June 7, 2019
Rental Firearms Add Dollars To Range Revenues
Not all shooting ranges offer their customers the option of renting firearms. Those that make firearms rentals a part of their business plans, however, know a robust rental fleet can drive significant dollars to a range’s bottom line.
Chase Chambers is national sales manager at Shot Spot in Carrollton, Ga. He shared one of the greatest benefits to the range of having rental guns is customer satisfaction.
“That’s number one,” he said. “Customers are more satisfied when they get what they’re looking for, whether they knew they were looking for that particular product when they entered the store or not. A lot of people come into the range and they may have an idea of what they want, but they’ll pick up 10 different handguns and walk out thinking they were going to buy a revolver, but they walked out with a semi-automatic handgun.”
Chambers likens Shot Spot’s rental program to driving different cars before you buy the one you want.
“Let’s say you want to buy an Audi: When you go into the dealership, you want to drive one or you’re not going to buy it. Serious buyers want to use the product before they buy it,” he added.
The point of a good rental program, Chambers lends, is to let people try firearms before they buy one. Based on how well they shoot and handle it will ultimately confirm a customer’s initial perspective.
“You want to try it before you buy it so you can optimize your success with the product, whatever the product may be. It may be a rifle or a handgun; you want to be precise and accurate and comfortable with it,” he said.
Providing rentals also means repeat business.
“You get a greater return of the same customers,” Chambers said.
In addition to repeat business, rentals facilitate increased sales of firearms. One model Chambers specifically mentioned that fits this pattern is the SIG SAUER 238 in .380.
“We had the gun in the store, and at best we had very mediocre sales,” he admits. “Then we put it on the range and started offering it to people who take our courses. We went from selling 10–12 units per year to about 170. It’s a high-priced gun and one people don’t see often, so they don’t understand the value behind it. For a niche product like that, nobody’s going to really know the benefits of it until they actually shoot it.”
Shot Spot does occasional “manufacturer days” to let customers connect with factory reps.
“We’ve had Kel-Tec, Daniel Defense and various other companies come in,” Chambers shared. “It’s a great way to let customers get their hands on some of these guns.”
Chambers said many gun companies are very supportive of range programs, but he has formed a special relationship with Kel-Tec.
“Kel Tec cut their prices for gun ranges, so more people can buy into the range program and get their hands on Kel-Tec products. They can’t produce enough guns, but they’re still taking care of gun ranges so their customers can try Kel-Tec handguns as they ramp up production,” he noted.
First-Time Buyer Potential
At Shooter’s World in Tampa, Fla., General Manager Bruce Kitzis says having rental guns is fantastic for first-time buyers and for people who are purchasing firearms they don’t know well.
“Someone comes in and isn’t really familiar with a particular gun, how it’s going to shoot or whether or not it’s going to fit them,” he said. “We can look at different guns with that person and then take them back on the range and they can feel what a particular gun is like to fire.”
For example, a new shooter may come in and say he really likes a higher-caliber firearm until he shoots it.
“Then he finds out how much recoil it has, and decides a .380 is better,” Kitzis relayed. “It’s like a test drive on a car before you buy it.” A more experienced shooter may come in looking for a good target gun. This shooter can try a number of guns until he finds one he likes.
From the standpoint of the store, Kitzis said, having rental guns allows the range to provide a great level of customer service and drive sales.
“When someone can shoot a gun, especially a new one, and they really like it, you’ve made your sale,” he stated. “The conversion rate would be hard to quantify, but it’s quite substantial.”
Shooters World also gives a modest discount for customers who rent a particular gun and then decide to purchase the same model.
“The rental fee is $15,” Kitzis informed. “If someone purchases the same model gun after shooting one here, we take the $15 off the price of the gun.”
Shooters World makes a point of catering to families, and the range portion of the business is no exception.
“We’re a family store, and we really pride ourselves on working with the newer shooter,” Kitzis confirmed. “We also carry a full line for all shooters. Every Monday is Ladies Day when range fees are waived for ladies.” The store also offers a series of classes for new shooters.
Kitzis often gets manufacturers’ reps to come in for the weekend and help promote the new guns that have just arrived.
“For instance, we’ll have Smith & Wesson come in for a weekend and have free rentals on their guns,” Kitzis lends. “Most of the manufacturers are really good about working with us. We’ve had Walther, Smith & Wesson and GLOCK come in.”
A Powerful Tool In The Buying Process
At Carolina Sporting Arms in Charlotte, N.C., Owner David Drummond identified how a firearms rental program aids the buying process.
“Any time you make a purchase, whether it’s a car or house or clothes, you wouldn’t buy it without trying it,” he stated. “Having rental guns is a great introduction to letting folks try the latest models.”
One thing Drummond has noticed about customers who rent guns is some customers come for the experience of shooting without any particular desire to own firearms.
“They love to just come in, rent the guns and shoot them and let us care for them,” he said. “I don’t want to put it into just one age group, but it seems like millennials are more interested in the experience than they are into ownership. Sometimes they don’t even own guns at all.” (Drummond said these customers are looking for an entertainment experience and regard a trip to the shooting range as an alternative to a night at the movies or some other social event.)
