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September 15, 2017

Creating a Next-Generation Range Through Retrofitting


By Jeff Swanson, NSSF Range Action Specialist Team Member

One of the hottest developments in the firearms industry is the evolution of the “Next Generation” shooting range, a move to modern, up-scale shooting sports destinations offering amenities that would be more typically associated with first-class country clubs. These amenities often include restaurants, private lounges, cigar rooms, gun lockers, concierge services, conference rooms, event spaces and even private entrances with extended hours for VIP members. Although creating amenities such as these (which should be viewed as profit centers, more on that in a bit) can often be cost prohibitive to build, there are many ways to incorporate these trends — with nominal cost — by reimagining your space.

Woman with firearms instructor posing with target at an indoor shooting rangeWhether retrofitting your facility or building from scratch, the “Next Generation” approach includes diversifying revenue sources across several “profit centers.” The goal is threefold:

  1. Attract the next generation of shooters and the rapidly growing female demographic.
  2. Entice your range’s shooters to stay longer at your facility and do more while they’re there.
  3. Build a level of insulation against typical revenue ups and downs created by retail market fluctuation and range seasonality.

With those three goals in mind, profit centers generally include a mix of the following:

  • A clean, bright shooting range with enhanced target retrieval systems.
  • A modern retail floor staffed by friendly, team-oriented individuals.
  • Attractive classrooms and a full suite of training offerings.
  • A virtual simulator and other customer-engagement technology.
  • A focused membership strategy.
  • Food and beverage service.
  • An event business.

We’ll talk about some of these ideas in future articles, but for now let’s tackle some basic improvements that can really help your range shine.

Ranges Designed for More than Catching Bullets

Range equipment providers understand the upgrades today’s progressive shooting facilities desire and are rapidly developing shooting range technologies that meet the rising expectations of new-construction ranges. The good news is that many of these technologies are also available to accommodate existing ranges through retrofitting.

“The old concept of shooting static paper targets is no longer sufficient,” says Action Target CEO Mike Birch. “We are developing products to enhance the shooter’s experience and challenge their skills like never before. For example, our new AWD Pro Retriever contains 27 drills and games designed to engage the shooter in self-guided training. Shooters can now enjoy decision-making scenarios, challenging games and timed drills while using a smartphone-type interface, making it easy for anyone to operate. This type of technology advancement gives ranges the competitive edge by providing the dynamic interaction today’s shooters are looking for.”

Much of this kind of technology, as well as safety improvements, can be added to an existing range at a fraction of the cost of the original range buildout. Assuming your range’s baffles and bullet traps are in safe, working condition, the range can be visually improved just by installing fresh ceiling tiles. Other relatively easy improvements include:

  • Adding LED lighting above alternating ceiling baffles.
  • Installing new shooting stalls with the latest ballistic offerings.
  • Updating target retrievers with digital keypads and expanded target movements and positions.
  • Installing small HD cameras just below the first line of baffles and pointed back at the stalls, which can be used both for security and customer photo opportunities.
  • Economically appropriate improvements to the range ventilation system per your budgeted plan (more on that in a bit).

While adding all of these updates at the same time is likely be cost prohibitive, individually these improvements start at a few thousand dollars and, so, they can be incorporated over time. And regardless whether you tackle one or all of these types of improvements at the same time, always remember that keeping your business going during renovations and upgrade installations is the most important thing. Make sure your contractor works with you on a schedule that will provide the absolute minimum in interruptions to your business.

Evolution of the Retail Floor

Think about the Apple’s store concept, which incorporates light colors, bright LED lights and modern displays that enable guests to tactilely engage with the maker’s retail products. At a nominal cost, you can display your most popular pistols (tethered to tables and with their firing pins removed) that guests can safely handle, just like you would an iPad at an Apple Store. (Bonus: Firearms displayed like this are usually purchasable by your range through the range programs offered by many distributors, and at a fraction of their original wholesale prices. After keeping them on the retail floor for a year, they can then be sold to employees at the reduced cost, resulting in a win-win for range owners and employees alike.)

SharpShooters USA in Roswell, Georgia, is a great example of the new retail floor that is largely free of manufacturer banners, animal mounts and other items that are typical of old-school gun shops.

“Our facility is clean, bright and designed to feel more like a higher end sporting goods store, as opposed to a ‘gun shop,’” says owner Tom Deets.

“We want SharpShooters USA to be a destination location,” he added. “It is important to have a diverse team of employees of different ages, genders and ethnicities in order to attract new shooters. The atmosphere is positive and upbeat, and we encourage interaction and socializing with our customers.”

To recap, then, the main takeaways of improving the retail floor with nominal cost include:

  • Installation of LED lighting, which retail experts associate with up to a 22 percent increase in sales.
  • Safe and secure display of the most popular pistols on easy-to-access tables with descriptive signage.
  • Hiring retail staff who are local shooting enthusiasts, then cross-train them with your other staff who specialize in other areas of firearms expertise, such as law enforcement gear and training.

Ventilation Systems Need Love, Too

When examining ways to upgrade your facility, don’t skip your ventilation system.

“The best way to approach upgrading an existing range ventilation system is to start with an assessment of it,” says Bill Provencher of Carey’s Range Ventilation. “Once this is done, and if upgrades are needed, identify the complete cost of the upgrades. This will need to include not only the ventilation work, but all of the supporting work such as roof patching, and general trades work such as drop ceilings, demolition, power wiring with possible service changes, and gas piping.

“Once the full scope of needed work is developed, make a plan. Your range did not get to its current condition in the past two weeks and it does not need to get replaced in the next two weeks. Do long-term planning to include some of the work each year within your capital budget. Typically, the work starts with the exhaust system, then goes to the controls and, finally, the supply system. You may need to do the power upgrade before starting any ventilation upgrades.”

With proper planning for your range’s layout and aesthetics, you can maximize investments to its improvement. The end result will be a bright, updated range that engages customers for a longer time and results in increased range revenue.

About the Author

Jeff Swanson is co-founder and an owner of a “Next Generation” range in Oklahoma, and the Managing Member of NexGen Range Consulting. An attorney, entrepreneur and business development consultant with more than 22 years of experience, Swanson and his team created NexGen Range Consulting to help new and existing range owners across the country create their own next-generation facilities. He also serves on NSSF’s Range Action Specialists team and can be reached for consulting services by contacting NSSF Member Services at 203-426-1320. Learn more about NSSF’s Range Action Specialists and their services on nssf.org.