Range Games

Considerations For Hosting
Your Next Range Event

It’s safe to assume every one of your potential customers knows you sell guns. They also know you sell ammo and a wide range of accessories to go with them.

So what can you do to give those potential customers — as well as regulars — another reason to come into your store?

Consider the potential value of hosting a special event in your shop. It could be as simple as an industry weekend featuring a particular manufacturer (think GLOCK, Ruger Days or something similar). Or you could take a more creative approach and come up with a theme. Maybe even design some range games and giveaways around it.

It’s worked well for Ultimate Defense in St. Peters, Mo., where they’ve been running a series of special evening events built around popular movies and genres. Recent examples include a trio of “John Wick” nights (one for each movie in the franchise) and a cowboy night.

Charging $99 per participant means the events are adding a little bit to the bottom line, but short-term revenue bumps aren’t necessarily the goal, informed Paul Bastean, managing director of the suburban store that neighbors St. Louis.

“I’m not going to buy a vacation house with it, but it gets new people onto the range,” he said.

The events (each has 40 slots) feature several shooting stages built on the range, often with the help of a local woodworker, whose projects have included a stagecoach prop and a “horse” made of plywood for the cowboy night. “I bought a saddle off Craigslist for $5,” he added.

One of the “John Wick” nights included a stage with a series of winding corridors on the range, with lots of close-quarters shots. For a bit of variety, one stage ended with the customer stabbing the last villain with a pencil (represented by a styrofoam head picked up at a local craft store).

Ultimate Defense’s Paul Bastean runs through a practice round ahead
of a recent Cowboy Gunfighter Night. He enlists the help of a local woodworker
to create additional authenticity and social media-worthy moments for attendees.

“It Just Has To Be Fun.”

In planning these events, there’s no need to get hung up on fine details. For example, you don’t have to equip participants with the exact model gun John Wick used in the movies. “It doesn’t have to be too authentic. It just has to be fun,” Bastean advised.

While some customers might prefer to bring their own guns, the shop always supplies the firearms (taken from the rental wall) and ammo. It makes it easier to design stages around specific round counts and eliminates the problems that could come with allowing outside guns and ammo.

“It just works out really smoothly if we use our own guns,” Bastean noted.

Events Lead To The Bigger Picture

Of course, you don’t have to be so elaborate or creative to get something out of promotional events.
Two or three times a year, Doug’s Shoot’n Sports in Salt Lake City, will plan an event around one of its top manufacturers, a group including Smith & Wesson, SIG SAUER and FN.

“They’ll bring out samples. A lot of times, they’ll have guns the customers can shoot,” said Owner Dave Larsen.
Often, they’ll use a larger weekend event — ideally with a representative from the company on site — to kick off a multiple-week promotion. During this period, they’ll offer free range rentals on the manufacturer’s guns. Here too, the goal runs deeper than an immediate uptick in revenue.

“It does kick up the sales a little bit,” Larsen confirmed. “We get more from the name recognition and people talking about us.”

The events also offer the opportunity to focus on specific brands — something cost prohibitive without assistance from the manufacturers, who will often kick in support for advertising the events, often with a free gun or two. Without the help, it can be difficult to highlight one manufacturer’s product line.

“If I go out and pay for radio ads for a specific product, I don’t ever sell enough of it to justify the costs of those ads,” Larsen admitted. “We’ll spend $5,000 in advertising. You have to sell a lot of guns to cover that.”

Hosting range events may not equivalate to an immediate ROI, but your facility
stands to benefit in the long term because it will — as Dave Larsen shared — get
people thinking and talking about your store. Image NSSF

A Case For Avoiding freebies

Ultimate Defense also does the occasional manufacturer-specific event, focusing on SIG SAUER, GLOCK and Ruger.
Even with those, they offer some sort of game element to get people more involved. They don’t offer giveaways — figuring they only encourage people to drop by simply to snap up the freebies. Instead, they build games.

Consider the strategy on SIG Days. The manufacturer offered a free gun for the event. So the Ultimate Defense team designed a poker game on the range — for a few bucks, participants took five shots at a target displaying a deck of cards. The resulting poker hand decided how many tickets the shooter got for a random drawing. A pair was worth one ticket, while a straight flush earned 10.

“We don’t give away anything for free, but if you play our games there’s a good chance you’ll win something,” Bastean said.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many tickets are handed out, since the prize pool is fixed. The more tickets you hand out, the more fun everybody has.

More than anything, it gives people another reason to step inside the shop.

“Once they get in the door, my sales staff will take over from there,” he noted. “I just have to get them in the door first.”

As part of its promotion efforts for upcoming events, Ultimate Defense
has flyers on hand for customers. Promotion begins about six weeks ahead
of the event. The range has had success with its “John Wick”- and
Old West-inspired experiences.

Hard Lessons

If you’re going to design an event around a movie, it’s best to stick with the blockbusters. Otherwise, customers are slower to respond. Ultimate Defense learned this when they tried a tie-in with the 2010 movie “The Town.” The event did okay, but it lacked the excitement accompanying the more popular “John Wick” nights.
“We have to use something everybody’s seen,” Bastean said.

If you do try something along these lines, don’t expect a mad rush of sign ups. Getting people to register ahead of time can be rough. Ultimate Defense starts promoting its events about six weeks out. They might get a few responses right away, but then things go quiet.

“We’ll sell the rest of the spots out the week of the event,” Bastean said. “It’s a little nerve-wracking until you get to the sold-out point.”

Larsen, in Salt Lake City, shared one of the things to keep in mind is there may be competition for your customers’ time. Gun shows and sporting events the same weekend can be a problem.

“If you pick the wrong weekend, it can kill your promo,” he warned.

So, know what else is going on in town the weekend of your event.

Getting The Word Out

How much does it cost to advertise? Ultimate Defense has reduced its advertising budget for these special events to zero.

“I’ve flushed so much money down the toilet on TV and radio. I’ve decided it’s broken, and I’m just going to leave it broken,” Bastean said.

Instead, they’ve come to rely on email campaigns and social media. They encourage participants to post videos on Facebook and other sites. To make it easier, they have a social media “influencer” on staff who offers to shoot video for every participant. No one says no, Bastean noted.

They also have social media followers all over the world. Many of them will never set foot in the store for these special events, but they do tell their friends about them via shares on Facebook.

“It’s an organic growth that’s so much better than pay-per-click. It gets you to the people who are genuinely interested in what you’re doing,” Bastean added.

At Doug’s Shoot’n Sports, the story is pretty much the opposite. They haven’t had much luck with social media. Instead, they focus on radio advertising.

“I’ve tried billboards in the past, but I don’t know if they did much for me,” Larsen said.

Even though radio tends to offer the biggest bang for the buck, it has to be right radio station. In their case, it means rock and country stations. He’s tried some other genres, but hasn’t seen the same level of return. Most of his customers are men, so he targets the stations where the demographic is skewed toward male listeners.

“I’m going to target the people already thinking about guns,” Larsen said.

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