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July 26, 2021

NSSF Range-Retailer Business Expo Recap


By Carolee Anita Boyles

Two weeks ago, the opening of the 2021 NSSF Range-Retailer Business ExpoTM marked the first live industry-wide event since the country shut down for COVID-19 shortly after the 2020 SHOT Show®. Exhibitors and attendees from all over the country gathered in sunny West Palm Beach, Florida, for two and a half days of seminars and a hands-on trade show geared specifically to shooting range owners and retailers.

Florida was a great place to hold our first get-together as an industry; on May 3, Governor Ron DeSantis lifted all COVID-19 restrictions in the state effective July 1, citing the effectiveness and availability of vaccines. Within a few days, private businesses such as grocery stores began dropping mask rules for people who have been fully vaccinated. By the time July rolled around, many venues in the state were back to business.

Prior to the event, participants were looking forward to finally getting back to face-to-face business.

“I already have my reservations and my hotel booked,” said Bill Edwards, owner of Triangle Shooting Academy in Raleigh, N.C., in early May. “I’m glad we’re doing it in Florida. There are a lot of nice ranges down there. I’m looking forward to catching up with a lot of those guys that I’ve talked to before.”

Tracy Fornwalt, Partner at Morr Indoor Range in Lancaster, PA., said she “couldn’t wait” to get to the industry’s first live event since the pandemic.

“I’m really looking forward to just being able to connect with folks,” she said. “I’m not particularly looking forward to the travel; I’ve never liked that part of it. But while Zoom is a great tool, it’s not my preferred method of communication.”

The Expo was everything that National Shooting Sports Foundation® organizers, exhibitors and attendees could have hoped for. The event ran smoothly, with more than 130 exhibitors and 800 total in attendance having an opportunity to network and see new retail- and range-related products.

Jaime Ramos, National Accounts Manager for American Tactical, said the Expo had a great “feel” and good attendance for dealers who have, or are interested in adding or building, shooting ranges.

“The SHOT Show, while the biggest event out there, doesn’t always provide the right audience for us during the whole show,” he said. “With this one, you’re grabbing a specific audience that you can cater a program to. Vendors can sit down and talk with a range operator or buyer or marketer and they may not get that opportunity at the SHOT Show.”

Kristi Heuring, Director of Partner Relations for US LawShield, said companies need to exhibit at both the SHOT Show and the Expo.

“It’s important to come to the Expo because it’s a targeted audience,” she said. “We rely on ranges to be instructors. It’s also important to be at SHOT, but here, we get more one-on-one time, and we can really have focused conversations and build relationships.”

Some products that are mundane, yet essential to running a range, would get lost in a large venue such as the SHOT Show. At an event targeted more specifically to range operators, companies such as Air Filters, Inc., are able to showcase these products that otherwise would be missed.

“We don’t have the flashiest product to go into that environment,” said Scott Mantel, Shooting Range Division at Air Filters, Inc. “We provide a product that is the last thing most range operators think about but we’re very necessary. We’re here because this is a targeted audience, and this is a more intimate setting. It’s easier for us to talk to people here.”

Retailers also were able to see products that help them sell firearms. Gunspot.com offers firearm retailers an additional avenue to market products online.

“Gunspot.com is an alternative answer to other online auction sites,” said Mike Winkle, lead developer for Full Bore Studios. “We think we’ve improved on all the things that have frustrated us with other sites over the years. We have instant chat, phone numbers and emails, and we even have a fax machine for customer service. There are so many ways you can get a hold of a real, live human being.” Gunspot also provides good online security for sellers and a valuation fee of only 1 percent on all sales, with no fee to list.

“We have QuickBooks integration, CoreWare integration and all kinds of other cool features,” Winkle said. “FFLs can save hundreds of dollars with us. We’re here to be a two-way friendly platform that provides good customer service and more money in retailers’ pockets. We have no-reserve auctions and a section called the ‘Battle Station’ that renovates the entire auction process and puts all the auctions a buyer is bidding on in one place at the same time.”

On the technology side of things, Winkle said, Gunspot can partner with a lot of both retailers and gun ranges, and manufacturers, to expose their products to a wide audience.

“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “Being here is also a good way to have more intimate conversations with people. We will include this show on our list of venues to do every year, along with the SHOT Show.”

Attendees not only were able to see products specific to retailers and range operators, they also had an opportunity for lots of education related to the range and retail experience. A full day of seminars on Monday, plus short education sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, provided a look at many topics that new range operators don’t even think about. Topics included OSHA and EPA regulations, suicide prevention, coping in a post-COVID economy and hiring rock star employees.

Eric Coulter, Sr., owner of Asylum Weapons in La Marque, Texas, said he went for both the education portion and to talk with some specific vendors. He is planning to build a range, so he was looking for all kinds of information.

“I always like going to Hank Yacek’s seminars,” Coulter said. “He always has good inside information. I also really liked the seminar on the pros and cons of different financing; that was a good session, as was the one on transforming business breakdowns into opportunities.” He said also really liked the one on innovative revenue streams.

Jim Hawke, CEO of Buckeye Shooting Center in Newark, Ohio, is in the middle of building a shooting range. He said he went primarily for the education opportunity.

“We got a lot out of it,” he said. “It’s the first one I’ve been to; some of our guys went two years ago and said we all needed to go.”

Hawke said he knew he would have some OSHA requirements, but he didn’t know just how much he would have to do; the sessions on compliance were very eye-opening for him.

“We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” he said. “Now we know what we need to do to be ready to open in October.”

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, we will be back to more in-person events in the future, including the 2022 SHOT Show. We are all looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues face to face and renewing relationships and networking.

 

The SHOT Show will take place January 18-21, 2022, in Las Vegas. The event will offer four days of exhibits, as well as education and networking opportunities, including SHOT Show University, the Industry Day at the Range and the NSSF/HAVA Golf Classic. Learn more and register at shotshow.org.

NSSF’s 2022 Range-Retailer Business Expo will take place July 11-13 in New Orleans,. The event will offer three days of high-quality education and networking opportunities, along with an exhibit hall full of vendors specific to your business. More details coming soon at nssf.org/expo.

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