June 13, 2018
Ultimate Defense Range’s Special Events Draw A Crowd
From annual auctions to a “zombie apocalypse,” UD Range has developed a following of shooters who come there for the experience as much as the merchandise.
“That’s what it’s about — doing something that no one else is doing,” says Paul Bastean, part owner and Director of Ultimate Defense (UD) Range, as he described to me several of the special events they host to draw and delight customers.
UD’s special events began innocuously enough as a celebration of the company’s one-year anniversary. Many didn’t think that Bastean, a former law enforcement officer, had the business acumen to run a range, so he created the Anniversary Week as a way to let folks know he wasn’t going anywhere.
“We ended up having a Ruger event,” he says of their first celebration, “and then we ended up doing some special classes. We actually did seven days of special event-type stuff, whether it was sales or competition shoots, and then the Thursday and Friday of that week did what we refer to now as the ‘Zombie Apocalypse.’”
The week-long anniversary event resonated with UD’s customers. The following year, UD sold out all 120 tickets to Zombie Apocalypse in 35 minutes. This past year, the range’s seven-year anniversary, sold out in 11 minutes.
“It’s almost a cultish following now,” says Bastean. “We put The Walking Dead show on the classroom screen so people will come in and they’ll watch The Walking Dead or some other goofy zombie movie while they’re waiting to shoot, but we also bring in pizza, and we have annual T-shirts, too.”
The Zombie Apocalypse is actually a shooting competition with static, reactive and even advancing targets, all culminating into competitors going through a shoot house with Simuntions and zombie role players.
“It’s like $75 a night, and it’s pretty staff-intensive,” explains Bastean of the logistics, but the payoff is in the exposure UD earns beyond its audience of shooters share videos on social media. “My range officer out there is constantly grabbing people’s phones and asking, ‘Hey, do you want me to video that for you?’ because as soon as they do, as soon as it’s on their phone, they’re showing it to other people and other people want to know where you did that.”
Another special event Bastean shared with me that is not only practical but pure marketing brilliance is UD’s annual auction.
“We have 100 rental guns and we get rid of them all at one time,” he says, adding that they also use the auction to move some consignment guns. There is no reserve, so a gun could sell for $1, but they don’t.
“People go crazy. They start to bid on stuff and they kind of lose their compass of what this thing is actually worth,” he explains.
Even if a rental gun did sell for $1, UD Range is not out of money. Bastean typically fully amortizes a rental gun within the first quarter, makes money off it the remainder of the year as it continues to rent and then gets bonus dollars via the auction. Buyers get a gun at a great price, usually with 30,000 to 40,000 rounds through it, but typically with more useful service life than the new owner will ever use.
The auction brings in as much as $70,000 in a single day for UD Range, so Bastean times the auction with seasonal lows. But the real value is in the marketing and list-building potential.
“We use a different auction company every year,” says Bastean. “And the reason we use a different auction company every year is because we get access to their email lists every year.”
Each auction company nets 6,000 to 8,000 new emails to UD’s database, creating exposure Bastean calls “phenomenal” and which drives a tremendous number of clients to the range.
Sales tax holidays are also good events for UD Range, because who doesn’t like feeling as if they got one over on the tax man?
“We just set our POS system to reduce the sale price by our tax rate and we sell a ton of stuff. Again, I don’t think it’s the anti-government [sentiment], but they feel like they’re getting away with something,” he laughs.
Similarly, Black Fridays turn inventory, but as Bastean points out, every store in town holds these sales, so customers rush around trying to get to them all. “I actually have a POS system in the parking lot, and we sell drive-through gift cards — and it is awesome,” he says explaining that UD sets up a menu board like a fast food drive-through with selections such as No. 1 for an hour of range time, No. 2 for a concealed carry class and so on. “Again, it’s getting out of that box and doing something different from what somebody else is doing that makes us successful,” he says.
Still outside that box, UD Range has its own unique take on events like “Bullets & BBQ,” “Pistols & Pizza,” Valentines, Thanksgiving and Christmas. On “Date Night,” couples compete by shooting individually at the same target while their partner answers questions in game-show format reminiscent of Chuck Barris’ The Dating Game. “Couples shoot the same target so we have a cumulative score,” says Bastean. “If we have two targets, it costs me twice as much — plus, if we shoot the same target, they’re a team and nobody’s fighting at the end of the night. That is one of the things we figured out,” he laughs.
Whatever the event, Bastean says he “floods” Facebook with video of past events, creates an ad for social media and uses a direct email flier starting 30 days out.
“We do limit things,” Bastean cautions about hosting events that, without careful planning, would potentially quickly overwhelm the staff and facility. “How quickly we sell out will give us a gauge on whether the promotion is a great promotion.”
I asked him if UD had ever had a bad promotion.
“Our pumpkin shoot was one of my dumbest ideas ever,” he says. “It took me a good three hours to power-wash the pumpkin out of the range. It went over phenomenally well, but it is something that we will never ever, ever do again.”
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.