Mirroring the experience of the two stores mentioned above, having a rental program also leads to sales. When a customer comes in and a staff person says, “Have you seen this gun?” the customer has an opportunity to shoot it on the range.
Carolina Sporting Arms has a special program they call “12 for 12.”
“For $12 you get 12 things,” Drummond relayed. “You get 10 bullets, the rental gun and a target. It has a great closure rate. A customer comes in and says he or she is interested in XYZ gun and we let them take it out on the range and shoot it 10 times. If we can get a customer like that back there shooting the gun, there’s a high probability they’ll buy it.”
The range also does events with their rental guns.
“We do Ladies Nights, and concealed carry classes for people who are just getting into it and don’t have their own guns,” Drummond said.
Carolina Sporting Arms does a number of manufacturer’s days at the range.
“We ask for the factory to send a representative, and the rep provides some training for our folks,” Drummond offered. “They do a great job of bringing in sample guns, and guns that have just been introduced by or are from the Custom Shop. We have those guns available to shoot, and many times the manufacturer will donate ammunition. Typically, we have a lot of swag and promotional items from the manufacturer, too. We try to make it all about the manufacturer and show our guests a great time.”
Many manufacturers have great range programs, Drummond shared, but one he especially appreciates is Smith & Wesson. “They’ve figured out there’s a correlation between getting someone to shoot on the range and selling them a gun,” he revealed.
Tips For Promoting Your Rental Program
The existence of a rental program represents the first part of the puzzle; actively promoting it and driving engagement is critical to success.
Chambers shared Shot Spot’s rental program is geared toward new shooters. He promotes the rental program through social media and has weekly promotions to bring in specific market segments.
“Mondays, seniors get a free handgun rental at the range,” he said. “Tuesday is Ladies Day, and women get free handgun rentals. These days we put more unique firearms into more individuals’ hands who have never shot certain models before.”
The most effective tool Drummond has for promoting the rental gun program is his counter staff.
“The guys on the counter will say, ‘Have you shot this one? You should try it,’” he noted.
Drummond’s target market for this program doesn’t have a specific age or gender; instead, he targets the new shooter.
“The new shooter doesn’t have a gun, doesn’t know how to shoot and doesn’t have any of the stuff we have to offer,” he observed. “We love to get them in the door, into some training and out on the range. Our whole goal is to make them comfortable enough to where they want to come back.”
While many benefits have been outlined above, a range program does create some additional challenges to day-to-day business.
One, according to Drummond, is getting new guns onto the range in a timely manner.
“Most manufacturers have a one-year range program,” he noted. “This means you can only buy new range guns at a discount once a year. But when you get a popular gun that’s shot every day, it’s getting elevated volumes of wear and tear on it and needs to be replaced more frequently. The last thing you want is for someone to shoot a new model and realize it’s all used up.”
Drummond spotlighted how recent changes to Smith & Wesson’s rental program helped drive more business.
“Smith & Wesson understands the importance of having new, clean guns on the range counter. So, they just changed to a six-month program. GLOCK and Springfield also do a great job with their range programs.”
Keeping the guns in the rental case up to date is another challenge, Kitzis confirmed.
“When companies have new models come out, the manufacturers are really pretty good about helping you get the new guns in,” he said.
“It’s a dynamic group of guns,” Drummond added. “You always want to keep the hottest new guns in stock, and it means I have to make choices constantly about what’s coming in and what’s going out. My resources are finite, and if I’m moving one gun in, I have to move another one out.”
Another challenge is simple maintenance.
“When you shoot a gun, you get it dirty,” Drummond stated.
Why You Should Establish A Rental Program
Kitzis, Chambers and Drummond provided their final thoughts on implementing a firearms rental program at your facility.
Kitzis advised any range that doesn’t have a rental gun program needs to get one going.
“They should absolutely do it. Contact your distributors and tell them you want to get into their rental programs. All the distributors have rental programs,” he detailed.
Chambers’ best advice for ranges that don’t have rental gun programs is, simply: “Get one.”
“It’s going to drive customer satisfaction, repeat business and sales,” Chambers outlined. “In today’s world, people want to put their hands on things before they buy them. It’s how brick-and-mortar stores can compete with companies like Amazon and other big e-commerce stores. At the end of the day, it’s about customer service.”
Drummond urged any range that doesn’t have a rental gun program needs to get one as soon as possible.
“How can you show the next best thing if you don’t have it there for people to try and use?” he said. “I can’t imagine having a range without having rental guns.”
As these three range operators can attest, having rental guns enhances your business in multiple ways. Customers are happy because they get to try a variety of guns. This leads to return visits and increased sales, and, ultimately, more dollars to your bottom line. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Expanding your business to include firearm rentals is one way of increasing sales and profits. This applies to both a range facility built by you and other area ranges that see the mutual benefit of partnering with you. It is important you know the regulations regarding how, when, where and to whom you can rent firearms. Take the time to evaluate the laws and your potential customer draw. Also ensure that your staff is trained on your firearms rental policies and that you have the time to properly record rental transactions as they occur. Only after dotting your “Is” and crossing your “Ts” can you guarantee compliance with Federal requirements, while also meeting customer needs and increasing your business.