June 7, 2019
6 Ways To Enhance “The Experience” At Your Range
Succeeding in retail today is all about “the experience.” This trend has impacted nearly every business, with large corporations investing millions of dollars to ensure a customer’s experience (either in-store or online) is smooth, satisfactory and enjoyable. It’s permeating our industry, with savvy firearms retailers and range store operators transforming their businesses to ensure customers become enthusiasts. Some are making major investments in their ranges, while others have thrived in taking creative approaches to drive business. Here are six ways your peers are succeeding in creating “an experience” at the range for customers.
1.) Remove Anxieties For First-Time Visitors
A customer’s first visit to a range will be intimidating, and it’s crucial your facility fosters a welcoming environment — as first impressions generally stick.
“In order to continue to grow our industry and the shooting sports, we need focus on that first experience for new shooters,” said Bill Robinson, president of City Arsenal (Greenville, S.C.) “In my opinion, it’s critical to whether they continue to pursue the sport and the lifestyle or walk away with a bad taste.”
Addressing the fear of the unknown is top-of-mind for Shooter’s World CFO Lisa Roux, which is why she has pictures of her store and staff readily available on its social media platforms.
“On social media, one of the main things we like to do is show what our employees and store look like. Our staff is friendly, well groomed,” she shared. “We also like to show what the inside of our building looks like. It’s well lit, clean, bright … it’s not some seedy, scary gun shop.”
Down Range Indoor Training Center (Chico, Calif.) has taken a similar measure: an interactive 3D layout of its facility is available on its website — thus enabling online users to “walk” the store and map out their visit ahead of time. Small steps like this will help take out anxieties associated with a first visit.
2.) Focus On Fun.
In the years leading to 2016, fear-induced buying drove the market. Since 2017, retailers have needed to adjust their approach with the national threat against firearms removed for now.
“Fear is fleeting, but fun is forever,” stated Bren Brown, co-owner and president of Frontier Justice, which operates two locations in Missouri and Kansas. “Our stance is the ‘experience’ we have to offer in-store for the entire public and the fun of recreational shooting as a sport, not just self-defense.”
Will Ceron, owner of Check 6 Arms (Denver), has adjusted how his store communicates to customers in marketing the “fun” aspects of the shooting sports.
“We will still focus on the self-defense aspect of firearms, but will push some more of the sporting and fun-time aspects of it as well to reach a different type of gun owner,” he said.
According to Ceron, his store has started to post more range pictures and videos on social media.
“It doesn’t always have to be so serious, with the exception of safety,” he continued. “Shooting can be very cathartic and enjoyable. We want to be able to convey this to customers.”
3.) Create A Themed Event.
In line with the second point, themed events represent a tried-and-true method to bringing people out to the range and trying something new.
Paul Bastean, managing director of St. Peters, Mo.-based Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Training Center, had an astute observation in rating his facility’s live-fire capabilities above his retail operation.
“The retail segment of our business is actually our least valuable behind training and range usage,” he shared.
“We realized a significant portion of millennials’ only experience with firearms was through playing video games or watching them in movies,” he continued. “So, we created events to help simulate these scenes within the safety of our range.”
In March, Ultimate Defense hosted Cowboy Gunfighter Night. The event included holsters, ammunition and the opportunity to shoot cowboy guns like those featured in popular Western movies for one single price. The range was transformed to include four themed stages, complete with sets and props like a poker game gone bad requiring the use of single-actions; a shooting gallery with lever-action rifles; a saloon scenario using simunition guns and a timed quick-draw bracket tournament.
Past event themes have included zombie apocalypse and “John Wick” night during which participants watched scenes from the movie on a large screen then took to the range where the scenes were recreated.
With a limited number of spots available, the events capitalize on a common trend among millennials called “FOMO” — which stands for “fear of missing out.” The all-inclusive price appeals to those who are budget conscious and may have limited disposable income, as they know there won’t be any additional costs or hidden fees once they arrive.
4.) Invest In New Technology.
This point may not apply to every range facility, as investing in new systems is a exorbitant endeavor. However, for those ranges investing in new offerings created another way to stand out and enhance “the experience” during the visit.
