By Massad Ayoob
Two years old and built with a substantial capital layout, The Range of Richfield in Richfield, Wis., has been turning a profit for some time now. It’s a family business founded by a retiring patriarch, who has enjoyed it so much he put off his retirement. And its success is taking place all within sight of a giant Cabela’s.
The Range’s Founder, Jim Babiasz, is 69. With a degree in accounting, he sold commercial real estate for 30 years before opening The Range of Richfield. He begins, “I was 100 percent commission all my life. I learned early hard work and consistency were needed to prevail.” He ran his own real estate company for 15 of those years. “I merged my company with a larger one and became a partner, but I finally got tired of the stress of selling on that level. My doctor said he was trying to keep me alive ’til I retired.”
As part of his job, Babiasz had a multi-tenant building as a listing. Because of its prime location he decided to buy it in 2006. “Cabela’s apparently thought the same because they later located here also,” he added.
Babiasz continues, “I was collecting rent from three tenants, and it was nice. My wife was looking for something to do, and wanted to work for herself. As I was selling a building I met a fellow in an all-camo truck; it turned out his son had started a company called Just Camo. I wound up buying the company for my wife. We rented a 14-foot U-Haul van and brought everything home, and started looking at doing retail online. She now has about 1,500 different SKUs. We later found out about the SHOT Show and would go there to look for new products in camo lines.”
Three years ago, Jim’s older son Josh — an avid hunter and shooter — talked him into taking a look at the gun business. “At the time, I had the building so I contacted NRA and NSSF for information. NSSF has some really great programs, including a CD program that walks you through the whole process of building a range. It also showed me how to do demographics.”
Babiasz noted resources like SHOT Show University provided important business-building insights for his venture. “SHOT Show University proved very helpful for our family. The demographics showed me a very high percentage of Wisconsin people own guns. Hunting and shooting are popular here. There are about 67,000 gun owners within a 45-minute drive from our location.
“We computed what it would cost to build a range and gun shop. I told my family, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re all in: this will be your inheritance.’ The whole family agreed.”
The Range at Richfield is a family operation, with each family member
maintaining crucial roles in the business. From Left: Jim (owner), Jennifer
(retail manager), Pamela (vice president) and Jason (general manager).
Babiasz started the process with zoning and building permits. First, he talked to the local representative in the Village of Richfield, the village administrator, whom he already knew from his real estate background. The administrator thought it was a great idea. “We’re fortunate enough to live in a community that really embraces our guns,” Jim said. “It took us about three months. We know of ranges in other places that have been shot down by people who objected to guns and shooting in those communities, but it didn’t happen here. The bank was cooperative, too. The banker said, ‘You know, I like the idea. I’m a shooter and have no place to shoot, I think I can get you an SBA loan.’”
Construction went smoothly, thanks largely to a careful choice of contractors. “Ventilation turns the air over every 60 seconds. The air leaving here is hospital grade, actually cleaner when it leaves than when it comes in. Action Target did our traps and retrieval system. Carey’s out of Chicago did our ventilation system, and they did a wonderful job,” he said.
The business is truly a family affair; something Jim says has been a delightful experience for them. His older son Josh designed a lot of the building and is the operations manager and safety director. His other son Jason is general manager, while his daughter Jennifer is the retail manager. Wife Pamela is vice president, becoming more and more active with the range though she and Jim’s sister Judy also still operate Just Camo. They have two grandkids working part time.
“This is the first time the whole family has worked together. I just can’t tell you how great it is,” he added.
A Shift In Strategy
Upon opening, Jim explained his store experienced a shift in strategy to take advantage of additional opportunities. “Initially, we weren’t going to sell firearms, just run the range,” he noted. “But the more we got into this, the more obvious it was we needed to get an FFL. When we opened our doors, we had five of my son’s guns on display. Everyone loved the range, and soon income bought inventory.”
Babiasz reports the range has been a worthwhile enterprise for his family. “I still don’t take anything out of the place, it all goes into inventory. We opened November 15, 2014, and we’re turning a profit. It’s a nice return. I see this as having been a very good investment,” he added.
General Manager Jason says about 40 percent of the store’s shooting clientele is female. Junior shooters are encouraged and even have shooting leagues hosted at The Range of Richfield. And, amazingly, some of the clientele is referred there from their largest, closest competitor.
As mentioned earlier, a Cabela’s popped up just down the road not long after the Range of Richfield opened its doors. Big-box stores like this have been the death of many a family-owned gun shop. However, the Babiasz family invited all the Cabela’s gun counter staff to pizza and an impromptu shooting fest at The Range of Richfield.
The courtesy has been returned. New shooters who show up at the Cabela’s gun counter are often told, “Why don’t you go right over there to The Range of Richfield and rent one of those and shoot it to see if you like it before you buy it?” Each of those referrals becomes a range customer, and it’s not uncommon for them to buy the gun they want from The Range instead of from the referring establishment. It has turned out to be a symbiotic relationship.
Special Events Boost
Babiasz wisely designed the facility with a classroom and large screen suitable for up to 38 students at a time. Hosting training classes brings in cash flow itself, of course, and also introduces new customers to The Range. Noted instructor David Maglio, a retired cop and shooting champion, teaches there regularly.
The range has hosted GLOCK and Smith & Wesson days — and while I was there, a Ruger Day. Each is well advertised. Lots of customers come to test the guns on the range, at nominal cost. Each time, obviously, a concurrent special price sale of the hosted brand sells a whole bunch of guns. And naturally, new guns need accessories right?
Some of The Range’s special events are based on holidays. For instance, when I visited the store they were getting ready for a Halloween shoot with Jack-o’-lantern and zombie targets, junior shooter events and kids showing up to shoot in their Halloween costumes.
All in all, the operation has been amazingly successful — and Jim and his doctor no longer worry about his blood pressure and stress.