Attracting, Keeping This New Demographic Key To Growing Profits.
Traditionally, recreational shooters have been older white males who were plinkers, target shooters and hunters who spent the off-season shooting targets to keep their skills in shape. Over the past decade, a whole new breed of young, enthusiastic recreational shooters has emerged. For this group, shooting is just one of many recreational activities they enjoy. To attract and keep these new shooters engaged, successful retailers are finding ways to compete with many other recreational activities such as skiing, snowboarding, biking and whitewater rafting.
Dennis Rohman, general manager of P2K Range in El Cajon, Calif., said he saw this change begin taking shape 10 years ago.
“At that time, our average customer was a 60-year-old white male,” he said. “Now we have a much younger crowd, and the firearms they’re shooting are different.”
One of the things Rohman did to encourage change was to hire a younger staff.
“I hired younger people who came from non-shooting backgrounds because they were good at customer service,” he said. “I hired people from Nordstrom and Target and others with general retail backgrounds. I figured I could teach them about guns, but I couldn’t teach them to be nice.”
Rohman also added female frontliners.
“Right now, my staff is 80 percent female,” he said. “I only have four males on staff. Now we have a much higher percentage of female shooters than we did in the past, because they feel comfortable coming in and talking to a female.”
In other areas of the country, the change in new customer demographics started later.
“For us, the market started shifting in August of 2011,” said Miles Hall, president of H&H Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City, Okla. “This new audience started out shooting for self-defense but quickly found they enjoyed the sport. That moved them into all the sport-oriented guns and accessories. This group is 47 percent female and 53 percent male. They’re in their mid-30s and ethnically across the board. They’re tech savvy and easily spend money once you’ve built some trust with them.”
Hall said his shooters are very diverse, from traditional Caucasian shooters to African American, Native American and Hispanic.
These new shooters are looking for new shooting games — beyond traditional target shooting — such as shooting at the zombie targets that were so hot last year.
“The zombie thing went really well for us,” Rohman said. “Now that fad is not as popular as it was, and the big thing is ARs, people think they’re really cool.”
This new group of shooters is also discovering some long-established shooting, with some new twists. For instance, the venerable .22 is seeing resurgence. These handguns and rifles are lightweight and easy to shoot and the ammunition is much less expensive, although .22 ammo certainly has been much less available or affordable for the past year than it generally has been.
“There are some really cool-looking and -feeling .22s that are similar to a 9mm or a .40,” Hall said. “Walther has a couple of sweet little pistols including the new PPK/S.22, and Smith & Wesson has the M&P22; both are nice semiautos that many women love to shoot.”
Machine Guns Vegas targets a younger crowd, marketing
itself as a sexy, sophisticated place to shoot.
H&H Shooting Sports Complex, Oklahoma. Guests of H&H are encouraged to visit
the 4U Café — which is also available as a venue for corporate events.
Smart retailers are also finding unique and creative ways to reach out to new shooters.
“We do a comedy show called ‘Guns and Grins,’” Rohman said. “We find comedians who shoot, and we set up a stage on our 100-yard indoor range. We do it after the range closes, and we have dinner available for everyone. Each show lasts about two hours, and it’s just like any other comedy show you would have if you went anywhere else.”
Although the shows are not necessarily based around firearms, Rohman said, many of the comedians include gun humor in them.
“We advertise to everyone, so these shows bring people into the facility who are outside our normal market,” he said. “This has helped us create new customers. We get people who have never shot before. When they come out, they ask about classes and the First Shots program, so in that respect, the shows have been really good for us.”
Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio, has seen a phenomenal increase in its customer base because of the wide array of events the facility hosts.
“We do a lot of small corporate groups and fundraisers,” said Judy Stadtlander, corporate events manager for Black Wing Shooting Center. “We did a wedding for the first time last year and had an absolute ball. We also do bachelor and bachelorette parties. We have a roofing contracting association that does a little mini-convention and they set up booths. We serve them breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they’re here all day.
One Las Vegas shooting range, Machine Guns Vegas, is marketing itself as a combination of a sexy, sophisticated club and a shooting venue for visitors. Their extensive website touts the “machine gun experience,” and links it with other extreme outdoor adventures such as zip line and racing packages.
New stores and facilities also are being designed specifically with recreational shooters in mind. Last year Shooter’s World opened in Tampa, Fla., offering 16,000 square feet of retail space and featuring four separate shooting ranges. Each of the seven lanes on the rifle range has an electronic “spotter” which transmits an image of the target to the shooting stall so shooters can see exactly where they’re hitting the target.
Another new facility, the Frisco Gun Club in Frisco, Texas, opened in December 2013, featuring more than 7,000 square feet of retail space, 40 shooting lanes and a training and conference room that accommodates 100 people. The Frisco Gun Club was designed to provide a luxury experience for upscale shooters, with amenities including a high-end restaurant. The club is promoted as the only gun club in Texas where guests can shoot the HK MP5 and MP7, firearms usually available only to the military.
By hosting several comedy events throughout the year, P2K Range is
able to reach people outside traditional consumer markets.
Each year, Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio, holds a summer camp
to introduce kids to the shooting sports in a safe, supervised environment.
Take Care Of The Basics
While you’re providing services for today’s recreational shooters, don’t forget to cater to your traditional audience. And in truth, the excellent customer service and broad product selection these shooters still demand are equally important to both groups.
“I don’t care about bells and whistles in a store,” said Randy Garvin, a shooter from Brandon, Fla. “I patronize dealers who know their stuff and are not too uppity with newer gun owners.”
Denny Vasquez, a shooter from College Station, Texas, agreed.
“The shops I patronize are those that offer great customer service, maintain a good supply of products on hand for customers to check out before they buy, have knowledgeable staff who are shooters themselves and hold educational events for their customers,” Vasquez said. “These could be monthly days at the range, CHL (Concealed Handgun License) classes, youth or women shooting days.
Each rifle bay at Shooter’s World in Tampa, Fla.,
features an electronic “spotter.”
Keep Them Engaged
Servicing this new class of recreational shooter can present a bit of a challenge, but it’s a challenge many dealers know is the key to success. Today’s recreational shooters are of utmost importance to the future of the industry. Creating new and interesting ways to bring these shooters in and maintaining practices to keep them engaged and coming back not only adds dollars to a dealer’s bottom line, but also helps to ensure the shooting sports will endure.
By Carolee Anita Boyles
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