ST. PAUL-Gander Mountain Co. will not open as many stores this year as it has in the past, and executives will instead focus on growing profits and the chain’s overall performance, management said during its fourth-quarter conference call. The company is planning six to eight new units during the next 12 months, down from 19 in each of the past two years.

However, executives still have long-term plans of bringing the chain, now at 98 units, to a total of 300 stores. “Expanding our store base is an important Gander Mountain growth strategy,” said Mark Baker, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

Last year Gander Mountain entered four new states, Arkansas, Kansas, Maryland and North Carolina. Openings announced so far for 2006, which are expected this spring, are in Blaine, MN; Morrisville, NC; and Tyler, TX.

Executives also expect average store sizes to increase in the company’s portfolio. The chain’s units now average 51,000 sf, but the new stores Gander Mountain is rolling out will be between 60,000 sf and 65,000 sf, though some will be slightly larger or smaller.

Gander Mountain’s same-store sales during its fourth quarter, which ended Jan. 28, were down 7.4% year-over-year and 6% for all of 2005. However, income during the quarter soared 37% to $26 million, and sales came in at $280.8 million, up 18%. Executives would not give guidance for the coming year but said they see same-store sales eventually coming in consistently at low single digits.

In efforts to beef up boat sales the company is also partnering with boat dealer Crystal-Pierz Marine, which will train Gander Mountain employees on boat sales and give the retailer access to the more than 1,200 boats for sale. Improved boat sales should help Gander Mountain’s historically challenging first quarters, executives said.

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