Urban Success Story

5-Star Maxon Shooter’s Supplies

Indoor ranges have a very different look and feel from outdoor ranges.

In Des Plaines, Ill. — a Chicago suburb — Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range is one of only 45 indoor ranges that hold NSSF’s 5-star designation.

General Manager Sarah Natalie shared the first Maxon location opened in 1953, which makes them one of the oldest continuously open gun shops in the Chicagoland area. From then until now, the store has moved twice as it has expanded and grown. The most recent move (2013) allowed the store to increase its range capacity from two five-lane ranges to two nine-lane ranges.

“We could have moved outside of Des Plaines or gone to another suburb, but this is our community. It has 60 years of expectations of us supporting their Second Amendment rights, and giving them a place to practice and train, get education and buy products,” Natalie said. “We’ve been doing this for quite a long time. There’s been quite a bit of longevity in the development of our relationships with our community. Customers are used to coming in and seeing the same faces and the same owner, and to us being in the same place.”

Modern Day Comforts

Today, Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range is in a 16,000-sq.-ft. building with two classrooms, the two aforementioned nine-lane ranges, about 4,000 sq. ft. of retail space and a full gunsmithing shop.

“We allow pistol, rifle and shotgun shooting,” Natalie shared. “The ranges are 75′. We just completely renovated both our ranges and installed the Action Target Pilot systems, fully automated with touchpad controls and lots of cool features. We also did some sound attenuation, which had a drastic effect on the comfort level for our customers, by installing acoustic tiles and changing our ranges from cinderblock divider walls to Action Target products. Our customers love it.”

Maxon has two ADA-compliant lanes and two lanes specifically designed for private instruction; these lanes are wider than the others and have clear dividers so store staff can see clearly from outside the stalls.

“We have several customers who are wheelchair-bound,” Natalie said. “We wanted to make sure the environment in the range was comfortable for them.”

The range offers a broad array of firearms and related training.

“We try to be a one-stop shop,” Natalie said. “We have a comprehensive training catalog, from very beginner through defensive pistol skills.”

Instructors also offer training in related skills, such as CPR certification, trauma classes and less-lethal and improvised weapons seminars.

“We also have some law seminars, which have been very popular,” Natalie added. “We really try to provide everything for our customers.”

Success Starts With A Strong Team

Part of what makes Maxon unique, according to Natalie, is the way the staff approaches business on a daily basis.

“We really make an effort to reduce the friction associated with what people are trying to accomplish,” she stated. “Whether it’s buying a firearm or coming in to take a class or just asking a question, we really try to make each interaction as painless as possible.”

This parallels what Natalie is seeing in the industry and in retailing as a whole.

“We try to make it as convenient as we can with lots of technology-based offerings, and lots of ways for people to communicate with us other than picking up the phone and making a phone call,” she noted. “We have lots of different avenues for people to get their questions answered. We regularly staff our communication portals, such as Facebook and our email, so someone will respond to a customer in less than 24 hours, although it’s usually much faster. We don’t want people to wait through a weekend to get a question answered when it’s usually pretty straightforward.”

Serving the Chicago area since the early 1950s has enabled Maxon Shooter’s Supplies to make significant
inroads in its community, according to Sarah Natalie (right). “Customers are used to coming in and seeing
the same faces and the same owner, and to us being in the same place,” she noted.

This forward-thinking attitude of the staff begins with the hiring process, when managers look for those who view their work as a profession.

“We hire people who have lots of experience,” Natalie lends. “The majority of our staff are full-time employees, and our leadership team includes both women and veterans. We try to make sure we’re putting as many voices at the table as we can.”

Maxon’s urban location contributes to its diverse clientele.

“I’d guess our customer base is one of the most diverse in the country because of our proximity to the city,” Natalie observed. “Because of our location in the suburb, we get people from all walks of life and all different economic statuses, all races, all religions. It’s important when they come in here they feel comfortable and they see themselves reflected in the staff and the instructors and in the communication we put out. We’ve really tried to make it obvious to people who are looking.”

