Keys To Growing Your Membership Base

Hint: More Memberships, More Profits!
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When it comes to membership programs, Midwest Shooting Center in Lima, Ohio, has it dialed in and has achieved rapid success in short succession. What’s so unique about this NSSF Five Star range that only opened in spring 2019?

Well, how about selling 1,000 memberships at an average of $30 a month before they even opened the doors. This means they had over $30,000 coming in monthly (and $360,000 annually) to help cover costs — boy, would that help a new owner sleep at night …

As anyone who has ever been to Lima knows, it’s not a thriving metropolis — it’s a “B” market with a population of only 39,000 and metropolitan statistical area of 154,000 in a mostly blue-collar area. You need to reach out to a 30-minute drive time to get over 200,000 people. And yet, Midwest Shooting Center is thriving.

How’d They Do It?

How did they realize $30,000 in the till before even opening the front doors? Short answer: Hard work, working smarter and using technology. Midwest used the same preselling model they perfected and applied over and over in the fitness industry. Two of the three principal owners — Jeff Swinford and David Sabo — come from the fitness-center world. At one time, they were in the top five of the largest domestic operators of Anytime Fitness franchisees, with 25 (and sold all but five last year).

By now you should be impressed with what these newcomers to our industry were able to accomplish, but if you’re like me and skeptical of new ideas coming into our playground, you ask if they have been able to sustain this or was it just great a marketing system?

While they have not only sustained the memberships, they have really ramped up after the successful start. After 24 months in business, Midwest Shooting Center had over 2,400 members paying an average of $38 a month — bringing in over $1 million in revenue, with a less than 4% delinquency rate. Two years in, they have over $91,000 a month of mailbox money! Plus, over 90% of these members are on a three-year commitment. Members are spending over $50 a month on merchandise in the store and over 25% of them have taken a class, which of course results in more merchandise sales if your trainers are doing their jobs.

In August, Midwest Shooting Center opened a second location in Fort Wayne, Ind. — a $10 million development with 22 indoor shooting lanes. And they’re not done yet. Later this month the third location opens in Sylvania, Ohio, with the fourth in Pittsburgh and fifth in Dayton, Ohio, coming soon.

Payment Options Add Boost

What are some unique aspects of Midwest Shooting Centers’ membership program? One is they bill most members (over 90%) bi-weekly, making a smaller sum, which many customers are already used to from companies like Netflix. Most payments are due on Friday, aligning with when many people get paid. Getting this payment under $20 makes it so most customers hardly notice it is coming out of their wallet.

A key to supercharging your membership program is getting everyone from the top of your organization down to the floor sweeper on board with selling memberships.

Midwest offers three payment options: annual, monthly or the aforementioned bi-weekly. Bi-weekly gives shooters the most benefits and locks them into a three-year commitment, followed by monthly (with a few less perks). Annual payments receive the least amount of benefits.

What’s the best payment cycle? An automated one. To this end, Midwest uses the same billing company for payment processing they use in the fitness busines. Another unique part of their membership program is a $20 twice a year billing for range enhancements.

Even before it opened its doors in spring 2019, Midwest Shooting Center enjoyed the benefits of a strong
membership base. Today, it’s about to open its third location and is developing its fourth and fifth stores.

Keys To Consider

A key to supercharging your membership program is getting everyone from the top of your organization down to the floor sweeper on board with selling memberships. It has to be a “land on shore and burn the boat, no turning back” type of commitment.

Face it, not many of your employees came to work this morning excited to sell memberships — more likely they woke up thinking about the newest gun or latest optic, so this will be a major change for them. How do you get them on board? Like everyone else, they listen to radio station WIFM (What’s In it For Me)? They need to be rewarded financially and in other ways for selling memberships. Ranges that do well selling memberships have all employees selling them. I’ve even seen gunsmiths sell memberships!

Of course, the old mantra “what gets measured, gets improved” applies to memberships. Treat memberships like your other departments — set goals, put someone in charge and hold them accountable. AXIS POS (and I am sure others) has a report showing members gained or lost (after all, it doesn’t do any good to recruit 10 new members if 15 dropped off). Make someone accountable for what’s on this report, and get the whole team involved in some way with the reward. Unlike some departments in your retail area, if you make memberships successful you’ll have money to reward team members.

Speaking of members dropping off the rolls, or what some call churn, those ranges good at memberships seem to push their members to actually come in and use the facility. The old way of selling a membership and hoping they never use it is over. Now you want them using it, so they’ll continue to be members into the future.

Membership Coordinator Vital

By far the largest factor I have seen in uber-successful membership programs is a full-time membership coordinator who spends 100% of his or her time on membership. This person can be paid a low salary, heavy on incentives to get your program numbers up. The coordinator is key to getting staff trained on selling memberships and on board with your new program. They should have a membership desk in a prominent place near the front door to interact with arriving guests and members.

Worried about giving up prime retail space for a membership coordinator desk? Don’t be. If your membership program is run correctly its profits will far exceed retail profits from the same space. A good, outgoing membership coordinator near the front door can also liven up the store’s vibe and make it a better selling environment for all aspects of your business.

Your best candidates for memberships are your current shooters.

Your membership coordinator should also be charged with going out into the community to sell corporate memberships, as well as finding potential members at events such as fairs and consumer shows geared toward your markets. They should be networking within your local community as well as hosting in-store events, some for exclusive for members and other events for potential members.

Finding someone to be a successful membership coordinator is worth the effort. You may want to look for someone with golf/country club experience, and of course someone with membership-selling experience from the gym industry would also be a good place to search for this valuable team member. A good membership coordinator could well be your best ROI (return on investment) employee.

Touting membership benefits prominently on its website, Midwest Shooting Center
can provide prospective members with a preview of what to expect if they sign on.

Is It Worth It?

Why make the effort? You do like profit dollars, right?

Say you had $50,000 to spend in one department. If we put it into the gun department, it would buy 95 optic-ready SIG SAUER 365s (MAP protected). Sold above MAP but below MSRP, say a 20% margin, would give us a gross profit of $12,445. Now if we take the $50,000 and put it toward memberships and sell 95 memberships at $30 a month, we would have $2,850 coming in every month — a gross profit of $34,200 a year, reoccurring annually.

With memberships the money keeps coming in. With the SIG 365s you have to find another 95 of them, then find another 95 customers to buy them and so on. Meanwhile, your membership dollars keep coming into your mailbox, an especially great thing when things slow down again.
In this example, I tried to give the gun department the advantage of a gun with MAP so you’d have some protection from others undercutting you. Even with this perfect-world example memberships come out light years ahead; non-MAP products may not come out as well.

Part of your efforts selling memberships should be put into in-store/range branding. If you walk into your establishment today, how many signs do you have in the store, in the classroom and on the range promoting membership sales? Your best candidates for memberships are your current shooters. Midwest has a 20+% success rate converting walk-in shooters to buy a membership who filled out information on its smart waiver form.

A flyer nicely presented in the shooting stall or message on each target backer offering memberships seems like a good idea. Lots of shooters go into the restroom to wash their hands after shooting, so promoting memberships here works, as well.

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