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May 9, 2019

SafeSide Tactical Stretches Ad Dollars Using First Shots®

By Warren Berg

SafeSide Tactical has two Virginia locations, one in Roanoke, the other in Lynchburg. Co-owner Mitchell Tyler tells me that even though the ranges are in two different cities, those cities share common television and radio networks, and that lets him cover areas served by both ranges with one ad buy. That in and of itself is a smart use of advertising dollars, but Tyler tells me he went one step further by taking advantage of co-op dollars NSSF® has available for First Shots®.

More Bang for the Buck

“We see it as a partnership with the NSSF,” he tells me of offering First Shots as one of his classes. “They offer advertising co-op funds, so we took advantage of the fact that we could really push out some great ads. We did billboards, we did newspaper, and basically NSSF shares about half the cost of that, so it helped us stretch a dollar to notify people about SafeSide, but specifically about the First Shots event.”

According to Tyler, social media also plays a key promotional role. He starts messaging SafeSide’s 15,000 followers about three weeks out from a class and, instead of a hard-pitch promotion, Tyler says posts are tailored to get people talking about First Shots. “It’s different how nice it is, what a great value it is,” Tyler says of the First Shots classes.

SafeSide charges $15 per class to reduce the number of no-shows, and in return students get about $150 worth of value, and that’s the kind of thing worth talking about.

SafeSide Tactical Store
Even though Safeside Tactical has its own advertising campaign, First Shots-specific advertising brought in people the other campaign did not.

“If you look at our other classes, by the time you get a 2½- to 3-hour class and then you have gun rental, ammunition and the targets and all that, that’s all provided in First Shots. So one of the things we really stress is that this is the best-value class we offer.”

Tyler explains he can take that approach because the NSSF “is effectively subsidizing it.” In addition to co-op funds, NSSF provides a Powerpoint presentation, handbooks and pens for the classroom portion of a First Shots event, and it has ready-made print, television and radio advertising materials. In addition, it’s partnered with sponsors Howard Leight, which supplies eye and ear protection for each class, and Birchwood Casey, which donates its Shoot ‘n’ See targets.

SafeSide Tactical Exterior
Safeside Tactical has ranges in both Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia, areas covered by several of the same television and radio markets.

“This allows us to offer this class and not look at it First Shots itself as a revenue generator, but rather as a lead generator for quality new customers who can spend the next months and years with us,” explains Tyler.

Tyler says that getting co-op dollars from NSSF was easier than he thought it would be.

“I think we sent in for approval of the ads we used for different media and they cut us a check, so there really weren’t a bunch of hoops to jump through. The money is there in that budget, and they were happy that someone was using it,” he explains, adding that even though co-op dollars are “free” money, SafeSide still watches its marketing dollars. “Co-op dollars for advertising really disappeared a decade ago in general across a lot of different verticals, so for that to be out there certainly is a huge value to us.”

New Participants Dominate

The value of that advertising pays off, too. Tyler says that their inaugural First Shots event drew more than 150 participants to the two range locations and that he was surprised by the number of new customers First Shots captured that SafeSide’s traditional advertising had not.

“Fifty percent of the people had never been in here before, so I was surprised the things we were doing hadn’t attracted them. I think that, after First Shots, we’re on their radar, and I think they’ll move forward with other things with us,” he says of those outside draws.

SafeSide Tactical Instructor
Safeside splits First Shots into two segments, a general session and closed sessions for seniors, women or youth.

Those other things include buying firearms, range memberships and ammo. Though he could not give me a specific percentage, Tyler says they definitely sell firearms and memberships to First Shots attendees and emphasized that he didn’t feel they’d have captured those sales without the First Shots experience.

“The way it is marketed nationally and locally really takes away some of the barriers of entry to new shooters,” Tyler said of one of the reasons First Shots recruited completely new shooters. “We had a total of probably 16 other classes that run at all of our facilities every month. But we saw new faces at First Shots. More than half our attendees had never been to our business before. Obviously, the way it was presented was effective in getting people to come in who hadn’t in the past.”

Coupons and Contact Keeps Them Coming Back

Once First Shots brings new students in the door, Tyler keeps in contact using various methods. Class registration requires students to provide their email, and a robust weekly email campaign brings many back in. Another effective tactic includes classic paper coupons.

“Our First Shots students receive a coupon book or flyer that has different coupons, whether it’s $10 off a gun purchase or one free gun cleaning class, or you could take our next level class at a 25-percent discount,” he explains. “So, basically, we’re sending them away from the building with six or eight invitations to come back in.

Safeside Tactical First Shots classroom
Ideal First Shots students have a desire to learn more about safe gun handling and a desire to improve their skill sets, whether that’s for self-defense, target shooting sports or recreation.

The publication “Non-Profit PRO” reports that a combined digital and direct mail campaign can increase conversions by 28 percent, so while Tyler’s paper coupons may seem a little old school, the fact is he’s doing it right, and it’s paying off.

“Some of them are timed,” he says of his coupon campaign and explaining his detailed outreach process. “For example, ‘Come again in the month of March’ or whatever. Some promos are not, some are just ‘Come in at any time and get this deal.’ We find that giving them something physical on paper is a great first step, and then the email, the digital campaign after, we’re really able to continue to engage them.”

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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