5-Star Pursuit

In 2015, Natalie happened to be on the NSSF’s website and saw mention of the 5-star range program. Curious, she dug into it and found the application. She and her staff put together the necessary paperwork and applied.

“We got our first 5-star designation that year,” she recalled. “A couple of years later, NSSF made the application much more difficult and incredibly detailed. We decided we would of course try to achieve it again, applied again and got named a 5-star range again in 2017.”

Natalie shared it’s important for the store to evolve with the customer base.

“In this industry, sometimes it’s challenging,” she said. “If you’ve been working with pen and paper for a long time and technology hasn’t been something you’re interested in, I think the customers are going to challenge you to get better, and to serve them and meet them where they are.”

It’s one of the goals at Maxon.

“As the expectations of our customers evolve, we’re trying to evolve with them,” Natalie stated.

COVID’s Impact On Business

So far, 2020 has been challenging, Natalie shared.

“COVID-19 has changed the way we run our range,” she said. “We had a period of time where we stopped allowing people on the range and stopped training classes and private instruction. We did it for quite a while, until we figured out how feasible it was going to be to restart those programs.”

The staff also discussed how they felt about what was going on and explored how their customers felt about it.

“In mid-March, when this all started, it was pretty obvious to us the usual way we’d been working wasn’t going to work anymore,” Natalie recalled. “We had customers stacked 10 deep at each register and lines out the door, and we had to deal with COVID at the same time we were dealing with unprecedented customer demand. Further, we were also dealing with civil unrest and security issues inside the store.”

“We really make an effort to reduce the friction associated with what people are trying to accomplish. Whether it’s buying a firearm or coming in to take a class or just asking a question, we really try to make each interaction as painless as possible.”

Sarah Natalie, General Manager Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range

They went through a couple of phases of dealing with all those issues. First was a “by appointment only” system. Because the store already had the technology to handle it, the staff was able to implement it quickly.

Customers really liked the by appointment-only system.

“It worked well, and the customers really appreciated knowing exactly when they were going to get served, and knowing they were going to be in the facility with only a certain number of people,” Natalie relayed. “We had to figure out how many appointments we could have so we didn’t overload ourselves.”

They also put a check-in desk at the front door.

“Customers are screened and they must show their faces to one of our security cameras,” Natalie lends, “because walking into a gun stop with a mask on — historically — has been a big no-no.”

The desk is staffed any time the store is open. Store hours also were reduced from 72 hours a week to 56 hours a week to improve staffing capability.

Staff also immediately started prioritizing gun pick-ups because they wanted customers to get their products as quickly as possible.

Adjustments With Holdover Potential

Since then, Maxon has restarted both private instruction and some classes.

“Our classes have a limit of nine students,” Natalie stated. “We have reopened the range with limited bookings available. We had the range at half-capacity through the summer. We plan to continue to do it until something drastic changes.”

Due to COVID-19, Maxon implemented an appointment-only system. One of the new measures in place is guests are
greeted and screened at the check-in desk by the front door. It’s been well received by customers and employees alike.

Maxon probably will continue some of those practices even after COVID-19 passes.

“This has shown us how valuable the appointment system has become,” Natalie noted. “Our customers are really excited about not having to cross their fingers on a Saturday morning and wait in line for 45 minutes when they come to the range. They know they have an appointment, they know they’re going to be served on time and we know they’re coming and we can be prepared for them.”

Maxon’s staff also has talked about keeping the check-in desk.

“It allows us to have initial contact with the customer from a security and customer service standpoint,” Natalie shared. “Then we can put them with the most appropriate staff member rather than having them just wander in and not really know where to go or who to talk to, especially if they’re coming in for the first time.”

Different Setting, Same Blueprint

While Maxon has a very different setting compared to Okeechobee Shooting Sports’ 100 acres of shooting paradise (evaluated in last month’s issue), there are similarities between the two locations: Each demonstrates a commitment to serving their customer base and not resting on past

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