May 3, 2019
Behind the Firing Line: Centennial Gun’s First Shots® Program
|Welcome to NSSF’s column for firearms range owners, managers and staff. “Behind the Firing Line” works to accomplish two things. First, it recognizes ranges that have met the stringent requirements necessary to achieve NSSF’s Five-Star rating for excellence. Second, it works to explain how these ranges met specific criteria within the Star-Rating Range Program, so that other ranges working to make the grade can discover ideas and guidance for their improvement. For more information on NSSF’s Star-Rating Range Program, visit www.nssf.org.|
|—Zach Snow, NSSF Director, Retail and Range Business Development|
Centennial Gun Club, Centennial, Colorado
This range and retailer is located 40 minutes south of downtown Denver just off Interstate 25. The recently constructed building encompasses more than 35,000 square feet. The 5,000-square-foot retail store carries an inventory of more than 1,200 firearms and an additional stock of 120 rentals.
There is a private, eight-bay, 25-yard lane VIP members-only range along with an additional 20 bays for general members. The complex includes a large customer waiting area, a private lounge, offices, a conference room and two multimedia classrooms with TI simulators. The facility also has a customer gun vault room where clients can store their firearms.
Memberships start at the Patriot Level, with an initiation fee of $347 and $34.95 monthly dues. The Patriot Couple Level has a $547 initiation fee and $59.95 monthly dues, and the Patriot Family has a $649 initiation fee with $64.95 monthly dues. The Patriot Corporate Level — four group/corporate membership — has a $1,247 initiation fee and $32.95 monthly dues. At the Corporate level, an additional person can be added for $220. The American Finest Level, for active military and law enforcement, includes a 20-percent discount on a starting membership.
Lane rental walk-in pricing begins at $22 per hour. Rental prices are $15 per gun per hour. Full-auto firearms start at $75 per hourly session. Firearms with suppressors are $25 per hour.
Centennial employs a staff of 50 full- and part-time employees, and the facility operates seven days a week. As a Five-Star NSSF range, the facility meets best practices standards for its state-of-the-art design. This ensures a high level of safety and comfort for workers and customers.
I interviewed Richard Abramson, General Manager and Owner, and John Gonsalves, Director of Training, for this column in which we discussed the company’s history and commitment to NSSF’s First Shots® program.
Parlaying Centennial’s First Shots Success
NSSF’s First Shots program helps ranges introduce thousands of individuals to shooting and firearm safety. Hosted by independent shooting facilities, the program provides participants with a comprehensive introduction to shooting, with qualified range operators and instructors providing firearm safety, information on local firearms ownership requirements, shooting fundamentals and hands-on instruction.
Centennial has been offering First Shots every month for more than six years. As of 2019, the company has had more than 1,307 students attend these events. “We have averaged a 48.3-percent women to 51.7-percent male ratio. The average age has been 39 years old,” said Abramson.
All First Shots participants pay a $29 tuition fee. They receive a pair of Howard Leight safety glasses and ear protection, Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C Targets, Aguila .22 LR ammunition and a First Shots handbook, all of which are provided to Centennial (and all First Shots host ranges) by NSSF and the First Shots sponsor companies that donate their products. NSSF also offers its host ranges advertising co-op funds to help those ranges market and promote the program.
Plain Speak Turns a Profit
When it comes to really getting the students involved in a First Shots event, fun is the priority.
“There is no tactical or fear-based engagement in the course. It’s about having fun and being safe. Everyone wears casual attire,” said Gonsalves. “We use plain speak and are down to earth in our attitude and in all communications. We always stay away from any kind of tactical terms. We won’t even say the word ‘weapon.’ This experience is about the student having a great time.”
This simplistic approach, along with total commitment from the staff to making these events enjoyable for everyone attending, has proven its worth. Here are just a few of the stats:
- Historically, 70 percent of Centennial’s First Shots clients are return customers
- Fifty-two percent have taken additional training
- Forty-two percent have become range members
Perhaps most important to any range or retailer is establishing programs that turn a profit, First Shots has done that for Centennial. An impressive 65 percent have purchased shooting equipment — and of the First Shots’ students who made purchases, the average was $1,445.
Upgrading to First Shots 2.0
In 2019, NSSF upgraded its First Shots program by adding a host range portal and a dedicated NSSF staff member to help facilities get on track and administer the program. In addition, there is a helpful content development plan, including advertising materials and promotional support.
“NSSF has really refined this program. If a range owner tried First Shots in the past with average results, I suggest they try it again. The new materials are structured to attract the kind of attendance that we’ve achieved here at Centennial,” said Abramson.
Although Centennial participates in multiple programs for new shooters, the First Shots Program has been its greatest success.
“We’ve found First Shots is core to getting shooters involved in the shooting sports. Everything they need is taken care of, and the guests have a wonderful time,” said Abramson.
With First Shots, participants come away with a far greater understanding of what a firearm is and how to safely use it. This vital program is beginning to change the shooting narrative. It allows a new firearm owner to grow into the sport with mentoring support.
“As members of the shooting community, we often forget that someone who doesn’t own a gun or has never shot a firearm is a long way from experiencing the sport. The First Shots program brings these individuals to our door and into the shooting community,” Abramson said.
Gonsalves added, “One of my greatest feelings of accomplishment is bringing in a new shooter into the sport. It’s rewarding to watch these students join our community.”