Johnny Morris: A Business Visionary

Retail: Bass Pro Shops

Johnny Morris and Son Johnny Morris and Son

Johnny pioneered the concept of destination retail and created Bass Pro Shops, an outdoor gear enterprise that is one of the most beloved and well-recognized brands in North America. Today, Bass Pro Shops has nearly 200 retail stores and marine centers across North America and 40,000 associates welcome more than 200 million visitors annually.

Bass Pro Shops locations are more than just stores – they are true destination experiences that draw tourists and visitors from across the county. Today Bass Pro Shops stores are the number one tourist destinations in three states – including its flagship "grandaddy" store in Springfield, Missouri that welcomes more than four million visitors annually – and is in the top five tourist destinations in nine states.

In addition to giant aquariums teeming with live fish and extensive wildlife mounts and dioramas, many locations feature unique restaurants and entertainment. Another Morris creation is Uncle Buck's Fishbowl and Grill, nautical-themed underwater restaurants with ocean-themed bowling adventures.

Bass Pro Shops Store Front Rancho Cucamonga

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, one of the most dynamic, immersive retail experiences in the world, opened in downtown Memphis in 2015. Located along the banks of the Mississippi River, Morris and his team transformed the massive sports arena into a national "must-see" experience for families and outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to a vast assortment of outdoor gear, the Pyramid includes a wilderness-themed hotel called Big Cypress Lodge, nearly 600,000 gallons of water features, a cypress swamp with 100-foot-tall trees, the interactive Ducks Unlimited National Waterfowling Heritage Center, and The Lookout, a glass-floored cantilevering observation deck at the top of the 32-story steel Pyramid. More than three million visitors experienced the Pyramid in its first year of operation.

A fish tale in the making, Johnny contemplated the project while fishing in the shadow of the Pyramid with longtime friend Bill Dance – a world-famous fisherman and local Memphian – as well as the late Jack Emmitt, the company's first fishing manager. Johnny said if they caught a 30-pound or heavier catfish that day he would commit to the Pyramid transformation. As the legend goes, they caught a 34-pound catfish and the rest is history. A tribute to the story and the legacy of world-renowned fisherman Bill Dance can be found in the grand entrance of the Pyramid.

Bass Pro Shops Store Front Rancho Cucamonga

"I feel especially blessed to have had the steadfast loyal support of my family and extended family of very talented and passionate Bass Pro Shops, Tracker, and Big Cedar team members by my side. Together, we've shared a remarkable journey – and it's not over yet."

– Johnny Morris

Manufacturing: White River Marine Group

In 1978, Johnny Morris revolutionized the marine industry when he introduced the Bass Tracker, the world's first "fish ready" professionally rigged and nationally marketed boat, motor and trailer package. For the first time, fishermen could buy quality fishing boats "factory direct" at tremendous savings, allowing thousands of families to access the water for the first time. The development allowed Tracker to compete aggressively against larger, more established brands.

  • For more than 40 years running, Tracker has remained the number one selling fishing boat brand in America. In 2010, Tracker Marine Group surpassed Brunswick to become the leading boat manufacturer in the world.
  • Today the company's Ascend kayaks are the number-one selling brand in the world.
  • In 2015, the company acquired Fishing Holdings, LLC, a leading manufacturer of premier fishing boat brands, including Ranger, Stratos and Triton along with an industry-leading dealer network and formed White River Marine Group.
Bass Tracker

Hospitality: Big Cedar Lodge, America's Premier Wilderness Resort

Almost 30 years ago Morris began development on what is now Big Cedar Lodge. Today the nature-based resort hosts more than one million guests annually. Nestled in its own wooded hollow on more than 4,600 acres, Big Cedar Lodge rests on the shores of the sparkling 50,000-acre Table Rock Lake and features a collection of lodges, cottages and cabins rooted in rustic elegance that come with all the modern comforts. Big Cedar also offers four restaurants, a world-class spa, five swimming pools, more than 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and dynamic land and water adventures ranging from bass fishing, water skiing and lake cruises to campfire wagon tours and horseback riding. Big Cedar is rapidly emerging as a premier golf destination with a number of breathtaking courses designed by renowned architects including Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus a new course by Coore and Crenshaw, and the first ever public access championship course designed by Tiger Woods.

