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March 20, 2018

Selling to Millennials Part 2 — Creating An Experience


By Warren Berg

When it comes to building loyalty with his Millennial customers, Paul Bastean, Director and part owner of Ultimate Defense Firing Range & Training Center (UD Range) in St. Peters, Missouri, has a unique way of looking at this enigmatic group that is paying off in new and repeat business.

“We’re not even trying to sell them stuff,” he says. “My business theory has always been this triangle of range usage, training and retail. Each side feeds off the others — but two of the three have nothing to do with somebody actually taking a product out of the store.”

Hard goods and soft goods aside, Bastean finds Millennials — categorized as those born between 1978 and 1994, or currently aged 24 to 40 — are great customers for what he calls “air goods” — the classroom training and range time.

“Those two areas are what are going to feed the retail,” he says, noting that Disney figured out a long time ago that if you can get folks on the rides first, they’ll buy something on the way out. “And that’s what we do, too,” he says. “The retail is somewhat of a draw, but it’s not our primary draw. Our primary draw is the range and training, and Millennials want that. That’s what they want. They want to be better than their friends. They’re willing to buy training. They also want the experience. We are really pushing to get the Millennials to spend their money on the experience and not worry about the take-home stuff.”

To reach Millennials with the message of the UD Range experience, Bastean completely changed the way they advertise.

“Our traditional advertising was not working,” Bastean tells me, as he explains how his older generation of customers was literally dying off. Millennials are never without their phones, so he stepped up his social media across the board. But like many gun-related businesses, Bastean found Facebook is putting the squeeze on our industry. “It’s a lot tougher to get the message out on Facebook,” he says, “but Instagram is still pretty huge.”

For social media advertising, Bastean recommends always having a picture, because if you start with text, “you’ve lost them,” and if you have more than three lines of text, “you’ve lost them,” he reiterates. “If they look at it and they see just text, they’re busy, they have too much to do, they don’t have enough time to read that, or their perception is they don’t have enough time to read that. Nothing you put in that text can be valuable enough for them to spend the time there. That’s what we’ve learned.

“I mean it,” he stresses. “You’re going to have to have some kind of picture that immediately draws their attention.” That goes for video, too, where he finds that the opening frame has to make a Millennial want to open the video. “If the video is more than 30 seconds long, you’ve lost ’em,” he says.

How effective are videos and Instagram for Bastean? “We put a video [on ETS Loaders] out on Thursday and we’ve sold a ton of them,” he tells me. Last May, UD Range posted that Mossberg 590 Shockwaves were in stock. They had three buyers in the first 10 minutes and had to pull the ad. In June, they posted about another batch of Mossberg Shockwaves in stock: They sold out all six in less than two hours.

UD Range - Modern Ad - Millennial Experience
Traditional advertising was falling flat, so UD Range turned to Instagram and Groupon with ads like this to capture a new audience.

That success notwithstanding, Bastean says those are not his best social media campaigns. His best was with an online marketplace called LivingSocial. “We put the ad out there and it was phenomenal,” he says. “It was actually the highest netting ad in the St. Louis area, at which point they [LivingSocial] immediately pulled it because it had to do with firearms.”

Not deterred, Bastean switched the campaign to Groupon. “When we put it out, it got immediate response, and it was immediate response from the younger generation,” Bastean says of the switch. “Our deal is that for $50 you walk in the door with nothing. We set them up with eyes with ears, and a rental firearm with two boxes of ammunition. We give them an introduction to grip, stance, sight alignment, trigger control, firearms safety — the whole deal. They go out on the range and they fire 100 rounds and they come back in. Typically, that deal would end up costing them about $80 to $90, depending on what option they chose, but when they buy the Groupon they pay $50,” explains Bastean.

Even within the Groupon ads, Bastean gives Millennials a choice: “Do I want to buy the premium one or do I just want to get the regular one?” Bastean found that if they just put one option out there, they either buy it or they don’t, but with two options, Bastean says, “Now their choice is not ‘Do I buy it or not buy it’ but ‘Which one of these do I buy?’ As soon as we created a premium ad, it increased our basic sales probably 20 percent, just for giving them a choice different from yes or no.”

For him, the only real cost with the Groupon deal is the ammunition. Other than that, it’s range time and a rental gun, and while there’s minimal wear and tear on both, UD Range still ends up making a profit on the sale from Groupon. Profits are great, but for Bastean, there are other payoffs.

Groupon allows users to rate their experience, and Bastean’s attitude toward Millennials means UD Range has a five-star rating.

UD Range - Clothing Section - Millennial Experience
One section of the retail store has a great, eye-catching apparel section.

“A couple of other ranges in St. Louis tried to sneak in and take some of that market away from us,” Bastean tells me, “but they have done a terrible job. Customers have the ability to rate you as they leave, and we’re five stars all the way across the board. Other ranges haven’t figured it out. Customers can buy a Groupon from us, a five-star facility, or they can go somewhere else with a 3½ star. Because price isn’t as essential to them as an experience, they’re willing to pay for a better experience.”

That type of rating also helps with SEO performance. When a Millennial hears about some great range in the St. Louis area, they go to their smartphone to find it. UD Range consistently shows up high in the results. “That’s tremendously huge, that I’m making money on other people’s advertising,” says Bastean with a laugh.

But what about hard sales? Ultimately, if Bastean’s staff doesn’t close a sale with a Millennial, he absolutely doesn’t care. He prefers that his Millennial customers associate positively with the range, put on the range’s logo and wear patches, enjoy their experience, give the range great rankings and tell their friends about it. Bastean’s playing the long game when it comes to Millennials, and it’s working.

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.

 

Read Part 1 of this series: Selling to Millenials Part 1 — It’s about Options