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September 14, 2018

Want to Increase Your Firearms Training Enrollment — Think NSSF First Shots

By Ed Santos

In August 2010, my indoor range, Center Target Sports, was the first commercial range to host a First Shots program. I saw this program as the perfect opportunity to encourage, educate and mentor responsible participation in the shooting sports. It was an overwhelming success, and it impacted our training class sales beyond our wildest imagination. At the end of our First Shots day, we had sold 18 class seats and nine new range memberships, all the while fostering goodwill and fun in the shooting sports activities.

So Many Resources

Since 2010, the National Shooting Sports Foundation® (NSSF®) First Shots program has provided an introduction to the shooting sports to thousands of people. That alone is an awesome accomplishment, but think of what hosting a program can do for your bottom line as a range owner.

The path to increased class enrollment is truly paved with NSSF resources, but among them, it’s the newly revamped First Shots program makes is so easy to bring these new shooters through your doors. In this program, and with help from industry sponsors like Aguila, Birchwood Casey and Howard Leight by Honeywell, NSSF now provides eye and ear protection, ammunition and targets for each participant. Indeed, the commitment of the NSSF to this program is never-ending, and it is working on a number of other benefits and features that will help both the participants and the host facility.

Eye & Ear Protection

How Ranges Benefit From First Shots

We all understand how important new shooters are to our success. The fact is there are many people interested in some aspect of the shooting sports, but for any number of reasons feel intimidated about walking into a shooting facility. First Shots is the perfect solution. Anyone signing up for First Shots knows they will be attending a safe and professional learning environment along with other people of similar experience level and desire. These things go a long way toward eliminating the intimidation factor.

Getting new shooters into your store is one benefit, but creating the excitement for them is what proves to be the icing on the cake. This excitement is universal. Your instructors, range officers and the participants will enjoy the experience, and they want to tell all their friends about your facility. So now you have all these First Shots participants telling everyone they know about the unique experience you provided them, and a significant number of these participants will continue to shoot and will sign up for your basic pistol class.

The bottom line to commercial range operators is that new shooters are our ideal customer demographic on which to focus, for these are the customers who hold the greatest potential for sales and profitability. If you have followed my earlier articles on the establishment of a comprehensive training program and your classes are generating the excitement factor I discussed there, then your training program will grow faster than you can imagine.

A Plan That Generates Business

The First Shots program works, thanks to a combination of classroom and range activity that offers the participants an opportunity to eliminate any anxieties and perform shooting activities at a level beyond what they thought possible. When we began holding First Shots events, we offered them at no cost to the participants and filled two sessions of 20 participants each. We spent approximately 90 minutes in the classroom and 90 minutes on the range. To manage our overhead and ensure we had appropriate supervision for the day, I solicited a number of instructors and range safety officers to volunteer their time on the range. The classroom time was spent on firearm safety, facility orientation, marksmanship and a short presentation of all the classes and activities we offer beyond First Shots.

Be sure to have flyers for all your classes available to the staff. Consider a special discount rate in both classes and memberships good that day only for participants. Work with your retail staff members on the selling of those next-step classes and memberships to your range. I would even consider having a class signup and membership sales area positioned away from the gun counters, so that those sales can proceed uninterrupted and so that those new shooters get the personal attention they want and need.

We are not alone in our efforts to grow our businesses. NSSF works tirelessly to provide us support in our daily operations, and we take advantage of the First Shots program and the many other benefits we enjoy as NSSF members. I am looking forward to our next First Shots offering and wish you all success with yours. To learn more or to start hosting First Shots events at your range, contact Ann Gamauf at / 203-426-1320 ext. 247.


I worked primarily with handguns in my First Shots events (though you can also hold them for rifles and shotguns). In my handgun events, I initially position targets at the nine-foot range. Once everyone has shown and seen they have the ability to shoot their .22-caliber handgun to a one-inch group, I’ll move the targets further downrange. This lets excitement about their performance build, as they will soon be hitting the target very accurately at distance. This level of accuracy will be almost impossible to achieve universally among the shooters if you skip the nine-foot target engagement.

About the Author
Edward M. Santos is the owner and founder of Center Target Sports, Inc., and the Tactical Services Group, both located in Post Falls, Idaho. Since 2004 he has operated a very successful commercial range, and he provides comprehensive consulting services to shooting ranges, including business plan development, facility design, and operations and management system development. A well-regarded industry liaison, he is a frequent presenter at NSSF’s annual SHOT Show and teaches civilian, military and law enforcement personnel about shooting range development, utilization and training practices. He has been a member of NSSF’s Range Action Specialist Team since 2010.

You may also be interested in: Increase Margins with Firearms Handling Training Programs

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