By Robert Sadowski
Blackstone Shooting Sports offers shooters new and old a first-rate experience
Would you like a cappuccino after renting the H&K USP9-V1? Perhaps you want to kick back in the VIP Lounge and watch the big game after using the private, nine-lane range? The new trend in shooting ranges is something of a cross between a country club and a retail experience that rivals Barney’s, Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf-Goodman, or Bloomingdale’s. Call them “guntry clubs.” Whatever the name, these shooting ranges are leading the charge to provide customers with a new experience, one that includes not only shooting, but shopping and other amenities as well.
Not the Sand Pit
Blackstone Shooting Sports, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an excellent example of this new culture. This is not the sand pit where your granddad brought you to shoot. Blackstone, like other forward-thinking gun ranges, has seen gun sales double over the past decade. Now, people from all walks of life want to shoot, and these guntry clubs offer a safe, clean place in which to do so.
Taylor Hayden, founder and owner of Blackstone, saw a need for an indoor shooting range and firearms store that did business differently. “I visited about 40 different facilities around the country and saw a need that wasn’t being met,” he says. “The shooting industry as a whole was sort of a good-old-boys’ network that wasn’t welcoming enough to new shooters—people who were interested in the shooting sports but were too intimidated at some ranges to ask questions.”
And though popular speak has seemed to settle on calling these shooting facilities “guntry clubs,” Hayden does not like the term because of its elitist connotation. He wants people from all walks of life to be able to have access to firearms and shooting.
Blackstone’s facility was specially designed to provide new shooters with a safe, comfortable, welcoming atmosphere, while still offering experienced shooting enthusiasts the challenges and amenities they expect. Blackstone, which opened two years ago, certainly caters to those who want the VIP treatment and are willing to pay for private lanes and a private lounge. But it also caters to those who just want to shoot in a safe, state-of-the-art facility with high-tech training classrooms and a modern retail space housing an extensive stock of firearms, ammunition, apparel, and accessories.
Personal membership fees run from $24 per month up to $149 per month (VIP membership), which includes the entire family. An initiation fee is required with all memberships. Membership has its privileges, as Blackstone provides complimentary eye and ear protection, as well as discounts on ammunition, accessories, and gun rentals. Corporate memberships are available, too, so you can network or cut a deal on the private pistol range instead of on the 18th hole. The VIP Lounge is a separate part of the facility, with comfortable sofas and chairs and big-screen TVs. The space can also be rented and catered. Events are a big part of the business model at Blackstone, and the club uses a preferred list of caterers that range from casual BBQ to fancier events with chafing dishes. Hayden says the space is very popular for bachelorette parties. Once the ladies are done shooting, they can continue the celebration with a full catering staff. A gas fire pit on an outside patio is inviting, and the area makes for a comfortable setting for small talk or business dealings.
Alcohol is allowed in the lounge, but only after all firearms have been secured and access to the range is closed. All shooters must also fill out a waiver, which is conveniently available on store iPads. The iPad form not only captures waiver information, it also allows Blackstone to send emails and market to customers after they leave.
Removing the Barriers
Concealed carry is the strongest segment of the market, so Blackstone offers classes for shooters where they can obtain their concealed-carry permit. It also offers other classes, one of the most popular being a followup to the concealed-carry permit class that really dives into the particular situations North Carolina permit holders may encounter. Since many new concealed-carry permit holders are also new shooters, Hayden feels it is important to be able to provide full service, from shooting and training to retail.
The latter is another unique aspect of Blackstone’s, compared to the typical firearms store. There are no barriers separating the retail staff from the customer. Blackstone’s retail buying experience is more like what you would find at an Apple store.
“We eliminated firearms counters completely and display our retail firearms in custom-built, upright cases,” Hayden says. “This allows our guests to browse much more freely and empowers our sales team to develop a more natural relationship with our guests. This is especially important to our visitors who are new to the industry, because entering a firearms store for the first time can be an extremely intimidating and daunting experience.” Hayden notes that the staff has been specially trained to assist customers in an environment that is easier to navigate and far less stressful.
The entire experience is designed to get customers to linger and socialize. And though a guntry club may be a new wrinkle in the shooting sports business, the idea of keeping customers around is an old idea. But in this case, it’s wearing brand-new threads.