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October 20, 2017

Food and Event Services Up Your Range Game

By Jeff Swanson, NSSF Range Action Specialist Team Member

You don’t need to run a full-scale restaurant to get people to stay longer at your range — but some food and beverages can go a long way towards that goal!

When working to attract the next generation of shooters to your range facility, bring to mind Top Golf, Lucky Strike Bowling and Main Event centers. These are all businesses that took the fundamentals of their respective activities — golf, bowling and arcade, respectively — and turned them into multi-dimensional, entertainment destinations. In addition to scores of Millennial customers, these businesses have two other things in common: They offer food and beverages and they host events.

Chowing Down

Creating a “Next Generation” shooting range that incorporates these two profit centers can often be accomplished by retrofitting an existing shooting range facility, and with nominal cost. Now, most range facilities don’t have the space or finances to establish a full on-site café or other eatery, and even fewer have the drive or experience to effectively operate one. However, there are ways to keep guests in your facility longer by offering a quick bite that has you incurring minimal expense and facility or time investment.

One option is to create a lounge space — a few hundred square feet is often enough space — that includes a stand-alone kiosk serving foods such as baked goods and other ready-to-eat food items. This option requires minimal space, and kiosk business operators will restock food and beverage daily at your location while paying you rent or a percentage of sales for the opportunity to take up space at your facility.

Another option is to build-out a basic catering kitchen, one staffed by local caterers during events and busy times. These are typically designed with prep and service counters, basic refrigeration and warming drawers, avoiding many of the more costly components a full-time operating kitchen would require. This allows the range owner to negotiate catering agreements with various local vendors, who prepare the food at their catering facilities, then keep it warm and serve it at your range. As the range and catering kitchen owner, you profit by up-charging for the food and beverage offered, and you get to offer different vendors/types of food to your customers on a regular basis. Think about how adding weekend barbeque lunches or weeknight Date Night dinners could really increase your traffic.

A third option is to lease an underutilized space in your facility to a local restauranteur. Basic restaurant kitchens can generally be designed to fit into a 400 to 500 square-foot space, with the lounge/eating area consuming about the same with seating for up to 40 guests. Kitchen equipment will be another expense incurred, but income generated from the lease to the restaurant operator should offset this cost and eventually provide another revenue stream.

If you do decide to build and operate your own on-site café, it should be a fast, casual concept designed to accommodate guests watching a game on TV or just taking a break from shopping and shooting. Ideally, such an amenity also should be designed to offer catering options, as well as provide a welcoming environment for business lunches and group gatherings.

Creating an Event Business

Once new and potential new shooters visit your facility and are exposed to a modern environment they will want to come back. Renting unused space to outside parties is an ideal way to achieve this. Just a few ways include:

  • Corporate retreats, leadership-building events and company holiday parties
  • Sports-watching parties for football, baseball, hockey, soccer, etc.
  • Civic, social and charitable group meetings and event and social club meetings
  • Individual special celebrations such as birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, graduations and anniversaries.

The kind of events hosting you can offer will be dictated by the space you have. Start by booking the use of your classroom as event space when not used for training. Better yet, install an “accordion-type” folding wall to divide your classroom into one, two or three spaces, depending on the size of the event or class. On the other end of the spectrum if you provide a high-end, well-equipped meeting space, you can gain exposure to a wider array of individuals who otherwise would have been too intimidated or had no excuse to enter a range.

While some might just want your facility for the space it provides, many will want to incorporate your range’s services in their event. For those, consider including a range and gun rental component to the events for which you charge a group rate, in addition to the room rental and cleaning fee. If there is a need for your instructors or range safety officers to assist with the event, you’ll charge for their time, as well.

While you can certainly use your own café, if you have one, to provide food and beverage for events your facility hosts, you can easily create strategic partnerships with local restaurants and catering vendors to provide reasonably priced food and refreshments for events and meetings at your facility. When establishing such contracts, remember to negotiate with the caterer to ensure you get a percentage of the food and beverage sales they make. This allows you to capture the events business without the capital and space requirements of building your own cafe.

Whether food or events or both, these options encourage guests to spend more time in your facility. For many ranges, they’re also a great way to turn unused or underutilized space into a profit center. Either way, the more time any customer is at your facility, the more likely they are to spend money, return and bring friends and become more involved in shooting sports.

You might also be interested in: Creating a Next-Generation Range Through Retrofitting


About the Author

Jeff Swanson is co-founder and an owner of a “Next Generation” range in Oklahoma, and the Managing Member of NexGen Range Consulting. An attorney, entrepreneur and business development consultant with more than 22 years of experience, Swanson and his team created NexGen Range Consulting to help new and existing range owners across the country create their own next-generation facilities. He also serves on NSSF’s Range Action Specialists team and can be reached for consulting services by contacting NSSF Member Services at 203-426-1320.

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