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November 2, 2018

Behind the Firing Line: Saddle River Range


By Peter B. Mathiesen

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, Shooting Range Services

Saddle River Range, Conroe, Texas

This range and retailer is located on the edge of the Woodlands, 45 miles north of downtown Houston. The building, constructed in 2015, encompasses more than 33,000 square feet. The 5,000-square-foot retail store carries an inventory of more than 1,000 firearms, with an additional stock of 150 rentals.

The range boasts 24 25-yard lanes across four bays, along with an additional archery range on the facility’s second floor. Amenities include a large customer lounge, locker rooms, office spaces, a conference room, classrooms and a full-service cafe.

Tiered memberships begin at the Silver level, with a $250 initiation fee and $30 monthly dues. The Gold Membership has an initiation fee of $350 and monthly dues at $40. Silver and Gold Memberships can be incorporated into family memberships for an extra $10 per month for the first individual and $5 per month for additional children.

The Gold Small Business membership has an initiation fee of $870 for one to three members, with additional members for $150. The exclusive Crockett Club Membership offers a private VIP lounge, members-only range access, private showers, conference room access and exclusive events.

Lane rental walk-in pricing begins at $20 per hour for pistols, $29 for rifles. A second shooter in the same lane can be added at $13 (pistol) and $15 (rifle). Rental prices are $20 per gun per hour, and full-auto firearms are available for $30 per hourly session.

Saddle River Range employs a staff of 59 full- and part-time employees, including a full-time gunsmith. 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. We interviewed Thom Bolsch, Team Leader and Owner, for this column, which focuses on how this range creates customer loyalty through its programs for families and youth.

Saddle River Range - Indoor Range

Seeking a Better Experience

Six years ago, after a long career in the Secret Service, a newly retired Thom Bolsch sought to spark his wife’s interest in the shooting sports. But a trip to a local range ended in a dark, dingy experience, where an RSO came off as condescending to Bolsch’s wife. When the day was over, she said, “I really had fun shooting the target. Not so much fun being talked to like a child while standing in a dark, sooty place.”

The comment was a watershed moment for Bolsch. He was looking for a pathway into the shooting industry, and his wife’s comment provided remarkable clarity for the direction he should go.

“I was considering a specialty training service, but I knew there were capable competitors in my region. At that precise moment, I realized there wasn’t a firearms range where my wife would enjoy shooting in the entire Houston area,” he said. This revelation sent him on the road to breaking ground and opening a state-of-the-art shooting facility, one that provided an entertaining shooting environment for the entire family. Saddle River Range opened its doors in November 2015.

Saddle River Range - Women's Shooting Club

A Digital Presence

While opening any new business has its challenges, one of the Bolsch’s primary concerns was a plan to build memberships and grow foot traffic.

“We spent a notable amount of time and energy in heavy print and television buys, but traffic was slower than we expected,” said Bolsch. Once the company moved to a stronger digital advertising program, it saw a notable increase.

“Although I love print newspapers and local magazines, we couldn’t even come close to the results we’ve seen on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It really has been a revelation, not only in the number of responses, but we now know exactly where a customer comes from and whether they’ll attend an event,” he said.

Multi-Tier Events Engage Whole Families

If Bolsch had a single target when it comes to new clients, it’s the family that shoots. “We love having kids and their families at the range. It’s not only rewarding for our industry, we’ve found it profitable as well,” he said.

Saddle River Range’s family package is designed to keep the entire family involved, with multiple levels of entertaining games leading up to range time. While there are shorter programs, many of these packages can last up to five hours. Bolsch encourages any kind of event that includes multiple tiers. It can start with archery tag, move on to the laser simulator, then a safety class and finally a finish on the range with .22-caliber live-fire. “While we take great pride in delivering entertaining programs, throwing in a zombie or two keeps the kids engaged,” he laughed.

These special programs can be tied to groups or families. “We’ve found this gives it a family bowling night or mini golf feel,” he said, adding that another shooting program under development is one with the Texas Boy Scouts.

Saddle River Range - Firing Line - Teaching

Guaranteeing Customer Service

This range has found that fostering relationships with its clients in the retail store has been an exercise in fine-tuning the customer service strategy. With nearly 1,000 firearms in stock, though, Bolsch knew that steady turns would be key to positioning the store above his competition and provide a profit center outside of the range.

“While we are competitive, we are definitely not the cheapest buy in town,” he said. In turn, Bolsch made customer responsiveness a priority and provided proof of that in the range’s guarantee for firearms sales.

“It’s simple. You don’t like a gun? We want to hear from you. We will do everything possible to make you satisfied. We’ll even give your money back,” he said.

Instituting such a policy didn’t come without its concerns. Bolsch worried such a warranty would need notable disclaimers and feared too many consumers would take advantage of the guarantee, creating the potential for loss. Perhaps surprisingly, Bolsch said the experience was the complete opposite.

“As it turned out, the program has seen four handguns returned. Two of the customers purchased another gun within one year. I feel like we didn’t even come close to losing money. And, I know we made our customers happy.”

Today, the successful warranty policy at Saddle River Range is just this: “Buy a gun. If you’re not happy, we’ll buy it back.”

That’s the way to keep things simple and, as it turns out, your customers happy.

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