Make clubs and user groups your delegates of responsibility
You’ve completed the first step: You found a suitable location for a range, jumped through all the hoops to get the necessary permits and sank a ton of money into construction. That was the easy part. Now comes the tough part: Making the range profitable.
Making a profit requires shooters–lots of them. You’ll find several who want to sight-in or test a favorite handload. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of these folks to keep your doors open. Getting a full range requires competitive league shooting and programs. Range participation is a bit like a bowling alley. Imagine how long a bowling alley would stay in business if it didn’t offer league bowling? The key to profitability is offering a full slate of league events, plus intermediate and advanced programs to keep customers coming back.
When you start putting leagues and programs together, however, you’ll soon discover how labor intensive it can be. It takes people to plan the events, supervise the shooting, score targets, log in and post scores. If you have an outdoor range, you’ll need more range masters, people to set or pull targets and others to maintain the grounds. By the time you’ve paid all these people, your profit may be out the window.
As a simple example, say you’ve set up a trap league that grosses $10,000 per year, and your cost for clay birds, machine maintenance, etc. is $3,000. A small league like this can easily run up a $7,000 labor bill. You’re shooting from the 27-yard line if you try to make a profit this way.
Let clubs do it
Consider this solution: Turn it over to clubs. Locate existing clubs that want a place to shoot, or start clubs yourself. Offer them an introductory rate to get started, along with an understanding that once they’re settled in, they’ll need to pay an annual rental fee of, say, $2,000. Aside from safety rules you’ve set, give members the freedom to run the club and the shooting as they please. That leaves you with the resources to manage, maintain and oversee safety.
It’s the club’s responsibility to promote new members, supervise shooting, post scores and take on the other duties related to its operations. The club keeps all proceeds, but also must pay the related expenses, including insurance. Because their volunteer members provide free labor, the club is assured of a profit. You, in turn, receive $2,000 each year and save yourself a ton of headaches.
Multiply the results
Once you have a club up and running, consider adding other specialized clubs such as black powder, high-power rifle, pistol, Cowboy Action, archery and whatever your range has space for. Having its own personal space works best for a club, but if space is limited, you can overlap that area’s use by other clubs by keeping an accurate events calendar.
Having clubs on your range also has a hidden advantage. Assume you build the count to 10 clubs, each with 100 members. That translates into 1,000 goodwill ambassadors, talking up the benefits of your range at no advertising cost to you. Should you someday get called to a public zoning hearing to defend your range, think of the added impact you’ll have with 1,000 supporters solidly behind you. This is a large group of people, perhaps some being lawyers and others of influence, who are ready to stand up for your range.
The club concept does present a couple of small problems, but they can be easily overcome. Club members like their freedom and want very little interference from the owner. This can become a problem if it leads to bending the rules or hurting the range’s standing in the community. The solution: Don’t sign a long-term lease. Keep it at a year or less. Give members the freedom they want, but retain an invisible cloud of lease cancelation, reminding them to follow the rules.
The other problem is disputes with other clubs. If you look at ranges across the country, you’ll find few examples of shotgun and rifle/pistol clubs coexisting on the same piece of property. A trap club may tolerate skeet and sporting clays, but shun rifle, archery and other shooting sports. This often leads to arguments that force the smaller groups to leave.
The solution for preventing in-fighting is to host an annual “All clubs” meeting. Make it clear that the purpose of the meeting is to air grievances and work on next year’s schedule. Ask each club to send at least two decision makers to the meeting with a list of perceived problems. This type of meeting provides a bit of magic. You might be surprised to see a room filled with common-sense solutions to each problem, rather than unresolvable arguments. Everyone may leave happy.
Registered user groups
Not yet sold on the club concept? Consider a different twist to the method. When Don Turner, who is now retired, was placed in charge of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s huge Ben Avery Shooting Facility in Phoenix, he was faced with huge payroll expenses. Running a range that large required lots of paid employees.
One of his first acts was putting together a program he called “Registered User Groups.” Like the club concept, he encouraged shooters to organize various clubs and operate them with standard membership rules. Instead of being committed to one area and schedule, the clubs could select the shooting area they preferred and schedule only the days they planned to use it. Turner also made the concept available to corporate and law enforcement groups, but clubs had priority.
Fees were based on number of days used and number of shooters in a user group. Clubs furnished their own targets, except the club had to purchase clay birds from the range. If a club needed a clubhouse, the range had these available for an added fee. The clubs also had to purchase their own insurance and maintain liability waivers.
The advantage of this system is that members can enjoy the camaraderie of having their own club with a group of select friends, but not incur the long-term commitment of operating and maintaining their own range. For Turner, the result was an immediate reduction in paid staff. At one point the range was comfortably operating 260 user groups with 1,350 shooters per day, using only four paid staff members. The volunteer club members did the rest of the work.
Keeping the peace
Because of numerous different forms of shooting, the “My guns are better than your guns” disagreements between user groups can occur. To limit this, Turner established a set of strict rules. Most important was a “first reserved, first served” system that encouraged user groups to plan ahead. Waiting until the last minute carried the risk of not getting their preferred shooting area. A “leave no trace” clean-up policy worked well for keeping the range clean. If a club or group left a mess, Turner sent his own crew in to do the clean-up at a hefty hourly fee that the group had to pay.
Large, major groups
Perhaps the biggest advantage with club or user groups becomes evident if your range occasionally hosts large public shooting events. As you know, it takes a lot of workers to put on a large event that features dozens of shooting scenarios. However, you can do it with a skeleton staff when each club pitches in with its own crew of volunteers. Major events can be a real money maker for range owners when you factor in the added income from gate, camping and parking fees, plus vendor fees for the numerous merchants and food vendors.
Isn’t it time you took a hard look at the benefits of partnering with clubs and user groups?