May 3, 2018
Private Events Fill Idle Times for Firearms Ranges
“My whole thing is that if I’ve got a space in my facility that’s sitting vacant, I’m losing money. Literally. I’m heating it, I’m cooling it, I’m doing maintenance on it, so I want every inch of my facility in use as much as I possibly can to generate as much revenue as I possibly can,” says Paul Bastean, Director and part owner of Ultimate Defense (UD) Range, as he begins telling me why UD began offering space for private events and how successful they’ve become.
Private events are just that: Private shooting events held at UD Range with a host and their guests for a special occasion. Occasions run the gamut from bachelor and bachelorette parties to conferences and sales presentations.
“The divorce parties were probably the ones we were most shocked with,” says Bastean, noting that one divorce party sent about $800 worth of ammunition downrange.
How it works
The logistics of private events for UD are fairly simple. The facility has three bays with six shooting lanes in each bay. Two bays are left open for normal operations while the third is reserved for private events.
“What we end up doing is charging the maximum amount of income that we can make off those six lanes,” says Bastean, adding that they also consider that each lane will have a shooter and a guest as well as the cost of the range safety officer. “We end up throwing the training center in for free.”
Not only do private events generate revenue from otherwise idle space, Bastean has also parlayed them into a direct-marketing tool by capturing contact information from guests at sign-in, as well as word-of-mouth marketing with an exponential return.
“Everybody who comes through the door will usually get an email within three to five days of the event that thanks them for coming in and letting them know the services they didn’t see. I would estimate about 40 percent of the people who come to a private event are going to come back,” he says of the conversion rate, adding that many times a person comes to a private event as a guest and then returns as a host of their own party.
“I don’t really even know what he sells,” laughs Bastean, as he tells me about a customer from the concrete industry who regularly hosts private events at UD Range to make sales presentations. “He ends up pulling in like 15 to 18 different buyers from 15 to 18 different companies. We hold the event, the buyers go back to their companies and they’re like, ‘Hey, next meeting we’re going to do at Ultimate Defense. I just came from one there. It was awesome!’”
If you think about these events from the guest’s perspective, the enthusiasm makes perfect sense. What sounds more appealing, sitting in a hotel meeting room for two hours listing to a presentation about concrete, or getting the sales pitch and, in appreciation for coming to listen, you then go shoot machine guns? That’s why many of UD’s private events turn into regularly held ones.
Key to success, according to Bastean, is giving guests personal service and a positive experience. Think of how many times you’ve taken your kid to a birthday party someplace like a skating rink and there was, essentially, no interaction with staff.
“We create a lot of customer loyalty because at their first event they connected with my instructors. They felt comfortable about the facility and now they buy from us,” he says.
Depending on the type of event, shooting with friends or coworkers adds to the comfort and confidence. “They wouldn’t have ever come to a range before, and when they get here and discover how cool this is and how much fun it is, we’ve got customers for life at that point,” says Bastean. “It definitely is a draw for new shooters.”
UD Range makes the host’s experience equally pleasant by making private events as organized and close to turn-key as possible.
“As soon as we book an event, I get the checklist out. What I think surprises the event organizer is that there’s just a lot of the details we tell them we’re going to take care of that they just wouldn’t think about,” explains Bastean, who says service goes beyond simply providing eye and ear protection, rental guns and a safety officer. “Do you want it catered?” Bastean asks event hosts, and then gives them several pre-arranged options from local restaurants. “They think that they’re going to come in and shoot a couple handguns and be done, and that’s not at all how we do things,” he says.
One special consideration Bastean notes about private events is that they can bring in a lot of first-time shooters. “Our premise, one of our core values, is that there should be comfort and confidence with a firearm. So, in maintaining that core value, we really single out those [first-time] people and make them comfortable and confident,” he says, explaining how new shooters are really surprised at how much the UD staff concentrates on them so they have a fun experience. “If we get to where we have to allocate resources and need to put another range safety officer out there because we have that many new shooters or whatever the situation is, we tailor our staffing to make sure the event goes smoothly.”
Bachelor parties, medical conferences, pharmaceutical sales, office parties, sales meetings and more — Bastean isn’t shy about the myriad types of private events that UD Range will take on. According to him, “As long as you have space and a range, you can have an event.”
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.