The best advertising is promotion you can’t buy. It’s what your customers and members do to bring others to your range. Don’t just make it easy for them to promote you; give them an incentive to do so.
1. Provide excellent customer service.
Jeff Wait, owner of Okeechobee Shooting Sports in Okeechobee, Florida, goes out of his way to make customers feel like they’re part of the family.
“We want them to feel cared for so they want to invite other people,” he said. “When someone does bring guests, we make a point of interacting with those people in a way that lets them know they’re important to us. We want it to be like when Norm went into Cheers.”
Holden Kriss, range manager, Indian River County Public Shooting Range in Sebastian, Florida, takes the same approach.
“We try to do an outstanding job of customer service,” he said. “We’re also very active in the community, but it’s mostly about how we run the range. We give our customers a very good product; that’s what promotes us more than anything. That gives us really good word of mouth advertising. We’ve done very well with this approach; we opened in April 2001, and we now have just over 90,000 registered shooters on our range.”
Extraordinary customer service also is the theme at Center Target Sports in Post Falls, Idaho.
“We have a place on our insurance liability form where we ask how people found out about us,” said Peggy Santos, one of the owners of Center Target Sports. “About 85 percent of people say they heard about us through word of mouth.”
The level of customer service they provide, she said, is what makes customers tell other people about their range.
“We have a lifetime warranty on our guns,” Santos said. “We also have a three-day no-regrets policy when someone buys a gun here. When you purchase a firearm we also give a free day pass and a free one-hour class with our gunsmith. We’re a training facility first and foremost, and teach over 30 different classes. Our classes are always full just from word of mouth.”
Miles Hall, owner of H&H Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has tried many different ways to grow his customer base. He said providing excellent service is the one best approach that encourages customers to bring in their friends.
“The first and most important thing we do is the care of current guests and a welcoming attitude toward any person they bring in with them,” he said. “That is by far the best method to grow the shooting sports.”
2. Use guest cards
Wait calls his guest cards “ambassador cards.”
“We give our customers a card that has spots on it that we can punch out,” he said. “They get a punch for each new person they bring to the range. Once they get three punches, they get to shoot for free one day. If they bring three on a given day, they shoot for free that day. When you look at what you spend on advertising to bring in one new customer, giving away a free range day is a lot cheaper than the rest of the advertising you do.”
Wait said he’s had good results from this program.
“About half our new customers come here because someone who was already a customer here brought them,” he said. “The difference between a new customer who comes in with someone and a new customer who comes in because of advertising is night and day. The new customer who comes in with a current customer is already pre-sold before they arrive, and they have a set of expectations. And they already have a shooting buddy when they come. So the whole experience tends to be much better for a shooter who’s been brought in by an existing customer.”
Hall also has used reward cards.
“We’ve done reward cards like Starbucks does now,” he said, “but we pull them off and then back on so folks get the importance of the gift.”
3. Give range credit for referrals.
“We have a referral program for our members,” said Paul Stanley, operations manager for Centennial Gun Club in Centennial, Colorado. “If one of our members brings someone in who then signs up, the member gets a $100 referral fee. They can use that any way they want. We give it as a gift card that they can apply to their membership dues or use in the store.”
Members get this referral fee only if the person they bring in joins as a member; they don’t get it if the person just comes in and shoots.
4. Hand out guest passes.
“When someone joins as a member, we give that person six guest passes,” Stanley said. “Members can use those guest passes at their discretion. A member can use those passes to invite their friends to come and shoot. The member also can invite his or her friends to member-only events using those guest passes. We do members-only competitions, USPSA competitions, bowling-pin shoots, ladies nights and Girl and a Gun.”
All of these are member events, but members can use their guest passes to bring a friend.
“This is probably the lowest cost marketing tool we use,” Stanley said.
Each guest pass is good for one person, one time; the guest turns in the pass when he or she arrives at the range.
“We have an annual membership,” Stanley said. “When a member renews for the next year, they get another six guest passes.”
Center Target Sports also gives out free passes to certain membership classes.
“Our charter members and lifetime members, as part of their membership deal, have free passes,” Santos said. “They can’t just hand them out; they have to bring someone with them when they use the free pass. For those members, that brings in a lot of extra people.”
5. Give employees free passes to hand out
“Our employees carry free passes in their wallets to hand out,” Santos said. “We tell them to give them out for acts of kindness, such as to a really great mechanic or a great waitress, or whatever. They also can give them out when someone asks where they work.”