2014 needs to be the year of the range....The Year of the Range.
Let's make that a thing.
'Why?' you ask. Good question.
The answer is simple. With so many new firearms owners coming into our world we need to give them places to shoot recreationally. In most cases, purchasing a gun is rather easy, but finding a place to take that new gun to shoot is not as easy.
Well, there is actually a way to find a place, it's NSSF's WhereToShoot.org
What I'm really getting at is the need in 2014 for ranges to up their game when it comes to handling these new customers.
Earlier this summer I had a conversation with Miles Hall of H&H Shooting Sports Complex. H&H, in Oklahoma City, is one of the best retail/range facilities in the country and on top of any and all trends in this segment of the industry.
Essentially, what he told me was that the new consumers coming into our market are used to a level of service which they have come to expect when setting foot in a commercial facility. The Apple Store was his example. Young consumers have no problem spending money, they just expect to get excellent service when spending those dollars.
And we are, in fact, talking about younger consumers. NSSF's own data shows that many of the new gun owners are younger, and increasingly female. That's not to say that all new gun owners are young, it's just that we're seeing the average age of a new gun owner trending down.
So what does this mean for a range?
While a range isn't selling a product, it is selling a service - an experience. How we present that service and provide that experience will dictate how we retain those new gun owners.
Do we want new gun owners to buy a gun and never buy another? Do we want them to take their new gun to a range once and never return? No. We want each of these new gun owners to become full-fledged members of the firearms community.
Now, this is old news for top commercial ranges like H&H and others around the country. They focus on recruitment and retention of first time gun owners. But these businesses are not the norm. They are the exception.
Most ranges, many or which are clubs and not set up as commercial businesses, don't have customer service as part of their 'business model.' Actually, they don't have a business model of any sort, outside of collecting dues, of course.
Many ranges are gated, member-only facilities with their membership capped. They do offer a long waiting list for those interested in joining, but as the saying goes, 'good luck with that.'
The reasons for this style of management may have made sense at one time but today, as the number of new gun owners explodes, it needs dramatic rethinking. In light of ever-increasing threats to our rights, it needs dramatic rethinking.
We also need to rethink the way we manage these facilities. So many are managed to keep the costs of shooting artificially low to the point that no real capital can be built up to reinvest in the facility. Even when clubs have available funds, it's like pulling teeth to get them to make improvements.
One range that I am familiar with, but won't name, has a sizable war chest. They are in need of something as simple as a covered pavilion for use by shooters during the many competitive events they hold. The space on the range is there just waiting to be built upon. The money is there. The will to spend it, not so much.
This is just one very simple example of a modest improvement that would improve the shooter's experience, but if you look at the ranges you shoot at I bet you can find similar examples of missed opportunities.
In 2014 we should be pushing for clubs and ranges to invest more in their own future. Though, it does need to be smart investment.
A couple years ago, during one of our always lengthy phone conversations, Jim Shepherd and I were lamenting the lack of shooting facilities and the barrier to entry that particular deficiency presented. In his usual Jim Shepherd fashion, Jim said, "100 new ranges."
And there is was, an easy to communicate and easy to understand campaign to build out 100 new ranges, 2 for each of the 50 states. It was a simple, commonsense approach to breaking down the range-access barrier to entry in the shooting sports.
Keep in mind that this was prior to the whole 'nobody can find ammo because we're all hoarding it' drought
While ammo availability might not be where we'd like it in order to launch 100 new ranges, we can certainly take a similar nationwide approach to improving all facilities, even if those improvements are small in scale.
Ranges are not simply places to shoot. They are the entertainment interface for firearms. Buying a gun is cool. But if all you do is sit around you house looking at it, drooling and bragging online about the shiny new super-blaster you bought, then you are just collecting guns...and dust.
Taking that gun to the range, shooting with others, even entering competitions, is where we fully exercise our Second Amendment rights. And not only do we exercise them to their fullest, we strengthen our rights.
Ranges are where we turn a new gun owner into a gun enthusiast of the highest order. The role of the range is therefore critical.
Of course the retailer is vital, but the retailer is already a business and under constant improvement, whether through competition from the ever growing presence of big box outdoor retailers, to the concerted effort by the industry, through NSSF, to guide them towards better practices. Many of these retailers are looking towards on-site ranges as an expansion of their existing business.
But ranges as a broader group are lagging behind retailers in the race to improve and upgrade to cater to the modern shooter. And that's why 2014 needs to be 'The Year of the Range.'
By-the-way, as this is the last Between The Berms for 2013, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And thanks very much for being a subscriber and scrolling down to the very bottom of your Wednesday edition to find this column (along with all its wonderful typos)
- Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network
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