April 20, 2020
Working Through a Crisis: American Shooting Centers
Welcome to NSSF’s column for firearms range owners, managers and staff. As our ranges work through the social and legal challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s our intent to show how companies are responding and demonstrating best industry practices to protect their staff and customers. They are still offering services, when appropriate and allowed by law, and we want to share how they are making it a success. For more information on NSSF’s Range Programs, visit www.nssf.org. —Zach Snow, NSSF Director, Range & Retail Business Development.
For this column, we interviewed Ed Arrighi, co-owner of American Shooting Centers on April 6, 2020. American Shooting Centers is an expansive outdoor range located in Houston, Texas.
A Gradual Climb
During the first week of March, as the coronavirus outbreak was gaining ground, this outdoor range was starting to see increased traffic. Then, just about the time attendance was building steadily, the range was shuttered by the state. “We saw the closure as a possibility but had no real experience to judge what would happen. But while we were not expecting a range closing, we were able to prepare for it,” said Arrighi.
With the range closed, the management team at American Shooting started its planning for reopening. The goal was to make the facilities as safe as possible based on the information available. “We were encouraged and hopeful that the state would lift the ban and we wanted to have the materials and health products necessary to keep everyone safe. We were very lucky it only took one week before we were allowed to reopen,” said Arrighi.
Being ready meant thinking outside of the box, reevaluating the best practices for spacing shooters on the range and creating new patterns to help move customers around the various shooting stations of the 563-acre facility. How to handle rental equipment was also evaluated, and, naturally, the health and safety of staff and customers needed to be prioritized. One of the first challenges was getting enough hand sanitizer.
“After speaking to a few chemists and health professionals, we came to the conclusion that ethyl alcohol would solve our hand sanitizer issue. We contacted a few chemical supply companies and found we could purchase 99-percent ethyl alcohol by the barrel and obtained four. We started mixing hand sanitizer on the property and feel pretty confident that we’ll have a generous supply for the coming year,” he said.
Other decisions included closing every two benches on the shooting range, limiting the number of patrons inside buildings, spacing six-foot markers everywhere shooters congregate and installing hand-washing stations throughout the range. Then, in a staff meeting, the subject of rental gear came up.
“We never even thought about spotting scopes until one of our staff members mentioned it. As we considered how to clean products, it became clear that the safest procedure was to stop renting anything at this time. That included trap and skeet guns, parking our golf carts and keeping optics on the shelf,” he said.
Not Their First Disaster
American Shooting Center is a unique outdoor range, both in size and typography. Resting on Army Corps of Engineers land within a state park, the range sits inside a flood plain on the edge of a lakebed. While in most years the range has little risk of flooding, during any 100-year hurricane, the company faces challenges.
“We’ve flooded twice, once during Hurricane Harvey and in the year before during what we called the ‘Tax Day Flood,’” he said. The floods forced the company to rebuild its primary firearms pro shop, currently under construction. The new building will stand nine feet higher than the previous structure.
“While we’ve never really thought much about a pandemic, the floods have been strong primers to keep us planning for the unexpected. The most important lesson we’ve learned as a company is that you will never be sorry as a manager being flexible and nimble. It’s important to have a plan, just don’t be rigid when it’s not working. Employees on the site are encouraged to make suggestions; any staff member can radio me and I’ll listen to the concern and make a decision right on the spot,” he said.
American Shooting Center is finding that it can manage between 500 and 600 shooters a day with the social distancing restrictions, and its staff are starting to feel confident that the new procedures are keeping customers safe. “We have become tyrants about washing hands and wiping screen devices, and range officers are encouraged to openly suggest that patrons follow the guidelines. We will continue to be rather strict about it,” he said.
Arrighi said that enforcing social distancing is getting easier, as shooters are better accommodating the restrictions in their daily lives. Other changes, like closing shooting benches, shuttering certain shooting stations to create space and installing distance reminders throughout the range are all having an impact. He also said that the large scale of the facility and open outdoor design offers significantly greater flexibility than smaller locations and those with services indoors.
Responding to a Need
This range was fortunate that it was closed only for one week before Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton allowed it to reopen. Arrighi commented that it was a relief for everyone to be back in business, especially because he sees the need for his fellow Texans to get outside.
“Of course we’re disappointed that we’ve had to cancel events and training classes, but just knowing that our customers can get outside, shoot a round of clays or shoot a rifle gives us all emotional satisfaction. The key is to make the facility as safe as possible and to continue to make improvements as we gain more experience with the virus and receive more direction from the appropriate agencies. Every day, multiple patrons thank us, explaining how important this sport is to them.”
About American Shooting Centers
American Shooting Centers is an outdoor shooting facility located in west-suburban Houston, near the Westpark Tollway. The range and retailer serves a wide variety of shooting disciplines, with 100 rifle and pistol stations, three sporting clay ranges and multiple trap and skeet fields. The rifle course includes a 600-yard range. There are two pro shops, the first a rifle and pistol store still under construction and a shotgun retail building. American Shooting Centers employs more than 30 full and part-time employees, and as of this interview, with the ongoing coronavirus restrictions, is operating seven days a week with new hours: 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. weekdays and 8:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
The steps this range took to remain open and follow the health-safety guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention included:
- Installing six-foot spacing markers in buildings and range areas
- Limiting shooting lane use on rifle and pistol ranges to separate people
- Providing hand-washing stations and sanitizers throughout the facility
- Eliminating the use of rental equipment, including firearms, golf carts and optics
- Repeated sanitizing of frequently touched areas such as technology device screens
- Limiting the number of people within buildings
- Reducing operational hours