The expectations of the next generation of shooters have changed significantly over the last few years. On average, they’re in their 20s and 30s and nearing 40 percent female. They get their news online, plan events via social media and expect a friendly immersion experience from retailers and entertainment venues alike.
The future of the shooting sports involves a destination-type experience with multiple profit centers, combined with high-quality customer service, to create a “next generation” range. Enterprising range owners are diversifying and refocusing their operations to succeed in this new environment and appeal to new demographics.
One of the hottest developments in the industry is the evolution of the “next generation” shooting range: the departure from a traditional, indoor shooting range to a modern, upscale shooting sports destination. Many of these ranges encompass over 30,000 square feet and host amenities that would typically be found in a first-class country club. These amenities often include restaurants, lounges, cigar rooms, gun lockers, concierge services, conference rooms, event spaces and even private entrances with extended hours for VIPs.
When developing your facility, it’s important to diversify revenue sources across several business lines. The goal is three-fold: (1) attract the next generation of shooters and the rapidly growing female demographic; (2) engage these shooters to stay longer and do more; and (3) build a level of insulation from the typical revenue ups and downs created by retail market fluctuation and range seasonality.
My partners and I founded Wilshire Gun in Oklahoma City on the above premise, which features 24 shooting lanes, 10 archery lanes, a virtual simulator range and classrooms with a full suite of training curriculum. The modern store has a robust event business, a contemporary retail store, various membership opportunities, VIP lounge with a cigar room and a full-service restaurant and bar.
Although new profit centers can often be cost-prohibitive to build, there are many ways to incorporate these new consumer trends by reimagining your space and, with nominal cost, successfully elevate your facility.
Wilshire Gun’s modern, open layout invites customers to pause and handle products — it’s an Apple-esque format that has driven sales for many retailers.
Evolution Of The Retail Floor
Many retailers have adopted what’s known as the “Apple Store concept” — incorporating light colors, bright lights and modern displays, which have enabled guests to tactilely engage with retail products. At a nominal cost, you can display your most popular firearms tethered to tables for guests to handle just like you would an iPad at an Apple Store, but without the intimidation factor of having to talk to a salesperson. SharpShooters USA, in Roswell, Ga., has embraced this approach successfully.
“Our facility is clean, bright and designed to feel more like a higher-end sporting goods store as opposed to a ‘gun shop,’” says owner Tom Deets. “We want SharpShooters USA to be a destination location. It’s important to have a diverse team of employees of different ages, genders, and ethnicities in order to attract new shooters. The atmosphere is upbeat and we encourage interaction and socializing with our customers.”
Make Use Of Underutilized Spaces
A café at your facility can be a fast, casual concept designed to accommodate guests watching a game or just taking a break. It can also complement the event space through catering, and provide a welcoming environment for business lunches and social gatherings. These amenities will encourage guests to spend as much time in the facility as possible. The more time they’re at your range, the more likely they are to spend money, bring a friend and get more involved in the shooting sports.
Many facilities don’t have space or capital for a restaurant, yet there are ways to keep guests at your facility in need of a quick bite to eat. One option is to create a lounge with a standalone kiosk that serves foods such as baked goods and other ready-to-eat food items. This requires minimal space, and kiosk business operators would restock food and beverage daily at your location — paying you rent or a percentage of sales for the opportunity. Another option is to lease an underutilized space in your facility to a local restaurateur.
Keep in mind once new or potential customers visit your facility and are exposed to a modern environment, they’ll want to come back. Renting unused space to individuals for meetings, after-hours events and social clubs is one way to accomplish this. If you provide a high-end, well-equipped meeting space, you can gain exposure to a wide array of individuals who otherwise would have been too intimidated to enter your facility.
At Wilshire Gun, the Range Café is used to provide food and beverage for these types of events. If you don’t have a café, you can easily create a strategic partnership with local restaurants and catering vendors to provide reasonably priced food and refreshments for events and meetings. Like the kiosk option above, this allows you to capture business without the capital and space requirements of building your own cafe.
SharpShooters USA is also active in the event business. It hosts Date Nights, Family Nights and Ladies Days as a means of attracting a wider diversity of customers. In addition, the range hosts competitive leagues of various types to accommodate shooters from all skill levels.
A modern, open layout promotes longer stays at the range.
Promote Value-Added Services
Today’s shooters are accustomed to checking out firearms at local, independent retailers — only to buy them later online. It’s difficult to compete for apples-to-apples with online prices, however, there are many value-added benefits you can offer to alter the dynamic and earn the customer’s business. Besides gun rentals “try it before you buy it” opportunities, gun fittings also target new shooters and can boast very high conversionto-gun-sale ratios.
The goal here is to remove the anxiety and intimidation often associated with a firearm purchase. This can be accomplished by giving guests a brief lesson, encouraging confidence in their purchase. Additionally, discounts on accessories with installation, memberships, classes, as well as including a range guest pass with the gun sale, create a value online vendors cannot match.
During a firearms transaction, your team member has the opening to establish rapport and uncover other potential needs for add-on purchases. All of these things can equate to a greater sense of value and service for which guests are willing to pay.
Raise The Bar On Customer Service
Online reviews of traditional gun shops consistently reveal “intimidation” is one of the most common descriptions relating to customer service. It may seem obvious, but if you establish a safe (yet relaxing) environment for new shooters, you’ll reap the benefits in your community.
Using Wilshire Gun as an example, most of the range’s sales staff consists of current or former military and L.E. personnel. Hiring staff specifically sought out individuals who were as personable as they were knowledgeable about the shooting sports. Additionally, shooting enthusiasts with a retail background were also sought out and hired. Both groups were encouraged to shadow and learn from the other. Secret shoppers represent another opportunity to keep the team on their toes and provide ongoing feedback.
The Range at Austin, in Austin, Texas, opened this year with a focus on positive customer service.
“The Range merges modern range technology with the level of knowledge and service today’s buyer has come to expect,” said Grant Shaw, co-founder. “Visitors here will enjoy more than just a day at the range — it will be an experience. For example, some lanes offer video capabilities for viewing targets downrange.”
Shaw says The Range has offerings to appeal to the “next generation” customer, as well as established shooters.
“For those who may not have been exposed to shooting, the facility offers a wide variety of gun rentals under the supervision and instruction of our staff. For the more experienced customer, they’ll be able to shoot some of the most exotic firearms in the country.”
When marketing to a generation that grew up with role-playing video games, providing a training experience with simulators is a natural step. According to J Dart, CEO of Ti Outdoors, simulators are a “natural attraction” for young people seeking instant gratification.
“We’re actively developing and releasing new games and content to engage and connect with this younger audience. They can get even deeper into the action through involvement in a simulation with non-gun weapons as their controllers. The graphics in these simulators are a product of the same engine used to build games on well-known platforms, such as PlayStation and Xbox,” he noted.
This younger generation is also accustomed to relying on social media to learn about retail offerings and events in their area and communicates online via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. Combined with a robust website that actively promotes your business lines, these tools are often the most efficient and cost-effective way to advertise. Hiring web-savvy sales staff allows you to post your promotions on the appropriate social media tools. Offering free Wi-Fi in your lounge area is another way to keep the guests at your facility longer.
Jeff Swanson is co-founder and an owner of Wilshire Gun and managing member of NexGen Range Consulting. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.