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October 16, 2017

Using Live and Simulator Training to Boost Range Profits


By Jeff Swanson

If you have a range, one of your best avenues to profits will be found in an array of training options.

Creating a “Next Generation” shooting range that incorporates multiple profit centers can often be cost prohibitive to build from scratch, but there are many ways to reimagine and retrofit an existing facility with nominal cost. With the basic goal of diversifying revenue sources across added business lines, this article focuses on the following profit centers:

  • Attractive classrooms and comprehensive training offerings
  • Virtual simulator and other customer-engagement technology
  • A focused membership strategy

Education Designed for the New Shooter

For range owners, understanding that the training profit center can carry a 90-percent gross margin means that it deserves your full attention. Several points will warrant your consideration.

First up is the teaching environment. While customers might start with the basic carry permit course for your state, new shooters, Millennials and even more experienced shooters can be encouraged to continue training and taking more courses with a few enticements. First, the classroom should have comfortable seating and high seating-capacity tables. If it is large enough, a folding wall can be installed to maximize space and allow two or three different classes to take place at the same time. The classroom should also have one or two large TVs to display the latest PowerPoint presentations put together by your instructors, and you should ensure that printed advertising for additional classes is readily available.

Speaking of instructors, a well-designed and comprehensive firearms instruction program will usually mean that the instructor or instructors need to be working for you at a fair hourly rate based on their experience level. This is generally a sounder business practice than hiring outside instructors who will either split profits with you or merely rent your lanes for their clients. Additionally, they should use handgun safes or other accessories that you sell and are relative to the course being taught during their presentations.

When it comes to curriculum development, it should include an array of NRA courses, in addition to some of the following:

  • Basic intro to handguns/rifles/shotguns
  • Basic gun cleaning
  • Fundamentals of Firearm Ownership
  • Personal Protection Inside and Outside the Home
  • Refuse to be a Victim
  • Fundamentals of Modern Sporting Rifle Marksmanship
  • Carry permit refresher courses
  • Ladies-only courses
  • Special courses offered by invited guest instructors of national acclaim
  • Advanced courses that complement the various shooting sports available in your area (sporting clays, IPSC, long-range rifle, etc.)

Upselling for advanced training starts when the customer signs up for the first course and you provide packages at discounted rates. You can then build on that by offering discounts for students who sign up for the next course the same day. Popular promotions also include allowing students to repeat a class for free as a refresher (example: “Pay to take the class once, and you can repeat it once a year for free for life”).

Technology Additions

When marketing to a generation that has grown up with interactive video games, offering a training experience with simulators is a natural step to take for your business. Both the room requirements and pricing for these tools have dramatically dropped in the last year, all while the technology has improved.

Ti Outdoors is one company at the forefront of simulator development. Ti’s Vice President, Todd R. Brown, notes, “Our simulators are a natural attraction for people who have grown up in an era of interactivity. Now, they can get into the action by being involved in an immersive, theater-style simulation with non-firearm weapons as their controllers. We are actively developing and releasing new games and content that engage and connect with this audience, making them a part of the action. Our recently released Ti Target Drills is a fast-paced, competitive and immersive game. The graphics are a product of the same engine used to build games on well-known platforms such as the Sony Play Station and XBox.”

In the past, virtual simulators could cost a minimum of $40,000 and require an entire classroom space. The latest offerings can get you started for around $16,000 and can be placed in a 12×12-foot space.

To make this investment work for you, it is important to always have a retail associate or range safety officer on the floor to both entice customers to check it out and to assist them in getting started. The intuitive interface of these new systems will mean they are up and running in no time. Renting simulator time in half-hour increments, the initial investment can often be recouped in less than one year.

Building a Membership Strategy

When establishing your membership offerings, there are many factors to consider. A few of the most important include the size and demographics of your market, complementary offerings in your market such as golf courses and other high-end entertainment venues, and competition within your market such as an outdoor range or large firearm retail store if you’re an indoor range.

Regardless what membership fees and tiers you create, a major goal should include setting up monthly dues that are charged to the customer’s credit card, just as with the classic gym membership model, and which renews automatically unless cancellation notice is given. This should be carefully monitored and administered so as to maintain a strong reputation.

Work to establish seasonal membership drives offering discounted initiation fees, additional guests passes and other perks. These are great ways to increase revenue during slower months, while maintaining a strategy of increasing recurring monthly revenue.

As I discussed in a previous article, many Next Generation ranges are starting to offer amenities for their members that range from a VIP lounge that can include everything from a private bar and cigar lounge to personal gun lockers and conference rooms. Such VIP lounges can be built-out using as little as 500 square feet, then appointed with nice, but reasonably priced, leather chairs, a conference table and a snack bar. Even though the space requirements and build-out price can be kept low, they can yield significant recurring revenue as both the initial membership fees and monthly dues for VIP member lounge access often commands a premium price. We’ll have more on how to develop a solid and profitable membership program in a future article.

You might also be interested in: Increase Margins with Firearms Handling Training Programs

 

About the Author

Jeff Swanson is co-founder and an owner of a “Next Generation” range in Oklahoma, and the Managing Member of NexGen Range Consulting. An attorney, entrepreneur and business development consultant with more than 22 years of experience, Swanson and his team created NexGen Range Consulting to help new and existing range owners across the country create their own next-generation facilities. He also serves on NSSF’s Range Action Specialists team and can be reached for consulting services by contacting NSSF Member Services at 203-426-1320. For more information on NSSF’s Range Action Specialists and their services, click here.