Strategic Growth Tips For Range Owners
By Doug VanderWoude
Not too long ago I was like you, someone important — a range and retail operator, the backbone of this industry. For much of the past decade, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time flying around the country working with ranges and firearms retailers, learning from them and helping them make more money. I want to take this opportunity and pass on some inexpensive ways to ring the till, perhaps they’ll work for you too.
Try Before You Buy
Are you maximizing a “Try Before You Buy” program by promoting it in your advertising? A staunch “Try Before You Buy” program is a sizable advantage you have over retailers without ranges, especially when it comes to getting new shooters into our sport. Once you have someone in your store — whether they’re looking for their first or 10th firearm — a “Try Before You Buy” type of offer is usually the best way to stimulate a purchase.
An obstacle in the consumer’s mind to this approach is the cost versus what they plan to use. Many will only need to take a few shots to see if they like the gun. If they’re forced to pay $20 for range time, $15 for the rental firearm, $15 for a box of ammo, $5 for safety glasses, $2 to rent muffs and $2 for a target it quickly rings up a total of $59. They may elect to take a chance and instead of buying from you today, price-shop with other retailers or worse — online sites.
One of the best ways around this issue is demonstrated at Bill and Holli Pinon’s store, Ann Arbor Arms, in Ann Arbor, Mich. They have a hugely successful “Three For $15” program. For $15, a guest can pick three rental firearms and put five rounds through each. This includes range time, the rental firearm, five rounds of ammo for each, a target and use of eye/ear protection. Perhaps most important, it allows staff to go into the range with the guests and discuss each firearm.
Bill rates this successful program will turn into a firearm sale 85 percent of the time on the same day, and up to 95 percent within a week.
To be most effective, the staff interacting with the guest should spend no more than 15 minutes on the range — this will give the guest enough time to enjoy the range, build a relationship with the staff member and hopefully want to come back and practice at your facility.
Cost to the range is minimal: 15 rounds of ammo, a target and a short duration on the range. Whether they buy the gun or not, the store keeps the $15. Bill’s staff offers this program when they have a serious buyer; guests who just want to shoot are charged the regular rates.
SharpShooters USA sells branded safety glasses and Peltor Sport foam plugs at a nominal price for range patrons. It serves two purposes: free marketing and gives guests a clear view of the surrounding facility.
Rental firearms benefit all parties: consumers, ranges and manufacturers. Make sure you take advantage of all the manufacturers offering rental gun programs; including accessory manufacturers like Crimson Trace and SilencerCo. If your favorite brand doesn’t offer one, reach out to discuss if they’ll do a one-off arrangement for you.
Speaking of rental firearms, add small colored “Try Me” tags on all the firearms in your retail display case. (Hint: Make these available in your rental fleet.) Many of your guests, especially first timers, will have no idea the firearm they’re looking at can also be rented at your facility. Don’t count on your employees to mention it.
It may also make sense to take product out of stock and put on the rental wall. Adding little accessories to your rental firearms will help stimulate sales as well, items like grip extensions, aftermarket grips, optics, night sights … anything to make the shooting experience more enjoyable and help sell products is game.
Instead of renting safety glasses, sell them. It’s good practice for hygiene reasons alone (you don’t want to give your guests pink eye or another nefarious disease). It also saves employees’ time cleaning dirty glasses. Many ranges are getting $2.99 to $6.99 for safety glasses; some ranges go the extra step and put their logo on the side — free marketing. Another benefit of using new glasses is your guest will have a perfectly clear view of your facility. In my travels, I’ve seen ranges hand out glasses so scratched the guest would be lucky to see the target let alone know if they hit center.
Tom Deets, managing partner at SharpShooters USA in Roswell Ga., offers safety glasses with his logo and Peltor foam plugs for $5.99. Deets relayed sales of higher-quality eye/ear protection have tripled since making the switch. The eye/ear protection category is traditionally high margin, so this will make a difference to your bottom line.
Focus On “The Experience”
There is a rising demographic of customers — especially among millennials and those in urban environments — looking for “the experience” of shooting firearms at a range. Appealing to this type of audience offers a prime way to get them through your doors. Now’s a good time to remember you’re not just in the gun business or training sphere, you’re also in the entertainment business. Take advantage of this by offering different packages at your range.
Packages are not just for metropolitan areas like Las Vegas, although it’s a great place to get ideas. One Vegas range had a package where a guest could experience shooting a machine gun and then go down the road and drive a bulldozer or crane. Rafe Corley, director of retail at Mission Ridge Range and Academy in San Antonio, has enjoyed success with their John Wick Movie Package featuring a Benelli M4, Walther PPQ and MSR for $65. For the younger crowd, Corley offers the Annie Oakley Package. It comes with a special target to test their skills with a selection of .22 LR rifles for $35.
Advertise some of these fun packages in local media outlets to draw in the non-traditional customers to your business. Keep in mind the “entertainment” segment of your business is not only in direct competition with other gun stores, but also movie theaters, racetracks, golf courses and other businesses vying for these entertainment dollars.
While we’re discussing being in the entertainment business, are you capitalizing on promoting your range with your current shooters? Many guests want to show they were at your range. An easy way to help them promote you is a selfie spot with your logo in the background (even better if they’re holding a target with your logo). COO Ken Baye at Stoddard’s in downtown Atlanta has a great one, using a backdrop of a firearm for revelers to pose with.
In line with today’s emphasis on “the experience” a customer has at your range, Stoddard’s Range and Guns has set up a focal point for guests to take pictures and share with their friends on social media. Here, COO Ken Baye strikes a pose commonly seen at the range. In today’s social media-driven age, this is an effective way to elevate the visibility of your brand.
Think about all the potential customers who may see the photo of your selfie spot or the target the proud shooter brings home to show friends at the office.
Keep ringing the till.
Doug VanderWoude is the managing partner of Point of Impact Group, which specializes in firearms range and retail consulting. VanderWoude has over 35 years of experience in the industry; he previously served as the director of AcuSport Corp.’s range program and co-founded Silver Bullet Firearms.