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March 13, 2018

Selling to Millennials Part 1 — It’s about Options

By Warren Berg

Ultimate Defense Firing Range & Training Center (aka UD Range) in St. Peters, Missouri, may have cracked the ultimate nut on attracting and retaining Millennial customers with its common-sense approach to this uncommon group of target shooters. The facility has a staff of 32, is located on the northwest outskirts of St. Louis and offers a retail store, 18-point state-of-the-art indoor shooting range and several types of classes. There’s a Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy Sports all within five miles, plus eight other ranges in the area, yet UD Range commands a hefty 30 percent of the market.

UD Range Director and part owner Paul Bastean, who affectionately refers to UD’s Millennial staffers as “his” Millennials, has gotten inside the heads of this generation and found that winning their loyalty is not as complicated or aggravating as many make it out to be. He’s also found this age group willing to spend money; up to 18 percent of UD Range patrons are Millennials, and they make up a fourth of its sales.

Many retailers simply dismiss Millennials (those currently age 24 to 40), as a group that uses smartphones to shop on price, but NSSF Security Consultant Team Member John Bocker reports that only about a third of this generation makes purchases on a desktop computer, and just 16 percent make purchases on a mobile device. “They don’t get a lot of [value] on the internet,” explains Bastean of this apparent contradiction, “so brick-and-mortar has to create value.”

While he concedes it’s difficult for brick-and-mortar to compete on price, Bastean says success comes when you create the whole value for a Millennial customer, meaning they really like going into your store where they find staff who really helped them out and were friendly. “I don’t think Millennials experience that across the board,” he says.

“Customers should feel valued,” Bastean tells me. “Ultimate Defense Firing Range & Training Center is built upon the principle that ‘superior customer service’ is not just an advertising slogan but is truly our way of conducting business.”

UD Range - Millennials - firearms instruction
UD Range provides complete value when it sells a gun, going over safety and functionality in detail with its customers.

Bastean finds that Millennials simply have a different way of feeling valued.

“Millennials, when they come through the door, they don’t like the word ‘help’… and we don’t ever ask anybody ‘Can we help you?’” says Bastean. He explains that if you ask that question, the immediate response is, “Just looking.”

“They feel that pressure right off the bat,” he says, explaining how Millennials want zero sales pressure and that, if pressured, “Just looking” goes from a thought into practice.

“If you have a client who looks at you and says, ‘Just looking,’ you kinda lost them at that point, so we do everything we can to keep that ‘Just looking’ line from coming out,” says Bastean. “With Millennials, our greeting is different. We’ll say ‘Welcome. Hey, take your time and look around. Let me know if you have any questions,’ and by saying that, they don’t have the opportunity to say ‘Oh, just looking.’”

Bastean added that Millennials also like to receive instructions differently than other generations. For example, while older generations tend to approach things in a linear manner, appreciating something as simple as a step-by-step way of loading and firing a gun, Millennials want options along the way. They take in the step-by-step instruction way as being told or ordered what to do, and that doesn’t go over well.

“What we’ll end up doing with the younger generation is, we’ll tell them the same thing, but it’s worded differently,” explains Bastean. “We’ll tell them things like, ‘If you put the magazine in, it goes into the bottom of the grip right here.’ They’ll see it as a choice. It’s something we’ve actually told them to do — ‘If you put the magazine in, this is where it goes’ — but now they have a choice: ‘Am I or am I not going to put the magazine in?’ The minute you can present it like that, the more they respond to you.”

UD Range - Firearms options - Millennials
Lots and lots of choices are a key to U.D. range’s success with its Millennial customers.

Another unusual thing Bastean has identified about Millennials is that they don’t like ownership.

Bastean finds Millennials don’t want to buy one gun and be stuck with it. Instead, they want options and come to his range where he has more than a hundred rental guns. “Those guys come in and shoot 15 sessions and never shoot the same gun twice,” according to Bastean.

Though primarily renters, Bastean says Millennials will buy guns, but they will spend a “pretty substantial amount of time” deciding. “Millennials will research,” he says. “Their research a lot of times is others’ opinions, so my counter staff will offer an opinion without telling them what to do.” When a Millennial does buy a gun, Bastean’s team shows them everything there is to know about the gun, and not just the fundamentals of marksmanship, but the safety behind it, the storage and other important information. “It’s not just the how, it’s everything around the how that Millennials want to know about,” says Bastean. “It takes time and it takes attention, and when you’re willing to spend that time and attention they’re willing to pay you for it.”

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 such storied publications as 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.


Read part 2 of this series: Selling to Millenials Part 2 — Creating an Experience

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