Successful Gun Business In Hostile Territory
For American gun owners and the industry that serves them, it’s easy these days to feel like a persecuted minority. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the New York City/New Jersey metropolis. I recently spent four days teaching at the Gun For Hire facility in Woodland Park, N.J. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say Gun For Hire sits in the shadow of the Empire State Building; the range is a mere 14 miles from downtown Manhattan.
Gun For Hire founder and CEO Anthony Colandro says, “In a state of 8.8 million people, there are fewer than 1,200 concealed carry permits. We have a weird law with transporting guns — we can only go from the house to the range and back without unnecessary deviation. It’s up to a superior court judge to decide if stopping for gas or going to the bathroom is an ‘unnecessary deviation.’ If so, you’re looking at 10 years in prison.”
In the sociological and legislative war over “gun control,” New Jersey is definitely “behind enemy lines.”
Yet in my four days there, I saw throngs of people lining up to shoot on the Gun For Hire ranges. Millionaires shot alongside blue-collar workers. Millennials adorned with body art and piercings shot beside well-dressed, gray-haired businessmen. Women were very heavily represented among a diverse clientele.
Sales Tip: Gun For Hire is proof — against media stereotypes to the contrary — shooting isn’t just for OWGs (Old White Guys) anymore, if it ever was.
In 1992, Colandro took my classes when I was running Lethal Force Institute, and said later on the ProArms Podcast it inspired him to get into teaching himself. He started with beginners’ classes, eventually working on nine different ranges throughout New Jersey. Anthony grew tired of apologizing to his students for unkempt ranges, dirty bathrooms or smelly portable toilets and smoky, poorly ventilated ranges.
Given the hassle his clientele had getting their own guns to and from the range — particularly if they wanted to shoot on their way home from work — Anthony saw the advantage of simply having guns at a range facility to rent and ammo for purchase. Analyzing the relatively low-profit margin in gun sales and the investment in deep inventory a retail gun sales business would require, he decided to focus on a “walk in, shoot, leave when you feel like it and we’ll clean the gun later” business model.
The result was Gun For Hire, a 16,000-square-foot, $6 million indoor range with a state-of-the-art air filtration system. The facility also features an Action Target armored steel backstop and snail drum retrieval system that directs spent bullets into 55-gallon drums, with technology to signal management when the drums should be swapped out. One side of the facility features 13 shooting lanes reaching 25 yards, and the other has a 50-yard range with six shooting positions. Gun For Hire opened in April 2013.
“We have 150-plus guns for rent,” Colandro said. “So many new shooters ask, ‘What gun can I try or buy for home-defense?’ We have test-drive programs where we put 16 guns out, while they can all shoot under instructor supervision. Our members are allowed so many free rentals. About 80 percent of our business comes from the New York metro area. Our ‘rental fleet’ has been very successful.”
Gun For Hire offers a variety of club-like membership perks, including
discounted rates and less wait-time to use the range.
Privileged Customers Stay Customers
In a given week, some 300,000 shots are fired at Gun For Hire, under the careful supervision of a dozen full-time staff and 40 part-time personnel. They include certified instructors and range safety officers. Walk-in customers cheerfully pay $25 per hour for range privileges. They appreciate the spotlessly clean range, staff trained to treat them like honored guests and a full-time café with excellent sandwiches and chili.
Anyone who deals with the public knows customers treated like royalty continue to be customers. Gun For Hire offers club-like membership with perks. At the entry level, “Silver” members get $10 off on range fees. Paid “Gold” members get interspersed to every second person in line on busy days, cutting their wait time in half, and pay only $10 per hour to shoot.
For higher initial dues, “Platinum” members go to the head of the line even on the busiest days, don’t pay hourly range fees and have key-card access to the VIP Lounge where they can stretch out on a leather sofa with free drinks and snacks and peruse the gun book library as long as they want.
According to Colandro, “We get an amazing number of corporate clients.” The typical pattern sees a member bring in four or five of his own clients, rent several guns and go through several hundred rounds of ammunition, have lunch in the café and then bring his guests into the VIP lounge to sign contracts. “It’s a lot more exciting than taking clients for the usual round of golf,” Colandro said.
Gun For Hire attracts a cross-section of new shooters looking for
the convenience of a range with a variety of offerings.
In today’s Internet-driven world, online customer reviews are vital. The company’s website, www.gunforhire.com, creates a lot of business. Every customer is given a card by their instructor or range officer with relevant notes of their experience at the facility, and are encouraged to put their impressions of Gun For Hire range on Yelp, Google+, Foursquare and Instagram. The card comes complete with a QR code, taking them directly to each site. The results have been hugely positive.
Low-tech works, too. Anthony and several of his employees drive vehicles provided by the business, conspicuously sporting the distinctive company logo with their website. Colandro noted he can’t believe how much business it generates.
Sales Tip: A truth of human nature is customers support businesses which support those customers’ beliefs. Colandro was already a Second Amendment activist when he got into the business, but he’s more so now. Active in testimony at the N.J. State House on gun owners’ civil rights issues, he does a weekly Internet radio show at gunforhireradio.com. It brings him many new customers, and helps solidify those he already has.
In the short time since he created Gun For Hire, Anthony Colandro is sufficiently in the black, and looking at expanding not only the present facility, but also elsewhere.
“My next dream is to have Gun For Hire Ranges in Chicago and Manhattan,” Colandro says. “The safety afforded by responsible, law-abiding gun ownership is a message that needs to be spread.”
By Massad Ayoob
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