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February 1, 2019

First Shots: Topping the Priority List for Sprague’s Sports


By Warren Berg

“It’s our duty and responsibility to provide the opportunity and professional instruction to first-time shooters. While you’re teaching firearms safety, you’re also cultivating the next generation of shooters,” says Richard Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Arizona, as he explains to me why he has been hosting First Shots at his location for the past 10 years.

First Step to Becoming Loyal Customers

For Sprague, selecting NSSF’s First Shots as one of his training programs was a no-brainer. He says his range was the second in the country ever to offer the program to new shooters and has never looked back at the decision. Though Sprague can’t recall if he had any difficulty first implementing the program, he calls it “on cruise control” today and believes starting First Shots is fairly turnkey if you have someone on staff who is used to teaching firearms safety training classes. “It’s modernly developed to attract today’s customer base. It’s fresh material professionally created and supported by NSSF which, of course, speaks volumes,” he says. “I can tell you from the support I get from NSSF and the smiles I get on the range when the class is over, it’s a win-win.”

It’s also a winner for Sprague’s retail business, as he says his retention rate is about 80 percent and his referral rate is even higher. While he charges $5 for the First Shots class (NSSF suggests a charge of $25), he then provides students with a $5 in-store coupon to offset the cost. “We also give them discount coupons to use in the store for accessories and for firearms, two different coupons, and I’m thinking about starting to provide an additional range time pass to go with that as well,” he adds of the tools he uses to convert students into customers.

Sprague's Sports - Retail Sales
To help convert students into customers, Sprague’s offers discount coupons on accessory and firearms purchases in their retail store.

Diversified Outreach Works

To find new shooters for First Shots, Sprague relies heavily on social media, specifically his Facebook and Instagram accounts. He also uses email and does a lot of promotion in-store and on the company’s website where several months’ worth of scheduled daytime and evening classes are listed. “We’ve got a lot of people who have made a decision that they want to protect their family and their homes, and they want to learn more about firearms safety,” says Sprague of those who respond to the class. “We’ve got people who are interested in getting involved in the shooting sports and recreational shooting, and they want to learn the basics from some professionals. We also get a lot of parents bringing their children to the class, which we encourage,” he adds, noting that he takes students as young as 12.

Sprague's Sports - Class
If Sprague can get at least 10 people, he will have a First Shots class where he accepts students as young as 12 years old.

To meet demand for the class, Sprague’s hosts at least one First Shots a month, though he says they’ll hold the class twice a month during busier times of the year. “If we can get 10 people, we’ll do a class,” says Sprague, who also reaches out to specific groups including realtors, teachers and hospital workers for private First Shots classes. Sprague’s even offers a women-only First Shots class.

According to Sprague, students are usually surprised at how well they do on the range with just a little professional help, and that those who are initially apprehensive or afraid of firearms overcome that fear with some professional coaching. In addition to the social and business reasons Sprague offers First Shots, he also likes “the level of satisfaction that he senses from students” and that deep, satisfied feeling he gets from doing something right.

Sprague’s critique sheets from students further reinforce his decision to hold First Shots. He says about 80 percent of students complete the critique sheets, and about 90 percent of those indicate they had a good experience, are in favor of the class and would come back. “I just know that the critique sheets are super positive,” says Sprague. “We put a lot into it. I take good care of my employees who conduct the classes, and all of us involved in it are just super passionate about it.”

Sprague's Sports Class
Sprague reaches out to specific groups including teachers, realtors and hospital workers for private First Shots instruction and also offers a women-only class.

It’s a Lead Generator

As much as Sprague supports First Shots and thinks ranges should be doing it on a regular basis to promote the firearms industry and Second Amendment rights, he is a businessman who recognizes it as a lead generator. “I have shifted my thinking on it. It’s a marketing dollar for me and not any kind of a range expense,” he says. “I just believe in it so strongly that we consider it not an instructional or range expense, rather it’s a marketing expense for me and our industry, our livelihood and our way of thinking.”

Sprague emphasizes the amount of support he gets from NSSF as a reason the classes are easy to implement and run so smoothly. “I would do this if I got little support, but the fact of the matter is I get lots of support,” he says of NSSF. “They are easy to work with, super professional. They provide lots of support and it’s a win-win all around. Anybody who’s got a facility where they have a classroom setting and a range, they ought to be doing it.”

When asked if there was anything I wasn’t thinking to ask about ranges hosting First Shots, Sprague says, “If they’re not doing it, they should move it to the very top of their priority list. That’s my quote right there. You can tell anybody who is thinking about it to give me a call.”

NSSF reminds its member ranges that they may now apply for a portion of the monies available through the recently established First Shots Startup grants program to help defray the cost of hosting First Shots events and improve community outreach and class attendance through their marketing efforts. For more information, contact Ann Gamauf, NSSF Retail and Range Business Development Coordinator, at agamauf@nssf.org.

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 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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