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November 7, 2018

First Shots Starts — A New Generation At Top Gun Shooting Sports


By Warren Berg

“The classes come close to filling up or do fill up easily,” explains Top Gun Shooting Sports owner Michael Barbour of the NSSF First Shots classes the Taylor, Michigan, range offers to new shooters. To Barbour, the ideal person to market First Shots to is someone who is curious about shooting and is just not sure where to start or who is scared to try shooting for their first time in front of people who have more experience.

“It was not as hard and scary as they thought,” Barbour tells me of how new shooters respond after taking the class. Most of the time Barbour finds attendees are surprised at how well they can shoot considering they’re first-timers, and also how well their children can shoot if they participate in the class. “I think it is because they do not have ideas on how it is done, and they are like blank slates following directions very well,” he says.

Barbour says he sees all levels of anticipation and nervousness in his First Shots clients and works hard to get them to see the fun side. “We once had a lady walk out of the range portion because she was hyperventilating,” he says of the only arguably negative reaction, “but we were able to get her back in and finish the class.”

Top Gun Shooting Sports
Top Gun Shooting Sports in Taylor, Michigan, sees First Shots as a great marketing tool that gets a new generation of customers in the door.

Keep Them Coming Back

Barbour likes that First Shots promotes the shooting sports and gets a new generation of shooters started, but the classes also get Top Gun new customers. “Many of them come back to shoot, take classes and buy guns,” he explains. Top Gun encourages First Shots shooters to come back and continue their training by signing up for additional basic handgun and CPL classes, and also works with each to help them pick out their first gun. “When they leave our First Shots events, they have a coupon for a free hour of range time to get them to come back,” Barbour explains, adding that “The volume of women who take the class who were talked into it by their kids is big for our business in the women and youth markets.”

Top Gun - Women
Top Gun holds monthly First Shots classes, and sometimes twice a month, and has no problem filling the class.

Barbour says that implementing First Shots at Top Gun Shooting Sports was “easy” and that the curriculum and materials were likewise easy to tailor to his range’s way of doing things. “It’s nice to be able to customize the class a little,” he says, adding that using the co-op advertising dollars from NSSF is a “no-brainer.” As far as additional assistance from NSSF with planning and logistics, Barbour found it helpful to receive information on the basics of marketing the class and steps for following the program.

“The biggest issue in the beginning [four to five years ago] was the availability of the loaner guns NSSF and industry partners made available,” says Barbour. “Getting them on loan from NSSF was helpful, though also challenging sometimes as more ranges were signing on to host First Shots events.” Now that Top Gun has its own guns for the program, Barbour says running a First Shots class is “way easier” but would like to see manufacturers such as Ruger or Smith & Wesson consider offering guns for this program below their normal retail price.

Top Gun does not charge for its First Shots classes. “We always charged $10 for the class until a competitor near us started to do them for free. Before, when we had 20 sign up, 19 to 20 showed up, but with anything free people back out,” Barbour says. “Now if 20 sign up, we get 15 to 17 who show up. I believe it should be mandatory $10 fee for the class. It does have value way beyond $10.” (Note: NSSF strongly encourages its First Shots host ranges to charge a fee of $25 for these events, $10 minimum, for exactly this reason. NSSF also suggests the host facility provide a coupon for range use to each First Shots student, to encourage return visits).

Top Gun - Marketing
Getting guns on loan from NSSF was helpful, but Top Gun Shooting Sports finds it’s “way easier” to have First Shots classes now that it has its own guns for the program.

Though Barbour concedes there are expenses to holding a First Shots class, especially since he offers them at no charge, he says that if you look at First Shots from a marketing perspective, it is very cost-effective. “It has been a great program to get new shooters to the range and continue to grow our customer base,” he says.

New shooters who take First Shots classes tell Barbour that it’s a great and fun introduction to shooting. “When you have new shooters, it is an easy class to get them in at a low cost or free,” he says. “The guys on the counter have an easy time promoting it, and we offer it monthly or two times a month, so the customer does not have to wait long to get in a class. Like I said, they always seem to fill up or come close to full, so it just works.”

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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