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CHICAGO-Unseasonably warm fall weather cut into profits for Gander Mountain during the fourth quarter of 2004, curbing sales of its cold weather apparel and insulated footwear lines, but the nation’s largest retailer of hunting, fishing and camping gear said it still expects sales to top the $1 billion mark by the end of 2006.

“We suffered last Fall from what we believe was a weather phenomena,” Mark Baker, the company’s chief executive officer and president, said in a conference call Wednesday. “This year, there has been significant growth in the scale and direction of our business.”

Baker said the company, whose sales topped $640 million in the first quarter of 2005, is poised to hit the $1 billion mark by next year as it continues to outpace its competitors in the highly fragmented outdoor market with growth trends over the last two years of 31%.

Speaking at the William Blair & Company’s 25th Annual Growth Stock Conference in Chicago, Baker said the firm’s rapid expansion, customer service and name branding has made it a leader in the outdoor category. The company, which opened 10 new stores this year in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, Kentucky, Virginia and New York with other openings planned for North Carolina, has teamed up with national brands such as Yamaha, Honda and Browning to promote its lines of hunting and fishing gear. With 98 stores in 15 states, it also is the only outdoor chain to offer boat rentals and sales to its customers.

While it continues to expand its presence in the marketplace, the company also is taking measures to curb expenses by reducing inventory at newly opened stores by 15 percent. A recently upgraded distribution facility will also make distribution more efficient, the company said.

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