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June 8, 2018

Behind the Firing Line: Poway Weapons & Gear Range

By Peter B. Mathiesen

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 on NSSF’s Star-Rating Range Program, visit
—Zach Snow, NSSF Director, Range Services

Poway Weapons & Gear Range, Poway, California

Constructed in 2014, this range and retailer is located in northeast suburban San Diego just off Interstate 15. The facility encompasses more than 42,000 square feet, including a 3,000-square-foot retail store carrying an inventory of more than $1.5 million in firearms and accessories. There are more than 1,000 firearms in stock, along with an additional stock of 230 rentals.

With 42 lanes in three separate shooting bays covering 25, 50 and 100 yards, this facility is one of the largest indoor firearms ranges in the country. There is a large customer waiting area, office space and classrooms. Lane rentals start at $15 per hour for 25 yards, $22 for 50 yards, and $25 for 100 yards. An extra shooter can be added starting at $7.50 per hour. Poway employs a staff of 43 full- and part-time employees. The facility operates seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

As a Five-Star NSSF 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 Poway founder, John Phillips, for this column, which will focus on how the San Diego-area range trains staff members and attracts shooters while growing a business in a state and county with some of the nation’s most restrictive firearms policies.

Serving a Unique (and Confidential) Client Base

Originally formed as Archangel Security, this company provided consultation and executive protection services to select celebrity clientele and Fortune 100 C-Level executives. Its roster included some of “Forbes Richest” persons in the United States. As one might expect, these clients required confidentiality while allowing exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.

“You have to appreciate the importance of the local political climate. These clients face real social challenges if they are seen at the corner gun store or training at a local gun range,” said Phillips.

This unique clientele quickly became a specialty niche market, and Poway Weapons & Gear Range was born.

Improving Best Practices Standards

With a background working for the federal government, Phillips had seen it all.

“I had been to every major shooting and training facility the federal government either owned or leased. Many of them were less than impressive. I knew that it would take innovation and out-of-the-box thinking to build a range that would meet the demanding standards I believed would be necessary. It all started with the NSSF’s checklist for a Five-Star range,” he said.

When it came to air filtration, a critical component of NSSF’s star-rating evaluation program, Poway looked to the standards set in hospitals and surgical units.

“We partnered with a local hospital and got involved with the Camfil filter company. This allowed us to improve our standards through measured testing. Our results have surpassed even the filter company’s expectations,” Phillips said.

Poway Weapons & Gear Range

Training the Trainers

“Training is what we do, and it’s what we sell. It’s one of the company’s core directives and the largest segment of our sales. Our staff must create a training standard that is above reproach,” he said.

While it may be common for some ranges to have staff and range safety officers to carry on the premise, Phillips takes the practice to an entirely new level.

“Our staff members train continually. They have to range qualify every quarter — and our range standard is notably above the common police department qualifications. Quarterly qualifying includes staff members having to maintain a score of 85 percent and also includes situational awareness training simulations,” said Phillips. “Many of these scenarios include a suicide gunman or terrorist attack, as well as numerous other possible circumstances. The training events can also include interacting with local police and paramedics,” he added.

Why such intensity in staff firearms training?

“I want to know that, if an unfortunate event happens on our premises, we are well prepared. It’s our commitment to each other, our customers’ safety and the community’s safety,” he said.

“There’s a winning mindset,” he said in reflection. “We train for consistency — we never sacrifice accuracy or ability for speed, and it’s all reinforced with repetition. It’s the way we train and the way we train others.”

Attracting a Wide Demographic Cross-Section

In its four years, this range has developed a sweepingly wide cross-section of demographics. An astounding 57 percent of membership income is from individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year. Perhaps more impressive, within the total number of memberships, 42 percent are women.

While high-end demographics carry much of the membership, non-member clientele is comprised of blue-collar workers, police, fire and military.

“We love having an establishment that attracts a financially capable clientele. That said, we work hard to make every customer feel welcome. What’s true across the board is our customers love to train. By providing a range filled with dynamic shooting challenges, we meet and foster our all our clients’ training goals,” he said.

Phillips added that he has heard some clients refer to Poway as “the Nordstrom’s of gun ranges,” a reference to that clothing retailer’s renowned reputation for superb customer service. To maintain professionalism, Poway is meticulous in its client communications. From the emails it sends to how it embraces anyone who walks in the door, the facility shows no favoritism. As Phillips explained, maintaining high standards of customer service creates an even playing field for the carpenter looking for a family experience to the wealthy software engineer buying a first firearm. Clearly, that approach is a recipe for success.

You may also be interested in: From the Counter — Nagel’s Gun Shop, San Antonio, Texas

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