When Steve D. Scheel looks back on his career, he struggles to pick one thing that stands out, one thing he is most proud of. That said, there’s a way of doing business and life that rises to the top.
“Our mission at Scheels is that we do good in our communities,” he says. “That example was set for me; I hope I’ve set it for others.”
This spring, Scheel will be honored with the L.B. Hartz Professional Achievement Award.
The award is named in honor of the late L.B. Hartz, founder of Hartz Wholesale Co. in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. It’s presented annually by MSUM’s College of Business, Analytics & Communication to an individual who has created economic opportunities for others through innovation, entrepreneurship and community service.
Throughout his career, Scheel has lived out those values.
Scheel was born and raised in Fargo and graduated from Fargo Central High School and St. Olaf College with degrees in U.S. history, economics, and political science. He served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971.
He joined Scheels in 1972 and managed stores in Fargo, Casselton, Moorhead and Sioux Falls before taking over as president, CEO, and chairman in 1989. He represents the fourth generation in his family to be involved in the company. His son has also been involved.
He currently serves as board chair for the company with over 9,000 associates and 29 stores in 14 states. It operates the 15 largest sporting goods stores in the U.S.
A willingness to adapt but not grow too fast is one reason the company has been successful, Scheel says. Over the past decade, the company has turned its stores into attractions and experiences instead of merely shopping destinations. In its newest stores customers can watch a scuba diver feed fish in a large aquarium. There are Ferris wheels and restaurants and sculptures
“We’ve made our stores a fun place to shop, a fun place to come to,” he says. Those types of innovations have helped Scheels thrive in a retail world where online shopping has threatened physical stores.
And yet, nothing is more important than the employees who support these visions, Scheel says. The company’s corporate headquarters is in Fargo, and it is an ESOP owned by the employees.
“Nothing is more than our team,” he says. “They’re incredible.”
In addition to his work with the family-founded business, Scheel has volunteered on many boards and committees in the region. He also has coached youth soccer and hockey. Most recently, he’s worked with Friends of the Children and the Legacy Children’s Foundation in Fargo. LCF is a new foundation working to help young people in Fargo stay in school. Friends of the Children helps to break the cycle of generational poverty.
“It’s been fun to sit on boards and teach people about numbers, about business,” Scheel says. “It’s fun to coach people who don’t have a business degree and are leading something that can be something down the road.”
Scheel turns 75 this summer. He still loves the business. He still loves walking the floor.
“I’m so lucky to be surrounded by incredible people,” he says. “They make my job as an ambassador for Scheels easy.”
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