Recreational Shooters Bring Big Business

Cater To New Demographic By Increasing Community Involvement.

Recreational shooting once meant plinking tin cans on the back fence. Times have certainly changed, as recreational shooting has become big business for dealers. The demographic of shooters has also changed.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), shooters who have taken up the sport in the last five years are trending young and female; they also tend to be city and suburban residents. Driven by these newcomers to shooting, participation in the shooting sports rose 19 percent from 2009 to 2012, at a time when golf and other activities were declining.

Kenny Bolieiro, operations manager at On Target Sports in Orange Park, Fla., sees this trend in his store.

“We’re seeing a lot more women coming in,” he said. “We’re also seeing a lot of people in both genders who are 60-plus coming in.”

Many of the customers visiting the store are new shooters, Bolieiro said.

“Others are returning shooters who haven’t shot a firearm in 15 or 20 years, and they’re just getting back into it,” he said.

Bolieiro has noticed the guns these shooters are buying range across the board.

“The two questions they ask is, ‘Which firearm is best for home defense?’ and ‘Which firearm is best for personal carry?’ The answers to those questions vary, so what they buy varies,” he said.

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A growing segment of recreational shooters consist of men bringing their
families to the range. Dealers can reach these new shooters by hosting
family nights and maintaining a welcoming store.

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Build Rapport Through Customer Service

Bolieiro said his store’s staff makes a point of developing relationships with customers.

“We pride ourselves on our customer service,” he said. “We offer a 30-minute safety and familiarization course with one of our instructors. New owners get class time and range time with an instructor.”

According to Bolieiro, recreational shooters are buying both handguns and rifles.

“They want a handgun one day and a rifle the next,” he said. “I think we probably sell a two-to-one ratio of handguns to rifles. A lot of people know Glock, so even people who don’t know anything about firearms will come in and ask about Glock. They’ve never seen one, so they have no idea what it looks like — but they’ll come in and ask for one. We sell a lot of Smith & Wesson, Ruger and Taurus revolvers.”

Calibers also are across the landscape, but Bolieiro does sell a lot of .380s.

Bolieiro said the store’s sales staff works to build a good rapport with first-time customers.

“We make a point of being very friendly,” he said. “We want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome. We let our customers know there is no such thing as a stupid question. You may think it’s a dumb question, but ask anyway — it’s probably a very smart question to ask.”
Bolieiro thinks multiple factors are driving this changing demographic.

“It’s something new to do,” he said. “We have one customer who’s had every hobby you can think of, and now he’s at the firearms portion of his life.”
Another factor includes customers’ desire to be able to defend themselves and their homes.

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Time on the range or in a classroom with an instructor helps to develop
personal-defense customers into recreational shooters.

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Growth In Organized Participation

At DCF Guns in Castle Rock, Colo., owner Josh Barton is seeing similar trends.

“One of the biggest things we’ve seen change over the past couple years is our shooters have gone from military and police shooters and hunters to more families and first-time shooters, including women,” he said. “Probably a third of our recreational shooters who are coming in on a regular basis are women.

Another third are middle-aged men with families who have never shot before. Those two groups have increased the most in the past couple of years.”
Barton noted new recreational shooters are getting involved in some of the organized sports.

“People are very interested in learning the tactics for shooting in IDPA and IPSC matches,” he said. “They want to learn how to be fast and accurate with their firearms, and they’re buying firearms that aren’t necessarily carry guns, or guns they’d use for personal defense.”

Indoor shooting events have helped grow the sport, Barton said.

“IDPA and other shooting sports organizations have recently began to offer more indoor organized events, and this also helps to get new shooters more involved,” he said. “When new shooters are able to see how much fun these shooting events are indoors, they become interested in getting more involved. Many new shooters won’t drive an hour away to shoot outdoors, especially if it’s cold or hot.”

In addition, Barton said 3-Gun matches are becoming increasingly popular with his customers.

“People are coming in and asking what shotgun they should use, and how they should equip their rifle,” he said. “Customers are really looking at what they can do to ARs.”

According to Barton, popular models with these customers are Glocks, Smith & Wesson M&Ps and Springfield XDs.

“Those are our biggest sellers,” Barton said. “We’ve also seen quite a trend with FN and SIG in the last year — we have a lot more people coming in wanting SIG SAUER or FN pistols.”

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At DCF Guns in Castle Rock, Colo., the customer demographic has shifted from traditional
shooters to more women and families. Access to an indoor range helps to promote continued
interest from recreational shooters.

Developing Recreational Shooters

How can dealers create recreational shooters out of personal-defense customers? Barton identified the importance of community involvement to welcome new customers into the sport.

“Increasing involvement is something we pursue on a regular basis,” he said. “We offer training packages that provide a more well-rounded shooting experience for those that may be interested in more than just personal defense,” he said.

To encourage women to come into the store, DCF Guns offers a free Ladies’ Night on the range.

“We provide instruction on Ladies’ Night,” Barton said. “It’s not one-on-one instruction, but we have a range safety officer who helps women who are new to shooting.”

Barton’s store also sponsors the local chapter of The Well Armed Woman.

“It’s a lot of fun to see these women come in who have never held a gun and who are terrified of them to come into our store,” Barton said. “After they are around women who are confident about firearms and using them, it’s really nice to see them get out there and try new things and really understand what firearms and shooting are about.”

DCF Guns works with a local women’s crisis center on the basics of personal defense, not including firearms.

“That has helped us reach out to women coming in who either haven’t shot in a long time, or just want to hone their skills and get more involved in what’s going on,” Barton said.

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Introducing younger shooters to the shooting sports benefits the entire industry.

Families That Shoot Together …

Another group of new customers at DCF Guns includes middle-aged men who have never shot before, and who bring their families with them. To accommodate this segment of new recreational shooters, Barton has started holding a “Family Night” on Friday nights.

“We offer buy one/get one free, and kids are able to go on the range at no charge — they just have to be 10 or older,” he said. “This allows families to come in without having to break the bank to do it.”

Barton makes sure that the store is inviting to women and families.

“It’s clean and well-lit,” he said. “Everything is very well organized — it has the same feeling as a department store. We don’t have the good ol’ boy’s club sitting behind the counter that’s really intimidating for new customers to talk to.”

All of these things help drive involvement in the shooting sports, Barton said. Memberships are another way to help new shooters get involved.
“By providing discounts on range ammunition and other services to members, we help make things more affordable,” Barton said.

We’ve been saying for 30 years we need to reach out to women and families, and now they’ve come to us. Catering to this new demographic of recreational shooters is good for them, the industry and your bottom line.
By Carolee Anita Boyles

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