Look out on your range on any day, at any time. Unless you’re in a geographic area that is ethnically diverse and you’ve cultivated that diversity on your range, chances are good that most of your customers are white.
Recently the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) worked with Market Decisions Corporation, a marketing firm located in Portland, Ore., to develop a report on ethnic diversity in the shooting sports.
The report, titled “Understanding Diversity in Hunting and Shooting Sports,” showed that the percent of blacks, Hispanics and Asians in the overall population isn’t reflected in their involvement in the shooting sports. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in shooting; of the respondents surveyed, 45 percent of black, 51 percent of Hispanic and 39 percent of Asian respondents said they had firearms in their homes. Those groups, however, are very underrepresented in shooting sports programs and on shooting ranges.
The question, then, is not how we, as an industry, interest these groups in firearms and shooting. The question is how do we reach out to them and market to them so they participate fully in the opportunities that are available to them?
Barriers to participation
Melissa Schilling is NSSF’s director of recruitment and retention. She said NSSF is developing a pilot program to work with ranges on reaching out to these ethnic groups.
“We just hired an agency to help us with the marketing research to better understand how to reach Hispanics and get them to ranges,” she said. “We’re still compiling a list of ranges that are going to participate. The advertising agency is going to create messaging and compile imagery that best relates to Hispanics, and point them to places to go target shooting, which will be the ranges participating in the pilot program.”
Once the pilot program is complete, NSSF will expand the effort to reach out to blacks and Asians as well.
Bridging the gap
John Annoni is an educator in the Allentown School District in Pennsylvania. He founded Camp Compass, which is a school-based program that introduces urban middle and high school students to outdoor activities including shooting and hunting. Many of the students who participate in Camp Compass are from one of the ethnic groups surveyed for the report.
Annoni said many minority shooters—and potential shooters—have some discomfort about entering shooting ranges and trying to participate.
“Diversity is a two-way street,” Annoni said. “The gun range owner needs to say, ‘We don’t care who you are; we just want you shooting.’ But from there, you have to portray an openness to the community; that’s where the big issue is.”
Range owners need to create an environment that welcomes new shooters, Annoni said.
“It may be just giving your business card to someone who’s not on your range,” he said. “Carry business cards with you and when you give them out say, ‘I own this place. If you ever come, ask for me.’”
Carry your business cards with you wherever you go, Annoni said, and give them out everywhere you go.
“Give them out away from the range,” he said. “Make the contact on neutral ground and bring the person onto your positive ground. Let everyone to whom you give a card know that you are the owner or the manager, and you’re in charge. Tell the person, ‘You ask for me if you come, so I can make sure that you’re comfortable.’”
Reaching out to ethnic shooters, Annoni said, is about relationships.
“If a potential customer knows someone at the range, the range becomes ‘open,’” he said. “Once you show that attitude of caring, you’ve made your range open to them.”
Donny Adair, president of the African American Hunting Association, said that diversity is a strength.
“A range can really grow its business by adopting a diverse strategy,” he said.
By targeting groups that have been underrepresented in the shooting sports, Adair said, ranges create opportunity for themselves and for minority shooters.
“This is even true for public agencies that are run, in large part, by fees,” he said. “As the demographics are changing in the country and the number of hunters is shrinking in some places, ranges need to recruit to a more diverse public. That will strengthen our sport and keep it viable.”
Nuts and bolts of reaching out
Wayne Hubbard produces and hosts Urban American Outdoors, based in Kansas City, Kan.
“Regardless of their ethnicity, everyone wants to see someone like them working at a range,” he said.
Apply the same basic customer service techniques to welcoming minority shooters that you offer anyone else.
“Greet everyone with a smile,” Hubbard said. “A lot of this is simple things like that.”
If you already have a minority shooter who comes onto your range, reach out to him or her, and ask for help connecting with organizations that have the clientele you’re looking for.
“It’s so important to have someone that that group can connect to and make it acceptable,” Hubbard said. “You need to have someone genuine that people can talk to, as opposed to saying, ‘I’m going to put this out there and see if it fits.’ That is so, so important.”
When you advertise, be sure your ads show the diversity you want to cultivate.
“Your ad should make people say, ‘Ah, I feel welcome,’” Hubbard said. “You may be amazed at who responds.”
One effective thing you can do when reaching out to a diverse audience, Adair said, is seek out publications that serve people of color.
“Almost every urban area has publications of this type,” he said. “Here in Portland, Ore., we have two black newspapers and the Asian Reporter, as well as Hispanic newspapers. When you think about your advertising, think about using those kinds of community newspapers.”
Don’t just advertise, Adair said.
“Try to get articles in those newspapers about shooting and hunting,” he said.
This may mean writing the articles or press releases yourself and sending them in, or it may mean developing a relationship with writers who work for the newspaper or magazine.
Don’t overlook groups and special events where you can set up a booth and talk to people one on one.
“That can be a gateway to get people to come to the range,” Adair said. “Work through other sports programs such as basketball and baseball where you can talk to people who are involved in a variety of activities.”
Look for organizations that cater to or have large minority memberships; contact them and invite their membership to the range. If you are uncomfortable about approaching these groups, Adair said, find someone from that ethnic group—or even from the particular organization—to go with you.
“Ask that person to talk about his or her experience,” he said. “They want to have someone who looks like them validate the experience for them. Women go to women’s groups and tell them that hunting and shooting are not just for men; you should talk to minorities the same way. You need to have someone who is part of that group be part of your team when you go out.”
You can even go one step farther: celebrate an event such as African American History Month on your range.
“Have a shoot and have a professor of Black History come and give a talk over coffee,” Adair said. “There are a lot of things you can do if you want to reach out to people.”
Richard Sprague owns Sprague’s Sports, a shooting range and gun store in Yuma, Ariz. Demographically, southwestern Arizona has a large Hispanic population, and that is reflected in the clientele that visit’s Sprague’s Sports.
“We’re 55 percent Hispanic in this county,” Sprague said. “We have all our paperwork, such as our range rules, in Spanish, and we have three Spanish speaking employees.” Sprague also said he advertises in several Hispanic publications.
Even though he reaches out to the Hispanic community, Sprague said, his clientele does not reach the 55 percent Hispanic that the population contains.
“I think my customers are about 25 percent Hispanic,” he said. “So I have room to grow that.”
Florida Gun Center, located in Hialeah, Florida, is owned and run by Hispanics in a very diverse community.
“Because of the diversity in Miami, we get a lot of ethnic groups and tourists,” said Range Manager Luis Almaguer. “We advertise in English and Spanish both in newspapers and on the radio, and we also teach our classes in both languages.”
Almaguer said ranges need to send a targeted message to the segment of the population they want to reach.
“Different segments of the population listen to different types of music, different radio stations, and different TV stations,” he said. “If you want to target a particular part of the population, advertise on the stations that part of the population listens to.”
According to Almaguer, there are plenty of minority shooters who want to participate.
There’s a big interest in shooting,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not a priority, but when you market directly to them, they listen, and it’s comforting to them because they associate the radio station that they know with your range. That’s what we see that makes a difference.”
Contacts for This Article
Director of Recruitment & Retention
11 Mile Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470
1221 Sumner Avenue (rear)
Allentown, PA 18104
President, African American Hunting Association
Urban American Outdoors
7814 Savage Drive
Kansas City, KS 66109
345 W. 32nd Street
Yuma, AZ 85364
Florida Gun Center
1770 West 38th Place
Hialeah, FL 33012