A place for people as well as for cars
A few range operators take the approach that the parking lot is just as much a part of the business as the shooting lanes and targets. For these ranges, the parking lot has become a viable and important component of the overall range experience.
Ed Santos is owner of Center Target Sports in Post Falls, Idaho. He said Center Target Sports is a very community-oriented business; the range does an annual “customer appreciation” parking-lot event.
“At the event, we highlight three charities that need support,” Santos said. “The three charities we support are the local food bank, the local blood bank and the Toys for Tots program. Last year in four hours we collected more than 3,000 pounds of food, 49 units of blood and four totes for Toys for Tots.”
During the annual customer appreciation day, Santos said, the range gives away a number of firearms that have been donated by manufacturers.
“We give one ticket for every item donated,” he said. “If someone brings in a case of 48 cans of green beans, he gets 48 tickets. Every toy and every food item that comes in earns a ticket. We have literally had people bring in 100 toys or five cases of Ramen noodles, so they could get hundreds of tickets.”
Santos runs the giveaway portion of the customer appreciation day like a bucket raffle.
“We have buckets set up with the big prizes such as guns,” he said. “Then each person can put as many tickets as he wants into whichever buckets he wants.”
During the event, customers are treated to a number of activities.
“We bring in bleachers and set them up in the field next to our range,” Santos said. “Then we have bullwhip and fast-draw demonstrations, as well as police K-9 demonstrations. We have the demonstrations on the hour, and on the half hour we do a free clinic.”
Topics covered in the clinics range from reloading and concealed carry issues to weapons of opportunity for personal defense. Santos also gets a local sports mascot to come and pose for pictures with customers’ children.
At the same time, Santos puts most of the retail store associated with the range on sale.
“People have learned that—in association with this event—this is a good time for them to buy at the lowest price we ever have,” he said.
As part of the event, Santos gives members of the community free space to set up tables like they would at a swap meet.
“They bring everything from craft items to used lawn mowers and whatever else they want to sell,” he said.
“It’s a festive environment with free food and free drinks,” he said. “We’re both a shooting range and a driving community partner. We want to give back to the community. Last year, when the food bank director saw the five pallets of food she broke down in tears, because they were in the process of trying to get a loan to buy food because they were in such dire straits.”
When he does an event like this, Santos said, everybody wins.
“I think that’s the most important aspect of what we do,” he said. “The public gets to see that more goes on here than just people coming to shoot guns. They see that people who come to shoot guns care about their community.”
Miles Hall, president of H&H Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City, Okla., also does an annual outdoors event. Although it started as a simple parking-lot event, it now has expanded to a three-day expo that spreads out to cover the entire area surrounding the store and spills over into the parking lot of the hotel next door.
“This year we had just under 6,000 people in three days,” Hall said. “We had to bring in three six-person golf carts to hustle people around.”
“I started with the SHOT Show mentality,” he said. “I go to the SHOT Show to see all the new stuff and meet with reps.”
Hall extended that experience to his range’s annual expo.
“Customers can come see either someone from each manufacturer or a manufacturer’s rep,” he said. “The manufacturers bring out their wares and lay them out on a table so guests can see what’s new and have a chance to talk to the reps.”
Hall makes it possible for guests to shoot any guns the manufacturers bring.
“For the price of a ticket—which we sell—you can ‘rent’ the gun and take it on the range and shoot it,” he said. “That also puts your name in a hopper for things we’re going to give away.”
The giveaways at the expo are not inconsequential.
The expo has become quite an event.
“We fill up the hotel next door, and people come from neighboring states,” Hall said.
According to Hall, the success of the expo is part of what put H&H Shooting Sports Complex on the map.
“When we started this, we were just a little gun range,” he said.
The publicity factor the range gets is part of the benefit of the event.
“We got a box load of press this year,” Hall said. “Two televisions stations came out and ran stories. Then in the Oklahoman, the outdoors editor ran something about us on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and then there was a full-page write up on Sunday.”
Jeff Wait, owner of Okeechobee Shooting Sports in Okeechobee, Fla., holds concerts several times a year in his parking lot.
“We usually tie a concert to a First Shots event,” he said. “When new shooters come out for the first time, after the range closes we put on a concert with a catered barbeque. Since we’re an outdoor range, we try to make the most of our outdoor ‘country’ feel.”
Wait said the headliner for the concerts is almost always the Tom Jackson band, a country band based in south Florida.
“He shoots here often and is a good ambassador for the range,” he said. “We also usually invite a couple other small local bands to come. Usually we have several hundred people here for a concert.”
Wait said the main purpose of the concerts is to thank his customers and the community for their support.
“We just started doing concerts this year, so it’s hard to tell how they will affect our business in the long run,” he said. “We’re probably going to add a buggy and airboat show to the concerts as well. And in our future building plans, we have a stage planned so we can do more things like this, and so it’s easier for people to bring new and non-shooters here.”
Paul Bastean, director and primary owner of the Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Shooting Center in St. Peters, Mo., said the range did its first parking-lot event at its grand opening three years ago.
“We had to overcome a number of huge obstacles to get this range open,” Bastean said. “There was a lot of opposition to this range going in, so once we got it in and were open, we had a party. We had a blessing on the building and then just opened the doors and let people go in. We also brought in a Bear, which is an armored vehicle for a SWAT truck. The SWAT cops were putting their vests on the little kids. The local fire department came out and put three pieces of equipment in the parking lot.”
Other attractions included a CSI-type vehicle for computer investigations, and several military vehicles.
“Shortly after our grand opening we had another event,” Bastean said. “That time we had a police dog that did exhibitions during the day.”
In the time since then, Bastean has done several fundraising events in the parking lot. In one case, the range “adopted” several U.S. servicemen. For this event, he made arrangements for a local barbeque restaurant to cater the event.
“We had a $5 plate,” he said. “We had people who would pay with a $100 bill and leave the change. We also sold raffle tickets for guns, bags and logo gear that were donated to us for the event. We had so much gear, and it was so hot, that we had to rent a big circus tent.”
Bastean said he does several fundraising events each year.
“I’m a police officer as well as running the range, and I have nine firefighters and several police officers working for me,” he said. “If any of those guys run into any type of tragedy, either on duty or off duty, that immediately triggers us to try to help. The shooting community here is affluent, and they’re very quick to help.”
Another event Bastean has done in the parking lot is an auction.
“We do a huge clearance sale and sell the rental wall guns at the same time,” he said. “Again, I rent the circus tent and then we do a public auction in the parking lot. The last one drew probably 4,000 people.”
All of these events draw a tremendous amount of attention to the range, Bastean said.
“Sometimes people who don’t even know we exist come here as a result of what we’re doing,” he said. “For instance, before the last auction, the auctioneer was promoting us on his website. That got us into a completely different audience.”
Although many of the events Bastean has done in the parking lot of the Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Shooting Center were simply to help people in need, they had the added benefit of creating a “name” for the range.
“We have gotten massive amounts of recognition, as a responsible business,” he said. “We had all this opposition to opening up, and now if the city were to come and try to shut us down, we would have a huge outpouring of support to keep us here. A lot of people recognize the charitable efforts that we make. As far as advertising goes, it’s free. They’re good causes, and people tell their families and their friends and our name gets repeated over and over again.”