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How to Own and Operate A Commercial Shooting Range

 

ShootingRangeHeader-01

Controversy aside, gun ranges are growing in popularity and many remain profitable businesses. For those individuals who are considering opening a gun range, or for business owners who are further along in the process, this guide will provide plenty of resources to set you up for success.

 

Profitability and Market Outlook for Gun Ranges

 

In 2015, Research and Markets released a market forecast to 2020, which projects that the gun range market will reach $1.08 billion over that span. 8.35% is the annual growth rate projection, so there is plenty of opportunity for gun range businesses to make gains.

According to reports, Europe will dominate the indoor range market, while North America will maintain control over the outdoor market. In addition, with increased defense spending, the military will share 59.81% of the total market. These trends may help you decide on what sort of range you would like to open.

As with any other business, if you have a lot of sales/customers and operational costs are low, you will see a hefty profit. This sample income statement of an indoor range shows how profitable this type of business can be. For example, their operational costs were $900,582.66 while they made $1,628,219.05 in revenue. Their profit for that period was $727,636.39, with the most profit made from accessory sales. This spreadsheet gives an idea of operational costs and what venues to focus on (the most profitable parts of a gun range business).

As a market that is proven to be growing, gun ranges offer a significant opportunity for profit, which is something that business owners and/or investors in any industry may want to consider, especially if you are comparing industries in which to invest.

First Steps

 

To be a range owner, there isn’t any specific education requirement, but you should be knowledgeable and have an interest in guns and shooting. However, like any other small business, you only need an entrepreneurial spirit, funding and plan to open your range.

After you’ve acquired the funding and/or financing you need to open your gun range business venture, the next thing you should consider as you create your business plan is the type of range you wish to open. There are two types of ranges, outdoor and indoor. Both have their own set of challenges and benefits. The type of range may also be affected by zoning requirements, since there are different requirements for each type.

Indoor Gun Ranges:

 

The Benefits of Indoor Ranges

 

As the name suggests, indoor ranges are inside a building and can be built or located anywhere zoning laws allow. We’ll go over zoning requirements later on in this guide.

The benefits of indoor ranges are:

  • Can be located near high traffic areas
  • Facilitates lead maintenance
  • Noise is easier to control
  • Add a profit-enhancing pro shop
  • Shooters can practice in any weather

 indoor-shooting-range-diagram

Since indoor ranges can be located in cities, it makes them more accessible to potential customers. Furthermore, they can be near malls or other high traffic areas, which is a bonus for indoor ranges. By being located near high traffic areas, and convenient to access, more customers will come to your range, increasing profit. With more customers the likelihood of word-of-mouth advertising also increases, again attracting more customers.

Indoor ranges can also be extremely profitable if they include a pro shop. Pro shops can offer guns, ammunition, and accessories. You can also sell your own merchandise, such as tees and hats, with your range logo on them. By renting out the guns you sell in your pro shop, you are more likely to make a sale. Shooters get to try out the merchandise, unlike online shops, and the more flexible purchasing process will appeal more to customers.

Safety and Environmental Concerns with Indoor Ranges

 

When considering some safety and environmental concerns associated with gun ranges, indoor ranges offer a few advantages. Ranges are subject to many safety requirements, including noise pollution and safety, and it’s often easier for indoor ranges to meet these requirements as compared with outdoor ranges.

Noise within the range is still a risk to the health and safety of your customers and employees. To limit hearing damage, you can offer your customers the ability to rent gear to protect their ears. This rentable safety gear could be ear mufflers or earplugs, or even special hearing aids to block out the blast of firing a round.

Besides the safety of your customers, you have to consider the safety of those in the community. This is where noise pollution comes into play. Your range might be near apartment buildings or shopping centers, where people nearby aren’t shooting but are still affected by the noise. Depending on how close they are to the range, blasts from shooting could damage these individuals’ hearing. In addition, the ‘noise pollution’ of gunshots from the range may disturb people in their homes and cause them to complain.

