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December 13, 2018

First Shots Events at The Sportsman’s Shop Keep the Doors Swinging

By Warren Berg

First Shots events continue bringing new shooters into the shooting sports and returning customers to ranges. Recently I had a chance to speak with Jessica Keffer, Marketing Manager of The Sportsman’s Shop in East Earl, Pennsylvania, about her experience with the program.

Warren Berg (WB): Compared to other beginner classes, what’s unique about First Shots and how does that help your business?

Jessica Keffer (JK): The thing that makes First Shots unique is that it is basic. It’s introductory. You don’t get into the terms, you don’t get into anything advanced, it’s just really meant to kind of start at the beginning and take the participants to what they need to know.

WB: How does First Shots affect your bottom line? Is there a number you can put to it such as it generates X-percent of business each month?

JK: Many are coming back to purchase a gun like the ones used in the training classes, and they are booking private lessons. I personally have been teaching a woman who was just in this weekend with her husband. They both bought firearms, they both bought range ammo and they both bought some self-defense ammo, and that’s characteristic of many of the situations that we run into.

WB: What steps do you take to follow up and convert students into regular shooters, and once you do convert, how do you stay connected with them?

JK: One thing we do is we collect email addresses. We give all of the class participants in each First Shots event a range pass to encourage them to come back to the range. We also give them a sheet that has six different discounts for things such as eye and ear protection and ammo, so that if they come back and make a purchase within 30 days, they get a discount on those six items.

We also talk to them about the next steps in their training journey, and we see a good portion of those students coming back and taking private training classes with our certified instructors. I actually just ran these numbers the other day, and to date we’ve put over 1,800 individuals through the First Shots class. Of that 1,800, about 50 percent have come back within 90 days, and of those a good 50 percent are coming back on a regular basis, buying a gun, buying a membership and using the range on a regular basis, so I would say we have been very successful in getting some of those back.

Sportman's Shop-First Shots
Keffer finds it characteristic of First Shots students to come back and buy firearms, range ammo and self-defense ammo.

WB: Who is the ideal person to come to First Shots, and how do you reach out to them?

JK: The ideal person for us is someone who is just beginning their firearm journey or someone who maybe has had some shooting background but is looking to kind of hone in those skills they need to be a successful shooter.

We have a retail store attached to our range, so we often get involved in conversations when people are looking at purchasing guns or when they come in to use the range. You can tell that they maybe don’t have the experience level, so we tell them right away to come take our First Shots class. A lot of it too really, truly is word of mouth, and then there are those people who go through the class who are passing along their experience to family, friends and people they know.

WB: How “turn-key” is First Shots? Is it easy to implement?

JK: Oh, yes! It was very easy to get started. NSSF gave us all the tools and all the information we needed, and they’re working very hard now to really continue to grow that program and make it even easier on ranges.

WB: Were the materials and curriculum easy to follow and tailor to your range?

JK: Yes, we found it very easy. NSSF gave us a PowerPoint presentation, and we really found we didn’t have to do a lot of tweaking. Everything that was provided was clear and very easy to use, and we haven’t had any qualms or issues with the tools that NSSF has provided us.

WB: Did you take advantage of co-op advertising dollars or any of the advertising materials NSSF offers, and if so, were they easy to use and worthwhile?

JK: We did in the beginning, yes, and it is absolutely worthwhile. The way we got started is with what NSSF calls its Big City Tour. [Big City Tours coordinate First Shots events at a number of ranges across a select city to boost participation.] It was doing one in the Philadelphia area, which is about an hour away from us, so we were part of that and got some co-op advertising as part of that through radio and newspaper. We filled all three of our classes we did in conjunction with that event through that advertising.

WB: Did you ask NSSF for any assistance with planning or logistics?

JK: It provides support in ammo and eye and ear protection. We’re always talking back and forth, and I have always found them to always be very receptive and quick to get back to us.

Sportman's Shop- First Shots
Keffer thinks students would say First Shots exceeds their expectations, is full of useful and important information and was fun, interesting and educational.

WB: If I found 100 graduates from your First Shots class and asked them what they think, what would they tell me?

JK: I think everyone would say that it’s a class that exceeded their expectations, that it was full of useful and important information, it was fun, interesting and educational, that they walked away really understanding the importance of proper stance, grip and sight alignment and really felt better educated because of attending a class.

WB: What about First Shots surprises students?

JK: One of the most brilliant things NSSF does in the First Shots program design is that you only fire one shot and then you go to two, then three, then four, then 10. By doing that five different times, they’re actually building the confidence and comfort level in how to operate and do all the fundamentals. I think that really surprises people to realize in that short amount of time how quickly they become comfortable and confident in what they need to do and the process.

WB: As a host range, is there anything about First Shots that surprises you?

JK: We dedicate six staff members to each class, because we want students on the range to have someone standing right beside them, and I think our staff loves the reaction and the fulfillment they get from the students and from the satisfaction the students get. So, I wouldn’t say it’s so much of a surprise, but I would just say the empowerment they feel when they help someone on their journey.

WB: Is there anything about First Shots I’m not thinking to ask that you would like to add?

JK: For us, First Shots is something we’re going to continue to do because we see the value in providing this experience for our customers. I really think it’s just been a huge value add for our business, and we look forward to continuing to support it many years down the line.

About the Author
Warren Berg is a 25-year veteran of the shooting, hunting and outdoors industry. He has penned hundreds of articles under many names for various publications including American Rifleman and Field & Stream. He has produced award-winning television programs on personal defense and has hunted extensively in North America, Europe and Africa.

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