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March 14, 2019

First Shots Complete Kings Gun Center’s Training


By Warren Berg

At Kings Gun Center in Hanford, California, owner Todd Cotta appreciates how incorporating NSSF’s First Shots® curriculum into his introductory training program gives it a polished look. According to him, if you have the combination of a good existing training program and a good marketing program, “adding NSSF gives a new level of professionalism and competency that you don’t get just trying to do it yourself.”

Cotta admits he was initially a little hesitant about First Shots.

“Normally, when an organization comes along and wants to do something for you, they normally want something in return,” he says, “and the only thing NSSF wanted in return was to make sure people are exposed to firearms and good firearms training. I love them for that.”

Kings Gun Center California
Because Kings is in California, where there are added restrictions on buying guns, Cotta counts on range memberships and training classes such as First Shots to help keep them in business.

Before talking with NSSF, he was also worried about too much oversight.

“When I first got the call from them, I was like, ‘We have a really good program here and I’m not willing to change it if you’re going to change my program,’” he explained.

But First Shots was not about changing Cotta’s program, as he quickly found it. Instead, he discovered it simply augmented his program.

“For the student, First Shots is simpler than other courses, some of which have huge requirements,” says Cotta of First Shots’ appeal. “NSSF has been very good to us in reviewing our criteria and our curriculum to make sure we can continue teaching what we teach, but with their help.”

Cotta explains his program is interactive and includes videos and props such as red training guns they use in the classroom for safe handling purposes. “If you already have a class that is established, it is almost seamless,” he says of integrating First Shots.

Why Host First Shots?

Cotta offered several reasons why First Shots was a good idea for his range. First and foremost, he expressed how simple it is working with NSSF and how its association with his range impresses customers. “All I have to do is send Ann Gamauf an email and say, for example, ‘Hey, we have five classes coming up. Can you send me some more ammo and targets, whatever you got?’ and just within a few days it’s sitting here,” he explains.

Bichwood Casey Shoot-N-C Targets - NSSF First Shots
Things such as the Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets that are part of First Shots help make the class more appealing.

The sponsors NSSF partners with on First Shots also impress Cotta, who especially likes the Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets, which he says “really puts another level of class” on the training course. “The safety handbooks and the pens and things that accompany the training packets? The students really appreciate that, and it makes it look like we’ve done something for the new shooters,” he adds.

Cotta has also seen an uptick in range memberships that he attributes to First Shots, something that helps keep this California-based company in business.

“We have to do an excellent job or we wouldn’t be in business,” he explains. “Because of our state’s restrictive gun sales, the things keeping us afloat are our training and our membership.”

While Cotta gets $55 for a First Shots class, he says the class does lead to gun sales with 20- to 25-percent of students coming back initially for a second training class and then to become firearms owners.

“We offer discounts for the next level training classes during our First Shots events,” Cotta says of his conversion strategy. “And we make it so that either that day or the day after those students can put a coupon code in our website that earns them a discount on the next class. They can also come back to the store in person and we’ll manually discount it for them. We have a lot of people who sign up for our Skills Builder class, our Level 2 class, because they want to continue their gun experience.”

Kings Gun Center - First Shots - Firearms Training
Cotta says he enjoys about a 20- to 25-percent conversion rate with customers who participate in First Shots.

Ideal Customer?

One thing Cotta has observed when it comes to First Shots is that seems to primarily attract women.

“It usually ends up being about 70 percent women, 20 to 30 percent men, and then the age range is everywhere,” he says of the demographics. “We have mostly female students who come take the class because they want to learn correctly. We’ve had some people who were more experienced with rifles and not necessarily handguns come take our class, and they enjoy it because it’s a good refresher and it reminds them of the fundamentals. Wives are encouraged to take the class by their husbands, and they just love it.”

Kings Gun Center - First Shots class
Something Cotta has observed is that his First Shots students are primarily women and that the age range is all over the place.

Getting Them in the Door …

When marketing First Shots, Cotta finds a combination of old-school and new technology works best.

“We do billboard marketing, social media of course, Instagram, and then we have our own staff who are signing up people in the store,” he says. “Online versus in-store sign-ups run about 50/50, but without the online in this modern day, it wouldn’t work nearly as well. Every two or three hours I’m getting a notification of someone buying our classes. It’s pretty cool.”

Indeed, while we were talking, Cotta’s computer dinged. “Someone just signed up for Black Out. That’s our Level 5 course,” he says leaning back from his computer.

And Converting Them into Customers

“Normally it’s another class,” Cotta says of what new shooters come back to purchase. He credits the quality of his instructors with that return business, telling me that they have to understand the new shooter’s needs and also satisfy those needs before the end of the First Shots class.

Kings Gun Center First Shots Instructors
Cotta credits his instructors with a lot of his repeat business, as they strive to understand a new shooter’s needs and satisfy them.

To maintain contact, Cotta relies on an automated email program integrated into his point-of-sale system to thank students for taking the class and remind them of other things they can do at Kings.

Has it all worked?

“We are super happy with NSSF and this program it brought together and the sponsors,” says Cotta. “We hope that other ranges can have the same success we’re having with it.”

About the Author
Warren Berg is a 25-year veteran of the shooting, hunting and outdoors industry. He has penned hundreds of articles under many names for various publications including American Rifleman and Field & Stream. He has produced award-winning television programs on personal defense and has hunted extensively in North America, Europe and Africa.

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