  • Voted "Number One Resort in the Midwest" by Travel + Leisure in 2016, 2017 and 2018
  • World’s Best Awards: #25 Best U.S. Hotel for Families, Travel + Leisure, 2013
  • Readers’ Choice Awards: #2 Top Resort in the Midwest, Conde Nast Traveler, 2013
  • Top 10 Resorts in the Country, Southern Living, 2011
Big Cedar Lodge

A Bright Future: Uniting with Cabela's

In September 2017 Johnny completed ambitious plans for the next exciting chapter in Bass Pro Shops history – uniting with Cabela’s and bringing together two iconic American outdoor companies with similar humble origins and a shared goal to better serve those who love the outdoors.

Founded in 1961 by Dick, Mary and Jim Cabela, Cabela’s is a highly-respected retailer of hunting, fishing, camping, shooting sports and related outdoor merchandise.

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s and White River Marine Group represent the best of American entrepreneurship, innovation and devotion to customers. The combined companies will strive to provide a remarkably enhanced experience for customers, increased opportunities for team members and greater support for conservation activities.

Johnny shared his thoughts about the opportunity in a letter to all associates and customers:

"The story of each of these companies could only have happened in America, made possible by the uniquely American free enterprise system. It also represents a significant opportunity to create a lasting impact on conservation for generations to come."

"Conservation is at the heart and soul of Bass Pro Shops. Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's share a steadfast belief that the future of our industry, and the outdoor sports we love, depends – more than anything else – on how we manage our natural resources. By combining our efforts, we can have a profound positive impact on the conservation challenges of our day and help foster the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts."

Select Business Awards and Recognition

John's visionary spirit and entrepreneurial success has been recognized by a number of organizations. For example:

  • In 1996, Johnny received the Missourian Hall of Fame Award. This award recognizes individuals who have been an outstanding contributor to the economic and business life and/or the arts and sciences of the state of Missouri and its communities.
  • In 1998, Johnny was inducted into the National Sporting Goods Association Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame.
  • In 2008, the National Retail Federation named Johnny Retail Innovator of the Year.
  • In 2014, the Missouri Division of Tourism inducted Johnny into the Missouri Tourism Hall of Fame.
  • In 2015, Bass Pro Shops Forbes Magazine named Bass Pro Shops one of America's Best Employers for its excellence as an employee-focused company.
  • In 2015, The National Retail Federation Foundation named Johnny as one of "25 People Shaping the Future of Retail".
  • In 2016, the local business community in partnership with Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) recognized Johnny with its 2016 "Excellence in Business" Award. Receipients are selected based on entrepreneurial success, innovative business growth, ability to overcome challenges with integrity, supporter of educational development, customer-driven quality and community achievement within the Ozarks.
  • In 2016, Springfield Public School District inducted Johnny into the Springfield Public Schools Hall of Fame for his impact advancing nature-based youth education thanks to partnerships like the Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility (WOLF) School. Founded by Morris and operated in partnership with Springfield Public Schools, Missouri Department of Conservation and Bass Pro Shops, The WOLF School is a national model for outdoors education. The school educates and inspires future conservation leaders by offering deserving fifth-grade students a full-time curriculum for an entire school year.
  • In 2017, Forbes Magazine named Bass Pro Shops as one of America's Most Reputable Companies in recognition of the public's trust in the organization.
  • In 2018, The National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association representing more than 18,000 companies in the United States and more than 45 countries, named Bass Pro Shops as the number two hottest retailer in America ahead of Amazon, PetSmart, IKEA, Verizon and many others.
  • In 2018, customers ranked Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s among the very best in America for in-store customer service according to the 2018 Retail Reputation Report from Reputation.com, which analyzed 4.7 million online consumer reviews posted on Google and Facebook.