An indoor range can contain most of the noise from shooting. The gun shot noise stays within the building, making noise safety for your customers and employees your only concern. Refer to the diagram below for information about safe sound levels:

 

safe-sound-levels-diagram

Another safety issue is lead contamination. There are very strict guidelines from the EPA and OSHA regarding lead safety, which ranges must obey. Failure to comply can result in closure and fines. An indoor range offers more safety and is more environmentally friendly with regards to lead, because spent bullets stay inside the range and the indoor range has more options for containment of bullets and their lead dust. It’s easier to manage lead distribution in an indoor range as compared to outdoor gun ranges, especially when you use bullet traps.

Drawbacks to Indoor Ranges

 

Despite having less of an environmental impact and more profitability than outdoor ranges, there are obstacles with indoor ranges. The main issue is the expense in building an indoor range that meets safety requirements.

The disadvantages to indoor ranges:

  • Ventilation requirements
  • Limited space
  • Line shooting only (typically)
  • Gun restrictions
  • Zoning restrictions

Indoor ranges must have a high-quality HVAC system with air filters to keep shooters and employees safe. The system provides ventilation to keep the range from getting too smoky while the filter collects harmful lead particles and prevents them from escaping and contaminating the air. These systems are critical for preventing lead poisoning in shooters and employees.

Indoor range owners must also invest in noise reduction, since they are often located in the surrounding area of other businesses. Foam, sealants, special doors, and other applications lead to added construction costs.

Another issue with indoor ranges is space limitation. Shooters can only shoot at the line, unless the range has added costly indoor courses. Recreational indoor ranges aren’t suitable for field training for special forces or military personnel. Adding an indoor shooting course would drive up costs for a bigger building.

Due to space and closeness of other shooters on the line, there are gun restrictions. Shooters can typically only use pistols and single-shot firearms.

The restrictions with indoor ranges may cause some shooters to look for an outdoor range, instead.

Outdoor Gun Ranges:

 

The Benefits of Outdoor Ranges

 

Outdoor ranges can be set in a variety of open-air (covered or uncovered) natural setting, which some shooters prefer due to the more realistic setting and larger grounds.

The benefits of outdoor ranges are:

  • More mobility
  • Multiple stations
  • Realistic scenarios
  • Reduced cost to build

Outdoor ranges provide more mobility than indoor ranges. Since the range isn’t contained to a single building, shooters can move more freely between different areas of the shooting course.

With increased space, outdoor ranges can have multiple stations. In this way, shooters aren’t limited to shooting in a line and have more variety. Gun range owners can get more creative with the different shooting stations, with fun themes and decorations to enhance the experience. An outdoor range can take the simple hobby of shooting from the basic line, and offer something far more engaging, creating a golf course style gun range or even something as elaborate as an adventure park style gun range.

Outdoor ranges are also capable of presenting more realistic scenarios to their guests. Targets can be placed in areas covering the span of the range, at varying distances to bring more of a challenge. In addition, vehicles can go from station to station, a tactic used in military training.

Finally, outdoor ranges are usually less expensive to build. Construction is expensive in itself, requiring a lot of time, money and materials without the special needs of indoor ranges. Outdoor ranges don’t require a building, nor costly HVAC systems and filters.

Environmental and Safety Concerns with Outdoor Ranges

 

While outdoor ranges offer flexibility and variety, they do present some environmental and safety challenges.

An outdoor range’s greatest safety challenge is noise. Since the range is out in the open, it is more difficult to control the loud sounds from gunshots. People outside of the range can get irritated from the sound of gunshots if they are in hearing range. If an outdoor range is too close to a residential area, they may get a lot of noise/nuisance complaints from residents. Outdoor ranges typically can only be open from sunrise to sunset, under USDA regulation.

Other factors besides noise can hurt non-shooters. Most importantly, lead contamination is the major environmental threat with outdoor ranges. Lead is not water soluble, and can pollute water if the two elements come into contact. It can reach water from rain runoff of contaminated soil, so it’s critical that outdoor ranges are far from water sources. Lead contamination impacts wildlife too; animals can get sick from eating contaminated grasses.

