A creative club’s common-sense approach pays dividends
Just as quickly as thunder rolled from the end of his 12-gauge, fragments of orange and black burst into every direction and then rained down onto the field some 30 yards away. Clapping and accolades lifted from the crowd, signaling the end of another great South Texas Fun Shoot in Victoria, deep in the heart of South Texas. Mike Hessong packed his shotgun, too, while visitors to the Victoria Skeet and Trap Club (VSTC) stopped to thank him for another great event. The roar of engines in a once full lot began to fade with the setting sun.
|Sunset at VSTC doesn’t necessarily mean the fun is over.|
Hessong, an avid shotgunner, stands at the helm of VSTC’s promotional efforts and has plenty to share.
“Coming is great, but coming back is where it’s at!” he said.
That simple statement and the determination to fulfill it has brought people and prosperity to the club, and VSTC and Hessong are happy to reveal the recipe for their marketing success in hopes others will pick up the baton and run with it.
During this challenging economic time, when people are particularly sensitive about where they spend their dollars, VSTC’s ability to consistently draw shooters at all experience levels back to the range is something all range administrators should consider when formulating their promotional agenda.
“We are competing for recreational dollars and with so many deer leases, golf club memberships, vacation homes, children’s sports association and games, and a ton of other things that might keep these folks busy over the two days they get off each week,” Hessong said. “We want our events to be fun enough to make these folks work us into their weekend schedule, at least one day of it.”
That said, VSTC’s success comes as a result of four marketing cornerstones – networking, digital communications, creative fun and range maintenance.
To get more fingers on the trigger, VSTC built a substantial network of shooting enthusiasts, local communicators and shooting range administrators willing to forge relationships. VSTC’s email blasts, consisting of range news, entertainment and press releases, reach more than 500 effective contacts every time the “Send” button is clicked. As a result, those communications also are shared by network contacts whose digital contacts also share the information. In short, networking garners more meaningful impressions than VSTC ever thought possible and has become the central nervous system for branding and overall range recognition.
“When White Flyer and NSSF take notice, your message is getting out there,” Hessong said. “That’s a great thing!”
VSTC’s promoting process isn’t rocket science by any stretch of the imagination, but it is consistent, information-rich and repeated. Hessong ensures VSTC’s website is kept updated with current information and that the information is adequate for people to come to the club for any promoted event without having to ask more questions because pertinent information is missing.
“People take the path of least resistance,” Hessong said. “If they have to jump through hoops to find out about what’s happening, they’ll go somewhere else.”
VSTC also publishes a weekly news email that includes previous shooting match results, bullet-pointed items about upcoming events, and entertaining news. Email blasts are a critical element to VSTC’s promotional strategy with the underlying key being consistency.
“You’ve got to be ‘consistently consistent,’ Hessong said with a smile. But he wasn’t kidding. “Not only do people learn to expect news, but a consistent style makes it easier to manage your promotional calendar.”
As an example, when a new or annual event is planned an initial email is distributed, often with flyers and other pertinent information such as pricing, concessions, shooting match details, awards, registration times and more. A second flyer is distributed two weeks before the event, and a final notice is sent a few days before the deadline. Hessong follows this routine for every event notice, and it pays off. The notices (and assurance of a good time) keep VSTC’s earthen parking lot full.
In 2009, VSTC’s communications also ventured into social media. Hessong created the club’s Facebook page, and VSTC’s local fan base is holding strong. Admittedly, VSTC does not do as well as it could and hopes to focus more on social media in the near future.
“The challenge with social media is to attract masses while keeping most of our content relevant to the local area,” Hessong explained.
More than email blasts and word-of-mouth, VSTC has helped itself by building a premier shotgunning range and creating innovative, recurring shooting matches. Just as effective in the quest for higher attendance, perhaps more so, is range maintenance.
|Fun! It’s what makes people come back!|
“Pride of ownership says a lot about the health of a shooting range and people want to be a part of something good,” believes Hessong. “If you want people to come, clean it up. If you want them to come back, keep it clean. Of course, you’ve got to make it fun, too!”
With “coming back” as the driving force behind VSTC’s promotional efforts, the club worked tirelessly to develop an event that would bring people into the range and keep them there. The result was the hugely popular South Texas Fun Shoot. VSTC also added a Weekday Pot Shoot, a 50-target event comprised of the same basic activities as the South Texas Fun Shoot.
The South Texas Fun Shoot is an “Ironman” style match that incorporates skeet, double skeet, trap, Country Doubles and other fun targets like “wobble traps.” Though some variations exist from one range to the other, VSTC, the founding range, breaks down the 100-target limit as follows:
- 25 Skeet
- 10 Skeet doubles
- 25 Traps at 16 yards
- 10 Long range traps at 22 or 27 yards (Some long range targets can also be replaced by wobble traps or other fun shoot targets.)
- 30 Country Double targets (Country Doubles, a shooting event that originated in Goliad, Texas, has shooters engaging a low side target and then swinging up and over to hit a high-flying target on the opposing side.
Although the events were successful and brought people to the range in increasing numbers, VSTC recognized another opportunity to increase attendance, not just for them, but for ranges throughout the region. What followed was a South Texas Fun Shoot Circuit.
|Another shoot. Another full parking lot at VSTC.|
“We love seeing new and returning shooters from other ranges as much as other ranges love greeting our members,” Hessong said. “The shooters like constantly changing scenery, and it increases attendance for everyone. Our ability to cooperate with competing ranges has really helped our numbers, and everyone is having fun!”
The South Texas Fun Shoot is now enjoyed every Sunday, from March through September, on a circuit that includes five area shooting ranges. The current circuit brings an average of 50 to 60 shooters and as much as double that in spectators or visitors. An event might feature 100 competitors on a great day, not bad for VSTC and other small-town ranges nearby!
Currently, three different 4-H organizations call VSTC their home range. Victoria County 4-H, Goliad County 4-H and Calhoun County 4-H all get critical range time at VSTC, and the club feels privileged to not just host 4-H shooting opportunities, but to mentor young shooters in safe and ethical shooting as well. VSTC also hosts an annual Whiz Bang 4-H Shootout, now attended by well over 100 shooters and 300-plus spectators. Hessong counts watching youth shooters growing in this pastime among his favorite activities.
“I’m one of the few who have stuck it out for over 30 years, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Hessong said. “I do what I do because I want others to experience what I have: the fun, the family time—all of it.”
|Mike Hessong does more than promote VSTC’s events; he joins them!|
Hessong’s passion and work with VSTC has resonated with his South Texas peers, resulting in the surprise of a lifetime. VSTC began awarding college scholarships to youth shooting enthusiasts. Hessong was humbled when he learned they named the award after him.
“I don’t know that I deserved that, so I keep trying to earn it,” he said with sincere modesty.
The Mike Hessong Scholarships are funded by 10 percent of VSTC’s revenue and awarded to two shooters each year (actually three youth earned the honors last year). To date, five students have earned the aptly named award.
“For the good of the sport,” Hessong said he would happily accept questions and inquiries about promoting and increasing attendance at your ranges. Feel free to call him at 361-572-1824 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.