Tom Hudson had a vision, and when he acted on it, his community benefited
At one point in his life, Tom Hudson sold tractors to farmers. He also spent time as a media/ad executive at Meredith Corporation, a Des Moines, Iowa, media giant, best known as the publisher of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
But he was also a shooter, one who was amazed to learn that this 600,000-person community had no indoor shooting range.
“I grew up in Wyoming. Guns were part of my lifestyle,” he says.
So, he put together a team that included seven investors and explored the idea of filling that void.
“I researched for 18 months, visiting ranges all over the country,” he says. “I looked at every one through the lens of what kind of operation my community would support.”
Hudson wanted a place that had the feeling of a local mom-and-pop shop—that all-important sense of community—but it also needed to be a facility with the feel of a national brand. That meant it had to be clean, well lighted, and well organized, with a friendly yet knowledge and approachable staff.
The model? Apple.
“The store itself needed to be warm and welcoming, and my staff needed to be able to connect with people in a positive way,” he says.
He early on decided against hiring the all-too-common irascible gun expert. “I can’t teach soft skills,” he says. “And being able to work with people, some of whom may have very little experience with firearms, is vital to our success.”
The Other Half
CrossRoads Shooting Sports opened in February 2015, in the Des Moines suburb of Johnston. The store, which I visited recently, is everything Tom Hudson envisioned. There are three shooting bays, two of which have windows so customers can watch the action. The third bay, used by law enforcement for practice and certification, has no windows in order to ensure privacy.
Rather than the usual long rows of shelving, CrossRoads features a series of shorter shelves, many of which are placed at angles to create a more inviting, less overwhelming shopping experience. The low-rise gun case/countertops use soft-glow interior lighting similar to that found in high-end jewelry and watch stores. Those display cases, which Tom Hudson admits “cost me a lot,” are also theft-prevention units with roll-down security covers.
Off the selling floor, Hudson has created a conference/training room for the various types of instruction CrossRoads offers, including permit renewals and concealed-carry courses. Another room contains a state-of-the-art simulator that also can be used to help shooters develop critical skills.
Sixty percent of his customers are new shooters, and 45 percent are women, half of whom come in alone. That may be why nearly half the staff is female, including range program manager Sheena Green.
Green, an accomplished shooter, says, “The number-one rule for selling to women is revolvers are great, but with all the other handguns out there, they shouldn’t always be the first option presented to a woman.”
Her experience behind the counter and on the line has yielded three other tips that can help retailers connect to women shooters. “First, you need to develop the right approach,” she says. “Be the salesperson who asks questions and really listens to the reason why she’s in your store. You may discover additional ways your business can provide service or training beyond a gun purchase. If you’re the one doing all the talking, you’ll never find those things out.
“Second, give her your attention. If a couple is in the store looking at guns, but the gun will be for her, direct all your questions to her. Buying a new gun and learning how to shoot can be an empowering experience, and your sales staff should take pride in being a part of that process.
“Third, keep a woman’s perspective. If you have female staff, chances are they have opinions about gear and guns. Find out what they are so you can use their experiences as examples when talking about different products. This is true when the products are designed for women. For example, I wrote up a list of talking points so our sales staff could have conversations with customers about the Can Can Holster line [concealed-carry holsters specifically designed for women] without me having to be there all the time.”
CrossRoads specializes in personal and home defense and concealed carry. It has a rental program that allows customers to try out firearms and calibers before they buy, which is all part of Hudson’s mission to create “total value to the customer, rather than just a financial transaction. We should be seen as a community resource.”
And though the business model is firmly rooted in personal protection, Hudson hasn’t forgotten the fun of shooting. The range offers several ongoing and popular thematic shoots, such as Friday Date Nights, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween. “We even have a Silent Night shoot, one that features suppressors,” he says.
CrossRoads was quickly recognized by NSSF as an exemplary facility, and it proudly posts its Five Star Range certificate. (CrossRoads earned this distinction under the old rating system; it is currently working on its application under the new NSSF Star-Rating Range Program.) It has also been honored with another award—The Crimson Trace Premium Range Award. In fact, it is the first range in the country to be so honored. It earned this distinction by participating in a retailer education program Crimson Trace calls the Crimson Trace Classroom, the object of which is to educate retailers about the benefits of laser-sight systems. The program includes a 50-round course of fire designed to give participating sales staff the kind of hands-on experience that can help them thoroughly explain what a laser sight is and how it works.
Crimson Trace believes such training is vital to its continued success. That’s why it has also established the Crimson Trace Premium Range Award.
“Crimson Trace has again raised the bar on customer service by establishing our Premium Range Program and working closely with top-tier firearms retailers across America to help them better serve their customers, who are also Crimson Trace customers,” says Lane Tobiassen, Crimson Trace president.
Casey Hauan, Crimson Trace’s regional sales rep, presented the award to Tom Hudson during my visit. “CrossRoads was easy to partner with because the range and shop are a symbiotic relationship,” he told me after the presentation. “They feed off each other.”
Indeed they do. And given that this operation is at the intersection of customer and community service, it is also very well named.
—Slaton L. White