Without proper care to contain lead particles from fired bullets, there is a serious risk of damage to the environment and natural ecosystems of wildlife. The possible consequences on the community and wildlife can make outdoor ranges less environmentally friendly and therefore, less optimal in some cases.

 

Drawbacks to Outdoor Ranges

diagram-of-outdoor-shooting-range

The disadvantages of outdoor ranges are:

  • Greater difficulty of bullet containment
  • Soil/water lead contamination
  • Remote/rural location requirement
  • Less convenient location for shooters

Since outdoor ranges often cover huge plots of land, there’s more ground to cover for cleanup of used bullets. Shooters can also use multiple stations, and even sometimes shoot from moving vehicles as part of tactical training. These combined factors make bullet containment difficult for an outdoor gun range. However, the appropriate recovery and disposal of used bullets is incredibly important, due to the presence of lead dust and residue that will contaminate the soil and water if left behind.

Soil and water contamination is a serious issue, and a disadvantage for outdoor ranges. These ranges must follow the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) laws, under which lead is considered hazardous waste.

Gun ranges have to register as generators of hazardous waste, but they are under contract. Owners are responsible for the safe and correct disposal of lead, including the use of lead reclamation services. These services allow owners to safely store lead until pick-up. Gun ranges must keep records of pick up and storage of spent lead bullets.

Outdoor ranges near bodies of water must follow RCRA as well as the Clean Water Act. To avoid violations, ranges can operate away from water or make sure it’s not near the line of fire.

If an outdoor range becomes more of a threat to the community and environment for failing to follow RCRA and CWA regulations, the EPA, government, or citizens can sue. Gun ranges can face a lawsuit whether they are open for business or not, so owners must be careful.

A business obstacle of outdoor gun ranges is the requirement that they be remote. Since they are outside and require a lot of space for loud activities, they must be located away from towns and cities. Outdoor gun ranges are almost always in rural and remote locations in order to follow the laws for noise. Unfortunately for gun range owners, this may create a barrier for some customers who are unable to travel outside of their town or city to go shooting. The remoteness of outdoor ranges limits their customer base. Shooters have to travel longer and to further distances, which may be less appealing.

State Requirements for Gun Ranges

 

Currently there are no special state license requirements to open a gun range, beyond those of opening any other business. Any issues with your state will likely be with zoning, and these laws vary from state to state. Cities will even have different requirements than others located in the same state.

 

Zoning Laws

 

There are no federal zoning laws restricting the development of gun ranges. Generally, gun ranges can only be on commercial property, but there can be special limitations depending on the state.

For example, in Washington state, the cities and towns determine zoning requirements. The state requires businesses selling firearms to be at least 500 feet away from schools.

In Illinois, some cities have more restrictions. In Evanston for example, gun ranges are “special use” and can only be located in industrial zones. In addition, gun sales can only happen at a store inside the range. Gun shops are not allowed.

When planning the location for your range, it’s best to work with the city in which you plan to be located in order to best decide where to open up shop. There is too much variance in zoning laws to plan this aspect without professional help. It’s better to work with city officials than to plan a range that you’ll end up having to move or stop building because it’s in a prohibitive zone.

 

Federal Firearms Licensing

 

While there is no special license necessary to own and operate a gun range, if you wish to rent or sell firearms or firearm accessories, you must have Federal Firearms Licensing (FLL).

Federal Firearms Licenses require fees based on manufacture, sale or import of firearms. For your gun range business you would need an 01/02 License to rent and/or sell firearms. If you choose to house collectables and 03 license as well.

Having FLL will increase the profitability of your business, since you can legally sell firearms to shooters. This will make you the most money after you open your business, until you have made a name for your range.

The license is more expensive when you first get it. You can renew your license every 3 years at a cheaper cost.

