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January 30, 2019

Behind the Firing Line: Nardis Gun Club


By Peter B. Mathiesen

Welcome to NSSF’s column for firearms range owners, managers and staff. “Behind the Firing Line” works to recognize ranges that have met the stringent requirements necessary to achieve NSSF’s Five-Star rating for excellence and explain how they 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

Nardis Gun Club, San Antonio, Texas

Located in the northeast corridor of suburban San Antonio, this range-retailer is located on the Interstate 10 just inside the I-410 bypass. Constructed in 2012, the range encompasses more than 20,000 square feet and includes 12, 25-yard lanes with a live-fire VSE. The 6,000-square-foot retail store carries an inventory of nearly 500 firearms, along with an additional stock of more than 100 rentals. There is a large customer greeting and waiting area, office spaces, a conference room, classrooms, café and VIP lounge.

Annual memberships start at the Silver level, with a $150 initiation fee and $29.95 per month maintenance schedule for singles; families are $54.95 per month. The Platinum membership has a $150 initiation fee and monthly maintenance fees of $49.95 per month for singles, $74.95 for a family. The Executive level has a $500 initiation fee, with monthly maintenance of $99.95 for singles, $139.95 for a family. Finally, first responders and military have a $100 initiation fee, with $29.95 per month maintenance for singles, $49.95 for a family. All memberships receive discounts on rentals and training classes, free lane reservations, and additional privileges based on membership level.

Nardis Gun Club Lounge

Lane rental walk-in pricing starts are $25 per day. For an additional $12.50, up to three shooters may be added to the same lane. Handgun rental prices begin at $15 per gun per hour. Rifles range from $20 to $25, with full-auto rentals ranging from $35 to $65.

The facility employs a staff of 18 full and part-time employees. Nardis operates seven days a week.

As an NSSF Five-Star range, the facility meets best practices standards for its state-of-the-art design, ensuring a high level of safety and comfort for workers and customers. I interviewed Doug Thurmon, General Manager, for this column, with a focus on how this range is adopting profitable retail practices and stabilizing profits.

Weaving a Retail Foundation from Fabric and Thread

Thurmon arrived to the range business via the outerwear industry. The company he worked for supplied everything from prison uniforms to women’s specialty military clothing.

“I came from the manufacturing and distribution of outerwear. It’s a unique market that requires notable attention to detail. This foundation schooled me and my family in business practices that drive profits,” said Thurmon.

In 2010, while expanding their San Antonio operation, the Thurmon family found itself with nearly 50,000 square feet of manufacturing and distribution property. Only half of it was filled. With strong ties to the military and first responders, the family considered how a range and a retail firearms business would support their existing base of outerwear customers.

Nardis Gun Club - Counter

“It seemed to be an obvious extension to our business. We found ourselves with more than 20,000 square feet of concrete-walled industrial space. As it turned out, the location and base construction was ideal,” Thurmon said.

He embarked on a tour of every shooting facility he could find. By 2012, Nardis had opened as one of the first country club-style ranges in Texas.

Coming to Grips with Profits and Transfers

Thurmon will tell you that making clothing was a tough taskmaster in profit education.

“Retailing has changed since the boom years. I’m thankful that, when we realized profits were narrowing on the retail side, we were already ahead of the curve when the ‘current slump’ started,” he said.

As retail pricing dropped, manufacturing kept rolling. Thurmon ensured a few key components were in place, beginning with product choices. Nardis stocks higher-end goods supported by MAP pricing and quality factory service.

“We just can’t sell a gun for $20 worth of profit. Realistically, our ATF paperwork and inventory controls can cost close to that per gun. To combat this reality, we took a stand and raised transfer fees to $55 per gun,” he said.

With the increased transfer fee, the transaction is now worthwhile for this retailer. He also discussed the need to educate employees to share this knowledge with customers.

“Our customers must realize they may not be getting even close to the deal they think they are when buying online. Between the shipping costs, possible tax charges and the added transfer fees, it quickly becomes a wash,” he said.

The customer can also learn a harsh lesson if there’s an operating issue with a transfer gun. When dealing with a lower retail price point, any performance issue can become staggeringly difficult to overcome.

“Frequently, the original seller is not involved. In most cases, we will have to charge them to have our gunsmith make a repair. These experiences continue to drive our store to sell firearms with great dealer support,” he said.

Thurmon’s in-store experience reminds us that being the bearer of bad news is not an enviable position for any retailer. Yet, these teaching moments give the salesperson an opportunity to leverage an onsite purchase, instead of merely completing a transfer transaction, and allay customer concerns. Through an earnest conversation, customers understand Nardis will resolve any problem quickly and offer serious customer support.

Big Visuals Bring in New Customers

When walking through the front door at Nardis, you are literally in the shadow of a massive Nardis highway billboard sign. As it turns out, the company has quite a few in the San Antonio area.

Thurmon remarked, “While our position in most forms of media like print, social and radio are evolving, we have found that old-school highway billboards are still a cornerstone of contact to bring in new shooters.”

During much of the year, the company averages 20 billboards across the city. While he credits part of the effectiveness to being located next to the interstate, Thurmon says they couldn’t live without them.

Making the Register Ring

Thurmon clearly addressed the importance of a dedicated, passionate employee pool. He emphasized that 80 percent of their staff has a military or a law enforcement background. Their passion for the shooting sports is critical.

“Our training requires a new hire to shoot every gun in the store in their first week,” he said. Another key ingredient to the employee mix is learning to communicate in a friendly, non-combative manner. The goal is to engage the customer in a conversation. To draw them closer to the sale, new hires receive training to help them understand how to make customers feel welcome and how to encourage customers to ask questions comfortably.

Ultimately, Thurmon said the trifecta formula for success is not complicated. Sell a good quality product, don’t price gouge and school the customer in a transparent transfer.

“In the end, I would never have a retail store without a range. And, I wouldn’t have a successful business without great employees,” he said.

As the industry continues to evolve, securing profits is becoming more challenging. However, through targeted product selection, realistic pricing and impeccably chosen employees, Nardis is continuing to make the cash register ring.

You may also be interested in:

Behind the Firing Line: Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range

New Range Basics — The Business Plan