Not many firearm businesses can boast that their gun training courses are sold out three months in advance, but that’s the case at Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Shooting Center in St. Peters, Mo. Owner/director Paul Bastean attributes the popularity of Ultimate Defense’s classes to top-quality instructors and the state-of-the-art range facility.
Ultimate Defense features three shooting bays with 18 lanes configured for rifles and handguns. It is also the home of the only Simunitions-based training facility in Missouri. In addition, there is a full retail operation where customers can rent or buy firearms and accessories.
“Training is what brings people to our range,” Bastean said.
This focus on training has proven to be a successful business model.
“You make 10 to 15 points on the retail center, but you make 80 points on training,” Bastean said.
Course offerings at Ultimate Defense run the gamut from gun maintenance and concealed carry to women’s personal defense and Eddie Eagle programs. Ultimate Defense has the largest NSSF First Shots program in the nation, and as follow-up, offers an NSSF Second Shots course that teaches customers how to choose the right centerfire gun for purchase. All of the classes are tremendously popular, Bastean notes.
“We offer a CCW course every Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “I had to add Thursday and Friday classes, and we are still sold out for three months.”
After taking a course at Ultimate Defense, women gravitate to the Walther PK380,
which is lightweight and features a small grip and an easy-to-operate slide.
Fulfilling Women’s Training Needs
Ultimate Defense’s Ladies Night Guided Experience is the second most popular course offered, coming in just behind the regular CCW courses. The course is designed for women with limited or no experience with firearms, and Bastean estimates he has trained thousands of women in the last two years. Women now make up 35 to 40 percent of Ultimate Defense’s customer base, and they are primarily interested in personal defense.
Having a separate basic firearm course for women is important, Bastean says.
“Women have different concerns than men,” he said. “They want to make sure their gun won’t be used against them, and they want to make sure kids can’t access it.”
He also noted that when women attend a course with a man, the man tends to try to become a second instructor, a dynamic that doesn’t work well. Ultimate Defense’s course guides women through handgun safety, finding the right gun and the basics of shooting a handgun. Women start with .22s to get accustomed to the feel of shooting, and then may explore other calibers.
The Women’s Self-Defense course is a non-gun course that teaches women unarmed personal-defense tactics, including strikes, ways to escape, the proper way to deploy pepper spray and a Taser demonstration.
Bastean admits he hasn’t had to do any marketing to fill his women’s classes.
“It’s 100-percent word of mouth. It’s amazing how, if a woman finds a good product and customer service, she will truly make an effort to support that business,” Bastean said.
Bastean has been able to create a buzz by hiring top-notch instructors who make the courses fun and entertaining.
“We use humor to set people at ease, in addition to real-life experience,” he said. “Our instructors have the ability to connect with people. They leave with the feeling that the instructor is a friend.”
Personal defense is the motivation for attending a course, but Bastean said the camaraderie created by attending a class leads people to discover the fun of the shooting sports.
“Our industry is no different than bowling, darts or golf,” he said. “We do these sports because it’s fun. It’s a skill game, but we (shooters) have a practical purpose. Shooters are doing what they enjoy, but they can actually save a life.”
Ultimate Defense does a brisk business in purse holsters from Concealed Carrie.
The Satchel features a separate compartment accessible by right- and left-hand shooters.
Top Sellers At Ultimate Defense
There is a direct connection between education and an increase in profits.
“Across the board, sales increase from our classes,” Bastean said. “Women want their own guns.”
His sales staff is trained to guide women toward the right equipment for their needs. After taking a course at Ultimate Defense, women gravitate to the Walther PK380, SIG P238, SIG P232 and the Ruger LCR .38 Special.
Ultimate Defense also does a brisk business in purse holsters from Concealed Carrie. The line consists of fashionable purses with built-in holsters and ambidextrous zippered gun access. Bastean said the purses are so popular he has trouble keeping them in stock.
Another item Bastean has trouble keeping in stock are “blinged-out” Ultimate Defense logo T-shirts.
“Out best-selling item to women is our logo gear,” he said. “We sell those blinged-out tees fast.”
The fact that logo T-shirts are their best-sellers is a tribute to the customer service and atmosphere at Ultimate Defense. Customers are willing to be walking billboards for the business — it’s the kind of advertising money can’t buy.
Modeling Responsible Ownership
Bastean also creates a positive image in the community by offering free Eddie Eagle classes to children. The Eddie Eagle program was created by the NRA to teach children gun safety — specifically, what to do if they find a gun. The Eddie Eagle class is held at the range, but instructors also go out into the community and teach the program at grade schools, to scout troops and even at karate dojos. Bastean said the Eddie Eagle class is so popular, he has trouble training enough instructors to meet the demand.
“The kids have a blast at the class,” he said. “It’s a free public service that brings positive attention to the range.”
Gun store owners who do not have a range or classroom facilities can still offer the Eddie Eagle Program in their community. Most of the groups requesting the program already have a meeting place, and you or one of your employees can teach the course at their location.
This is an excellent form of community service and an avenue to act as an ambassador, casting your store in a positive light and introducing your operation as a model of responsible gun ownership and firearm safety.
By Lisa Parsons-Wraith
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