September 25, 2019
Behind the Firing Line: Heritage Guild
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, Range Services
Heritage Guild, Easton, Pennsylvania
The expansive facility in Easton, Pennsylvania, encompasses more than 20,000 square feet. A large retail store carries an inventory of nearly 3,000 firearms, as well as more than 100 rentals. There are four separate firing ranges: a 10-lane 50-foot bay; an eight-lane 75-foot tactical bay; a six-lane 75-foot rifle range; and a five-lane 50-foot bay. The complex includes a large customer waiting area, a VIP private lounge, offices, a conference room, banquet room, and classrooms. The facility also has an 1,800-square-foot event space with seating for up to 100 people.
Heritage Guild employs 35 to 40 full- and part-time staff, with an additional 10 contract instructors. The facility operates six days a week, closed only on Mondays.
An NSSF Five-Star range, the facility meets best practices standards for its state-of-the-art design.
I interviewed Matt Vollers, Director of Training and Education for this column, focusing on how this range fits a unique market niche serving the Pennsylvania and New Jersey shooting communities.
Developing Training Staff from Within
For Heritage, developing teaching skills through mentoring is one of the organization’s greatest strengths. That approach starts with each new hire.
“As part of their orientation, all employees are encouraged to take our series of basic classes. This provides them in-depth knowledge through experiencing what our classes have to offer and allows them to sell that class with confidence,” said Vollers.
Participating in the entry-level classes also shows if the new staff members have any special abilities that might make them an ideal training instructor. “When possible, we prefer to develop training staff from within. Often, we find a new employee who shows the communication skills and passion to become a training officer. We can teach them almost anything about a gun, but we can’t teach them how to be a great listener, have compassion for the student or have passion for the sport,” he said.
Heritage has learned that fostering the perfect temperament in a trainer is critical to expanding their customers’ interest in becoming a more skilled shooter. “Not many of our shooters are looking for a drill sergeant for an instructor. They’re looking for a respectful mentor and someone they can bond with,” Vollers said.
By carefully curating its instructors in this manner, this facility has found its clients become far more active in the shooting sports. They begin to view the facility as a lifestyle experience, not just a sporting activity.
Leveraging Promotions across Multiple Locations
While not every range has outside retailers promoting their facility, the company’s two retail-only sister stores across the line in New Jersey send a great deal of business to the Heritage range.
“Although our own stores send us an impressive number of shooters, we work with other retailers as well. Any time we can cross-promote through an alternative retail source, it’s powerful,” said Vollers. Shops that work with Heritage are given vouchers for a free hour of time to hand out when one of their customers makes a purchase. He also encourages building a bond with other local firearms professionals, recommending that ranges consider liberal free range use to sales personnel at non-range retailers.
Off-Site Firearms Storage Keeps Customers Near
Keeping firearms in controlled storage has become a growing trend for many gun ranges in the eastern part of the U.S. While Heritage doesn’t offer onsite permanent storage, several Easton facilities do.
“We have a company right down the road from Heritage called Gun Sitters. It has a variety of lockers available for rent from a three-rifle locker for $40 a month, to a 100-gun vault starting at $500 per month,” said Vollers.
By keeping guns close to the range, its many New Jersey customers avoid dealing with the complex transportation regulations in their home state.
Vollers demonstrates that by making staffing a priority, by training from within and by promoting with other retailers, this range has expanded the shooting sports — and on a good day expanded their bottom line. Most of all, it’s found a way to create a place that satisfies a diverse customer base — one that shares two states with different laws and regulations — and addresses all the specialized needs that come with such relationships. It’s just part of what makes this an NSSF Five-Star range, but it’s something any range in today’s market can look to for examples of finding ways to grow their business.