Features — 01 July 2012


Show Some Class
Instructional sessions benefit your customers, your revenue and your future.

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By Tom Carpenter

There’s a simple equation in the shooting range business: Knowledge + education + training = a more informed, active and profitable customer (and more of them) for your range. Smart range managers offer a variety of classes to take advantage of this trend. Classes build traffic, increase retail sales, develop new customers, and create a vibrant and active shooting community.

Two ranges serve as prime examples for offering classes efficiently and profitably. Paul Bastean is director and lead instructor at Ultimate Defense Firing Range & Training Center in St, Louis, Mo. John Monson owns and operates Bill’s Gun Shop and Range in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Listen and learn from their experience.

What classes to offer?

“Our mainstay is our conceal-carry course,” said Bastean. “Our program is both entertaining and educational.”

He emphasizes that entertainment is critical to any class’s success. That brings attendees back for more classes, more shooting and more buying.

“First Shots is important too,” he added. “It gets people in the door and shooting, which is what every range needs.”

First Shots is the popular and proven introductory shooting program administered by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

“These days, 40 percent of our first-time customers never touched a gun before,” explained Bastean. “They don’t have any background with firearms. First Shots gets them interested in shooting and hungry for more. Before we sell anybody anything, we try to get them in a First Shots course.”

Then they can make educated decisions about what kind of shooting they like, and what to buy.

“We also offer self-defense courses, starting with unarmed self-defense,” said Bastean. “If you can’t fend off an attacker and get at your firearm, what good does it do you?

“We start with these fundamentals,” he said, “and then move on to shooting and marksmanship.”

It all comes down to creating comfort and confidence in new shooters.

“We also have Advanced Handgun Proficiency Training Courses,” Bastean added. “There are Levels I and II, but then you need an invitation to move on to Level III.”

Monson offers a similar array of classes at his ranges.

“We offer classes of all kinds – basic, advanced, tactical, youth, defense, conceal and carry, women only, one-on-one and more,” said Monson. “We conduct First Shots courses to bring in people who have never shot before.

“Our basic course is key for getting people off the website and walking into the store,” explained Monson. “Also, many people are looking for conceal and carry instruction.”

Bastean likes to offer classes on how to maintain and clean guns, as well.

Don’t forget about youth firearms and hunter education courses. Host them and create a whole new clientele of parents and kids who need to purchase firearms and gear.

“Basically, we’re doing classes all the time,” said Monson.

It’s a key part of the business plan. Here’s why.

Why offer classes?

Classes are smart marketing tools for your shooting range. Here’s what they can do:

  • Get people involved and comfortable with shooting
  • Create a demand for firearms, ammunition and gear
  • Get customers (including new shooters) coming back to shoot
  • Create the desire for further education and instruction

“Offering classes at your range is an anchor,” said Monson. “A person is only going to continue participating in the shooting sports – and being your customer – if he or she is successful.

“The only way to advance skills and be successful is to take a course, learn, go to the next level and broaden your horizons.

“Here’s an example,” he continued. “After a regular course, you might be shooting on-target 70 percent of the time. After a one-on-one course, that might rise to 85 percent. Then that person gets more excited about shooting, so they shoot more and get involved in other kinds of shooting. And they talk to their friends about it.”

Bastean echoes those thoughts.

“There are two goals to offering classes” he said. “You want the customer to be, first, comfortable and, second, confident, with firearms and shooting.”

Those are the keys that bring them back.

“Classes are positive and fun, and the energy grows,” Monson said “People have a good time and talk to others. Word-of-mouth advertising is hard to beat for your range and the shooting sports.”

Bastean added his thoughts on the subject.

“First-timers get a better understanding of firearms and shooting,” he said, “and they want more. They want a firearm, so you sell them that. There’s less anxiety about using guns. People are more comfortable.”

You become a trusted provider by providing them with trustworthy shooting instruction.

“Creating more shooters also helps fill out our leagues,” Bastean added. “Due to all of our new shooters, we now have to do a lottery for entrance into our shooting leagues!”

That’s some of the best business that classes can help ensure, that is, consistent, weekly traffic.

Challenges to overcome

These experienced range managers agree on the key challenge regarding offering courses at the shooting range: Finding qualified, engaging instructors that can make the material memorable and exciting. The second main challenge is logistical: Finding time and space for classes.

Instructors

“You need to get quality instructors that really know the information and can really engage the attendees so they want to come back,” Bastean emphasized. “A superior grade of instructor makes all the difference.”

“This is a huge hurdle,” he explained. “There are many people with the knowledge to teach a class, but you also need make it fun. It cannot be boring. The students should feel good and be excited. The instructor must engage and entertain.”

Work with your instructors to help make the material fun while being informative. Stay away from boring lectures and chalkboards. Add multimedia, discussion and hands-on instruction to the curriculum.

“Law enforcement and military folks tend to make particularly good instructors,” Monson said. “They already have formal training of their own, as well as a comfort level with firearms. We start them out in the retail store, to see how they handle customers. Then we get them into training, so they absolutely know firearms better than our customers. You really have to build those skills and that expertise to make a confident, effective instructor.”

Hold a First Shots

If you’re serious about offering classes at your range, the NSSF’s First Shots program is a great place to start. Click here, for details on this program, as well as tools and resources. Also, at the First Shots website you can find a report on how First Shots has benefited other ranges and can help yours. Besides the prospect of bringing new people to your facility, many of whom will become regulars, members and welcome customers, you can also add five youth .22 rifles to your inventory of firearms. Visit the website to learn more.

Time and space

“You have to make the class available when the customers are available to take it,” said Monson.

That is typically evenings and Saturdays.

Bastean agrees that finding time to offer courses is key.

“Our lanes are filled with customers on Saturdays. Do you take lanes away from potential paying customers, or do you try to do classes at slower times?”

You must do both, he says, and offers this compromise: “We have 18 lanes over three bays. I will leave two bays open on a Saturday, then reserve the third bay for classes.”

Having a comfortable place for any required classroom time can be a challenge. Think about your setup, and do what you can do to create a comfortable learning environment.

Tips and insights

Monson offers two important tips for range managers who are serious about offering classes.

“First, don’t outsource your instructors,” he advised. “Build your own panel of employee instructors who are locked into teaching only for you. I’ll include noncompete clauses in employment agreements. This way, those customers you brought in through your marketing dollars stay there with you and don’t walk off when an instructor leaves.

“And ask customers what they are looking for, then offer that kind of class,” he added. “Remember, the three classes you can’t go wrong with are basic courses, women-only courses and one-on-ones.”

A final thought

Adding classes to your shooting range’s array of offerings makes good business sense. The courses themselves can be profitable, but, more importantly, you are building a base of engaged, educated, loyal customers who will buy firearms and gear, and come back to your range to shoot more often.

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