From corporate meetings to weddings, your range can do more business than meets the eye.
Whoever would have thought that shooting ranges would become trendy destinations for corporate events, parties and—yes—even weddings? A number of ranges across the country have caught a wave of popularity; some of them are hosting so many events that they have hired their own event planners.
Black Wing Shooting Center
Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio, has seen a phenomenal increase in customers coming in for events.
“Soon after we opened nine years ago, people started coming in small groups,” said Judy Stadtlander, Corporate Events Manager for Black Wing Shooting Center. “At the time we had a small café area. As the groups got larger and that part of the business grew, we made some changes to the café and made ourselves a big banquet room. We have multiple meeting rooms as well.”
Black Wing staff prepares small amounts of food on site, but for big events they have food catered.
The facility hosts a wide array of events.
“We do a lot of small corporate groups and fundraisers,” Stadtlander said. “We did a wedding for the first time this year and had an absolute ball. We also do bachelor and bachelorette parties. We have a roofing contracting association that does a little mini-convention, and they set up booths. We serve them breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they’re here all day.”
Stadtlander has found that managing group events is simplified when the range offers specific “packages” rather than letting groups choose from an a la carte menu.
“We offer a package such as a trap package or a sporting clays package, where we provide everything, including range staff,” she said. “The group just has to show up.”
Groups that come to Black Wing have ranged in size from six to 150.
“My biggest shoot is a Boy Scout shoot, and they get 150 shooters,” Stadtlander said.
The whole event-planning “thing” has gotten so big for Black Wing that having one staff member work on it isn’t enough.
“We’re doing between 150 and 200 events a year,” Stadtlander said. “Sometimes we do two in a day. Two years ago they brought in someone to help me with group events and she left. Then they brought in another gal, and now she has been promoted to marketing. I’ve told them we aren’t going back to one person, because it’s too much work for just one.”
So far, Stadtlander said, groups who want events have come straight to the facility, but part of her goal now is to connect with meeting planners and others who can bring in more groups.
“We’re working on getting into the meeting-planner market,” she said. “That’s the next step I’m going to take as soon as I free up some time. Meeting planners are looking for these types of events. We’re going to join the event planners’ association so we can do some networking that way.”
Another way Black Wing markets to the corporate audience is through a Columbus, Ohio, newspaper called Business First.
“This newspaper hosts networking breakfasts,” Stadtlander said. “We’ve done two of them, and at the last one we had 400 people. That helps get people in our doors. Once someone comes to an event here, we get a lot of referrals, and more people come.”
Black Wing also runs radio ads targeting potential corporate clients.
“We tie into ‘Are you tired of golf? Have you tried a shooting outing?’” Stadtlander said. “Once people come out and realize how social shooting is and that they can do it, they want to come back.”
Shooting in Las Vegas
Located in Las Vegas, Nev., Clark County Shooting Complex is well known for being a Five Star range. According to director Steve Carmichael, hotels and meeting planners along the strip sometimes ask to send groups to the facility. Because the Clark County Shooting Complex was not designed to handle large groups, he said, he is careful about who he books so he doesn’t overreach the capacity of the facility.
“We get calls from all over the country from different groups,” he said. “They may want to do bachelor parties, birthday parties or something else outside. We put together a trap shooting or sporting clays package for them, and it works fine.”
Carmichael would like to increase the group aspect of the range’s business, but is holding off until he can get some upgrades made to the facility that will accommodate larger groups.
“Most of our rental rifles and pistols are .22 caliber,” he said. “We originally were set up as a place to shoot recreationally, but that’s not what today’s tourists are looking for. They want something more exciting than that.”
Carmichael is working with a firearms manufacturer to expand what the range can offer in the way of rental firearms; he dreams of having about $200,000 worth of popular rental firearms on the range before long.
“This is very much a place that we want to go,” he said. “However, we’re holding off on marketing ourselves as a destination until we accomplish that. I wouldn’t want to get big groups in here and disappoint them.”
Another Las Vegas range, Machine Guns Vegas, is marketing itself as a combination of a sexy, sophisticated club and a shooting venue for visitors to Sin City. Their large website touts the “machine gun experience,” and links it with other extreme outdoor adventures such as zip line and racing packages.
Machine Guns Vegas, along with other shooting ranges courting the tourist market, take advantage of websites such as Trip Advisor to promote their offerings.
H&H Shooting Sports Complex
H&H Shooting Sports Complex also hosts groups of many types.
“A lot of people are interested in doing corporate outings at ranges,” said President Miles Hall. “We have people who hold a basic business meeting or a cold-call selling meeting. We have others who hold election meetings. We’ve done weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.”
In order to really make group events work, Hall said he first held an internal dialogue with his staff about how corporate outings would take place on the range.
“We talked about what we would want if it was us wanting to come here,” he said. “Then we prepared ourselves to be flexible, because we knew different groups were going to want different things.”
After that internal dialogue was finished, Hall said he had plans to solicit corporate events, but before he could do so, people started coming to him asking for events. Before long, he had a regular corporate clientele.
“All we had to do was set up for it and then let it flow,” he said.
Unlike Black Wing, H&H doesn’t offer specific packages.
“We cater to each individual corporate need,” Hall said. “That way we aren’t so iron clad that you have to take Package A, B, or C. We do whatever works and suits the group.”
Hall has experimented with a number of ways of publicizing his range as an event destination.
“We’ve advertised in some of the publications for event planners, and have found very little response from that,” he said. “We’ve also gone to some networking groups with very little result. We’ve found that our best response is from word of mouth. Once you get one group in, they talk to others, and you can get filled up to the point that it’s a problem really fast.”
Hall is in step with Carmichael when he points out that to have this kind of corporate clientele means having a facility that will handle it.
“It’s really important to have a meeting room big enough to hold these groups,” Hall said. “If your room is only large enough to hold 20 people comfortably—and I emphasize that word comfortably—you can’t put more than that in it. Your room needs to be big enough for people not to feel cramped, and you have to have restroom facilities to support that.”
Food is another issue you need to plan for.
“We have our restaurant on site, and that helps with food; we put on quite a spread,” Hall said. “If you don’t have a restaurant, you need the ability to get food in. Most of the time that means bringing the food in a back door, not the front door.”
At the end of the day, being successful at group meetings and events means just keeping people happy.
“We have one group of petroleum engineers that brings 300 people,” Hall said. “Whatever people want, we take care of them from beginning to end, but mostly what they want is a neat place to have a meeting or a get together of some kind.”