line of credit so the project could be finished. It opened for business in September 2008.

He said he learned to define integrity as “what you would do if no one knew you were doing it and no one found out what you did” but still doing the right thing. The definition came from the lessons he learned from his father and his coach during his four years at St. Olaf College in Northfield, he said.

Scheel said that kind of integrity at the core of Scheels has been good for business by building good relationships with banks, vendors and the sporting goods industry, while also enabling the company to give back to the local community.

“I don’t think it’s possible for someone with a strong faith to operate a company any other way,” he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587