By Jeff Swanson, NSSF Range Action Specialist Team Member
When developing your business model to attract the next generation of hunters and shooters, consider the “destination” facilities that are successfully attracting customers by promoting their event-hosting capabilities: Topgolf, Lucky Strike Bowling and Main Event are just three examples.
Creating your “next generation” shooting range (after having to purchase AR10 rifles) that incorporates an event business can often be accomplished by retrofitting your existing facility, and with minimal cost and space.
With the basic goals of (1) marketing and promoting all your profit centers, and (2) diversifying revenue sources across added profit centers and amenities, this article will focus on creating a successful shooting sports event business.
Identify Event Space
Creating a flexible space for hosting your own events or for rental to outside parties is an ideal way to attract new customers to your range.
This can often be accomplished by booking use of your classroom as event space when it’s not being used for training. Installation of an accordion-type folding wall to divide your classroom into one, two or more spaces can also be beneficial.
If you provide high-end, well-equipped meeting space, you can gain exposure to a wide array of individuals who otherwise would have been unlikely to enter a range.
Putting the “Special” in Special Event
Remember to put the “special” in your special events. Changing out chairs, adding tablecloths and adding nicer dinnerware from your catering or event partner vendors transform a classroom or other available space into something people will remember.
Use a storage area for event-specific folding chairs, round tables and tablecloths, then simply swap out the classroom rectangular tables and plain-Jane chairs as needed.
You can also switch out the classroom’s old fluorescent lighting for adjustable ambient lighting, which can help enhance the mood and feel of a special event. Adding a buffet table or counter at one end of the room to support food and beverage offerings completes the package.
Catering Doesn’t Have to be Complex
Creating strategic partnerships with local restaurants and catering vendors is a great way to provide options for your customers.
This helps capture your events business without the capital and space requirements of building your own café, and for those ranges that do have a food and beverage facility, outside contracting for these services can meet the additional demands of a busy, well-attended event without overburdening your in-house kitchen or leaving your regular customers underserved during those times.
When working with caterers and local restaurants that provide offsite food provisions, remember to negotiate to get a percentage of the food and beverage sales, as you’ve provided exposure to that caterer or restaurant through your range’s event.
When working with outside caterers and restaurants, remember to negotiate the pricing to ensure you get a percentage of the food and beverage sales in return for providing the space and customers.
Also, once you decide on the catering provider, it is important to develop an event menu that allows for a few options that are quickly served at one time to large groups, as well as one that can be easily adjusted to group size.
Design Event Brochures
Create a brochure specifically designed to promote your event-hosting capability as a stand-alone business. It should include various event packages that are priced in an easy to understand manner and adjustable to meet various group sizes.
There is, of course, usually a range and gun rental component, as well as room rental and cleaning fees. If there is a need for your instructors or range safety officers to assist with the event, be sure to charge for their time as well.
Effective event brochures typically include the following:
1. Description of the event space size, IT capabilities, and gun rental and range offerings (a picture of the space hosting an event is particularly helpful).
- Event packages and hosting ideas that make it easy for companies, groups and individuals to decide on one that is right for them.
- Included adjustable food and beverage options, room rental fees, staffing fees (instructors, RSOs) and cleaning fees so that the clients can easily determine “all-in” pricing.
Market Your Event Offerings
Once you’ve created the foundation, you have to actively promote it. This starts with educating both your existing customers and your community that you have new event offerings and space that will engage their group like never before.
For example, “A ‘day at the range’ with clients no longer means the golf range.”
Marketing efforts should include advertising your event packages and ideas both on your website and inside your facility with brochures and signage.
Also promote your event offerings outside your doors directly to companies and groups in your area such as wedding planners, union organizers, charities, civic groups and medical groups.
Develop your event marketing efforts across all of the following: Companies—corporate retreats, leadership-building events, company Christmas parties. Target groups—sporting events watch-party groups, civic and charitable groups, social club meetings. Individuals—date nights, birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, after-hours events.
Providing events as an additional profit center both introduces your range and hunting preserve to an entirely new audience and encourages your existing customers to spend more time at your facility. The more time they’re there, the more likely they are to spend money, bring a friend, and become more engaged in the shooting sports.
Editor’s Note: Jeff Swanson is the co-founder and an owner of a “Next Generation” range in Oklahoma and the Managing Member of NexGen Range Consulting. Swanson currently serves as a member of the NSSF Range Action Specialists Team. For details, visit nssf.org.