A Tradition of Doing Good in the Community

Scheels is the recipient of the 2022 Partner in Excellence Award, which recognizes a corporation, foundation, or organization that has given significant support as well as demonstrated inspirational philanthropic giving in the university.

Story by Nicole Thom-Arens | March 29, 2022

Partner in Excellence Award | Scheels | Evening of Distinction 2022 | NDSU Foundation

More than a hundred years ago, in 1902, the first Scheels store opened in Sabin, Minnesota. Friedrich A. Scheele, a German immigrant, used $300 from his first potato harvest as a down payment on a hardware and general merchandise store. Through the next seven decades, the Scheels corporation continued to expand, opening general merchandise stores in the upper Midwest, but in 1980, Steve D. Scheel, current Board Chair and former CEO, made a decision that would take the business to an entirely new level.

“We had a young fellow in training. We chose him to go down and run the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, store and I said, ‘Tim, let’s make that store all sporting goods.’ He asked, ‘Can we do that?’ I said, ‘We can do that, just don’t screw up,'” Steve, recalled. “I called Joe Pavicic, our ad manager in Fargo, and I said, ‘Joe, I need a going out of business sale in Sioux Falls for hardware, lawn and garden, and housewares. We’re going to make the store all sporting goods.’ There was dead silence on the end of the phone. Joe said, ‘Does your dad know about that?’ I said, ‘He’ll find out sooner or later, and I’m sure he’ll just watch what happens.'”

Scheels store in Sabin, MN - 1902
Scheels store in Sabin, MN - 1902

Steve’s dad, Fred B. Scheel, was CEO at the time and had resisted selling only sporting goods. He believed sporting goods were a luxury and the first thing people could do without — fishing was something people did when they weren’t working. But Steve could sense a cultural shift and followed his gut. He could foresee a change toward sporting goods becoming a lifestyle; today, people live to fish and hunt, and they take their sports seriously.

"It's fun to support a school that provides so many opportunities for the whole community. I think NDSU probably contributes more to the community than any other business or organization."

Steve D. Scheel

Scheels Board Chair and former CEO

His gamble paid off. The store didn’t fail; in fact, within a year of the change, the Sioux Falls store was having steady gains of 20-25% while the company overall, still a mix of sporting goods, hardware, housewares, and lawn and garden, was experiencing steady 4-5% gains. Soon, other Scheels locations followed suit and sold sporting goods exclusively, and in 1989, the company built its first all sporting goods store in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was 30,000 square feet. Today, Scheels has 30 locations across 13 states, including the World’s Largest All Sports Store with The Colony, Texas, location. The 331,000 square-foot store features more than 85 specialty shops.

The Scheels company has a strong legacy of philanthropy that’s embedded into its mission statement, which is simply, “We do good in our communities.” Steve credits his dad for instilling his passion of giving back into the company culture. Fred served as chairman in the fundraising efforts for NDSU’s Askanase Hall in the 1960s. Today, employees in every store are encouraged to give back, and Scheels leads by example.

“As a company, we take it to the next level,” Steve said. “We give back at least 5% of our profit to our local communities every year. As our stores do better and better, we have to search for ways to give that away in a meaningful manner. Not only does the company support institutions and organizations like NDSU, but the vast majority of our people do as well.”

Scheels has been Steve’s career and passion for more than 50 years, and he is proud that the success of the business allows him opportunities to invest in NDSU both personally and as a business leader. Scheels, along with Steve and his wife, Eileen, have supported NDSU Performing Arts, the College of Business, and Athletics.

“From the number of people that NDSU employs, to the number of people they bring to town for different events at different venues, to the students they produce, we’re proud to support NDSU,” Steve said. “It’s fun to support a school that provides so many opportunities for the whole community. I think NDSU probably contributes more to the community than any other business or organization.”

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