April 13, 2018
Behind the Firing Line: Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range
|Welcome to NSSF’s column for firearms range owners, managers, and staff. “Behind the Firing Line” works to accomplish two things. First, it recognizes ranges that have met the stringent requirements necessary to achieve NSSF’s Five-Star rating for excellence. Second, it works to explain how these ranges met specific criteria within the Star-Rating Range Program so that other ranges working to make the grade can discover ideas and guidance for their improvement. For more information, visit www.nssf.org.
|—Zach Snow, NSSF Director, Range Services
Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range, Des Plaines, Illinois
Opened in 1955 as a small retail store, this range and retailer is 10 minutes from O’Hare International Airport. Just off Interstate 90 in the northwest suburbs, the facility is only three miles from Chicago’s city limits. Over its 63 years of operation, the company has had just three owners.
The building encompasses more than 16,000 square feet. The 4,000-square-foot retail store carries an inventory seasonally fluctuating from 900 to 2,000 firearms and a revolving stock of approximately 90 rentals. There are 20 75-foot lanes in two 10-lane bays. There is a large customer waiting area, office space and two classrooms. The classrooms include state-of-the-art multimedia services and are used for everything from corporate meetings to handgun classes for first-time firearms owners. Pistol lane rentals start at $12 per hour, with mixed packages including a firearm rental of up to $26.95 per hour.
Maxon employs a staff of 28 full- and part-time employees. The facility operates seven days a week: Tuesday-Friday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Sunday and Monday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The range is closed for most major holidays.
As an NSSF Five-Star range, the facility meets best practices standards for its state-of-the-art design. This ensures a high level of safety and comfort for workers and customers. We interviewed General Manager Sarah Natalie for this column, which will focus on how this range attracts new shooters to the industry and grows its business in a state and county with some of the nation’s most restrictive firearms regulations.
Streamlining the Check-in Process
One of the challenging parts of running any range is its waiver management process that helps provide for a sound legal environment. Maxon has adopted two systems that have streamlined its process, improving customer relations while giving the range increased working data for marketing and scheduling.
Using the Smart Waiver System, patrons can complete their waiver once a year by phone, a web server or at a kiosk at the range. This saves both time and paperwork.
“We have been able to go paperless, saving untold amounts of time and paper, which in the past had to be stored in a secure environment. The paper was completely out of control, often being moved and handled. Today it’s all offsite and electronic, which has reduced check-in time to a few moments, compared with our lengthier past process,” Natalie explained.
The system also provides detailed analytics and demographic data about rentals, lane times, popular events and training. All of this information is used to evaluate the company’s business model and how it can be improved. Combined with QLess software, the company can accurately predict available range times, assess usage patterns and identify opportunities for efficiencies.
“Not only can a customer feel comfortable that they will get the range time they scheduled, they also have updated [lane availability] status times on their smartphones. This enables the client to shop in our store, have a quick conference call or go have a bite to eat off premises,’ she said. Natalie added that these highly defined scheduling and communication tools make the patron feel at ease in knowing there will be no line jumping or favoritism. “They’re confident in the schedule, and that keeps the customer from being territorial about their range time. In short, it demonstrates that we value our customers and care about their time.”
Rings of Security
Maxon moved into its current building four years ago. The original structure underwent a complete gut renovation, allowing for upgraded ventilation and the implementation of other equipment and construction best practices. Although Natalie wouldn’t share the specifics, she stated the range’s multiple-layer security system has proven itself in keeping criminals from gaining access to firearms. That system was tested on August 23, 2016, when a stolen pickup truck was driven through two of the roll-up doors in the back of the building.
“The driver of the truck drove through the steel door only to find there was no inventory and they couldn’t breach the next barrier,” Natalie said. “So they went to the other security door, crashing inside and landing the truck against our inventory of safes. They quickly departed and hit a storefront in a mall several miles away to find that inventory had been stored in a vault and also couldn’t be accessed.”
A Traveling Client Base
While not every range is near one of the busiest airports in the world, Maxon has found an opportunity for expansion with international business travelers taking time to spend a few hours at the range. The clients are a mix of Chinese, British and Russian citizens. Maxon can book them for a few hours or an entire evening. There’s usually a corporate tie-in and two or more individual participants.
Frequently, these international visitors are getting their first-time firearm experience, requiring an hour or more of safety class time. What drives these customers to the range? Natalie says it’s the entertainment industry.
“All these clients are fans of action movies or video games, and they require more supervision time and greater staffing. The clients are often amazed at how unprepared they are to shoot real firearms, and are humbled by the event.
“‘I spend a lot of time playing Halo.’ We hear it all the time,” Natalie said, noting that many make this or a similar comment when they experience real shooting — and they quickly realize that playing a video game is a scant substitute for live-fire. She added that language can slow down the education process, so instructors must be diligent to ensure there are no miscommunications.
A More Than Challenging Municipality
Maxon’s commitment to the shooting public goes far beyond encouraging new shooters, training and managing inventory responsibly. The company resides in a region of the country where state and the local governments offer no encouragement or support to the shooting sports.
“If you want to sell and shoot firearms in Cook County, Illinois, you have to have a will of iron and a thick skin,” Natalie said.
The company is one of only six retailers within a population of over nine million in the Chicago Metro area. Her point: Maxon must operate to the highest degree of professionalism and the highest standards of community safety.