The V23 Live Fire Simulator from Ti Outdoors has emerged as a capable option for range operators. It effectively turns a shooting lane into a video game of sorts, by projecting static and moving images on a white paper screen. Shooters have numerous games to choose from — including carnival-, defensive pistol- and Battleship-themed games. (Some, like “Halloween Shoot ’Em Up, represent seasonal opportunities to boost sales.)
Tim Van Leiden, owner of The Gun Guys in Ottawa, Kan., recently invested in two systems. It’s given him a new potential revenue stream: participants must use the range’s ammo in sessions costing $25 for 30 minutes.
“It’s basically like a video game with real guns,” he said. “It’s a pretty big investment, I’m hoping it will pay off.”
Cheryle Rebholz, owner of Bear Arms in Mequon, Wis., has keyed in on the “entertainment” value the industry offers, by housing a MILO Range simulator on site.
“The virtual theatre has over 800 scenarios and is not limited to just firearms training, but dives into self-defense and gaming scenarios for social events,” she added.
It doesn’t always have to be a major investment, though. Carolyn Jones, vice president of Gun Craft Inc. in Ruskin, Fla., shared with summer nearing full swing her facility’s outdoor range has instituted weekly changes to its course of fire.
“Our range is booming, we’re a membership gun range with a daily fee and we rent the range for classes, competitions and other events — which are booked up through summer,” she informed. “We’ve built a really fun shooting course and change it up each week, this has been a huge element on our range, and people are loving it.”
5.) Deliver Standout Customer Service.
Another way to enhance the range experience is, simply, through standout customer service. This can be as basic as renewing how your store interacts with customers or as intricate as instituting a new program for their benefit.
Calibers Shooting Centers (Albuquerque, N.M.) CEO Adam Burt’s perspective on customer service encapsulates excellent business awareness: “If you’re a retail store, it’s going to be customer service, customer service, customer service. If you’re a range/retail store, it’s also customer service — it all contributes to the ‘customer experience.’”
An example of first-class customer service can be found at Atlanta’s Stoddard’s Range and Guns. The range has an innovative program in place to help ease customers’ fears of making a big firearms purchase by combining extensive training, range rentals to “try before you buy” and a “no regrets” 30-day return policy. Customers can use a purchased firearm for up to 30 days, and if for any reason are not happy with their investment, it can be returned (pending its “as-new” condition) for store credit for the full purchase price.
“This policy puts the responsibility on our staff to be knowledgeable and take their time to understand a customer’s unique needs,” said Ken Baye, co-owner. “By recommending the right gun for them and educating the customer, so he or she feels comfortable with their purchase, they’ll have no reason to return it.”
(Stoddard’s also takes a savvy approach to appealing to social media users: The range has a backdrop of a full-auto machine gun that customers can pose and take pictures with. It promotes Stoddard’s range, as well as giving customers one more thing to make their experience memorable.)
6.) Host A Major Event.
Manufacturer Days and other major events are near-surefire strategies to elevate “the experience” customers have at your range. It’s not everyday an enthusiast gets to meet with a representative from one of their favorite manufacturers — and it could represent a customer’s introduction to your establishment.
Parro’s Gun Shop in Waterbury, Vt., has long-focused its promotional efforts on major in-store events. The largest have centered around Ruger and GLOCK, though this year will also feature a Smith & Wesson event.
“People look forward to my promotions,” lends Owner Henry Parro. “It’s almost like they save their money all year just to come in for them.”
If you have the means and the space, festivals or other community-oriented events will give your facility the perfect opportunity to showcase its wares.
Black Wing Shooting Center (Delaware, Ohio) hosts a Summer Blast event each July. While there are manufacturer representatives on site, special offers and opportunities to shoot, the store also offers family-friendly activities both shooters and non-shooters alike will enjoy. Summer Blast kicks off on a Friday night with a live band and beer sales benefitting a local charity. The event continues Saturday with a car show and proceeds to benefit a second local charity. Each day, the event draws an estimated 400 people.
Whether it’s having a meeting with your team to design a themed night or hosting a special one-off event at your range, taking a fresh look at any of the strategies above is certainly a start to ensuring your range captures additional sales during the summer months. The next step? Winning business by providing a first-class experience for your customer base.