 

Gun Range Start-Up Costs

 

Start-Up Costs Associated with Indoor Ranges

 

Indoor ranges are very expensive to build. They require a lot of special equipment that can cost several thousand dollars per stall. The more stalls you wish to have, the more expensive the range will be to build.

After construction costs for the building itself, it can cost an approximate additional $500,000 to build an indoor range. One of the most expensive elements is the HVAC system, which carries a price point of about $25,000 per stall. The HVAC system is required for indoor shooting ranges, in order to provide the necessary ventilation and lead containment.

You will also need bullet traps, target systems, and baffles. Prices vary with the types of materials used, but on the low end, the cost would be about $214,000 for 10 lanes.

Although they offer a significant revenue-enhancing opportunity, pro shops increase gun range start up costs. The start up cost of a gun shop is $10,000 – $50,000.

 

Start-Up Costs Associated with Outdoor Ranges

 

Outdoor ranges require less equipment, and equipment that is typically much cheaper than indoor range equipment. You can even make some of the equipment and structures yourself at a low cost. Outdoor ranges also don’t need a building, which cuts down on costs as well.

The bulk of the start up cost will come from materials to build barriers, bullet catchers, etc. You would also need to plan for labor costs to build these items if you can’t build them yourself. Finally, you will need to pay for a plot of land large enough to have a range. To give you an idea of potential costs, check out this article about Liberty University’s outdoor range. They plan to build on a 500 acre plot and it will cost $3 million.

 

Business Planning for Gun Ranges

 

Pricing Services at Your Gun Range

 

When determining pricing for customers to use your gun range, the key is in keeping it affordable, while having a surplus to make a profit. Gun ranges often have membership fees, lane fees and/or hourly rates. You’ll have to determine what members get (hourly rate discounts, free bullets, free training, etc.) to find the right price for return customers.The Range Report released a price sampling of range fees you may want to reference when setting prices.

You also need to price any additional services or products you plan to offer. These may include personal training, classes, rentable rooms in your building. You’ll want to compare your rates with ranges of equal weight in your area.

 

Securing Funding for Your Range

 

After following the earlier tips and information listed in this guide, you should have a complete business plan and idea of the sort of range you want to build. You also should have your range location approved by the city or town you’re located in, to ensure it’s allowed for this kind of use before you apply for any loans, grants, or investment.

Since you need a large sum of money, you will probably need to get funds from multiple sources. Potential sources for funds:

  • Personal savings
  • Community investment
  • Friends
  • Grants
  • Investors
  • Loans

A good place to start is with your own personal savings, since this may be the most quickly available money and it is interest-free. See what you can afford to put into your range. Personally investing in your gun range also shows potential investors and bankers you believe in your business.

The community and personal friends are great sources as well. One idea is to start two separate GoFundMe accounts, one for the community and one for friends.

For the friend account, be sure to talk about what the range means to you. Talk about other sources of funding you are working on and share your business plan. Show them you are starting a legitimate business and you may get their support.

On your community page, you should focus on people who live in the neighborhoods around your range site. Not only will this produce potential customers, it will show the demand for a range in that area. Investors and bankers will be more willing to loan if you can show there’s a demand.

Grant applications can take time, but it’s worth it if you win! This is one of the best options because you get a decent sum of money that you won’t have to repay. The NRA site has a list of grants you can check out and apply for if you are eligible.

The appeal of having an investor is that you can get whatever sum they are willing to put into your range. You could get thousands you don’t have to pay back, if you give up a piece of the business in exchange. The drawback of course is that you have to share a stake in your business. If you don’t mind sharing the profits, though, this is another good option.

Applying for a loan should be the last option you choose for financing your gun range. Some banks may require a collateral or charge higher rates for small businesses, so that’s something you should prepare for.

Building Your Indoor Range

If your range site doesn’t already have a building, you must contract to build it. Shooting stalls need to be at least 82ft long, so the building must accommodate enough space for that. If you want to include a shop, storage or classrooms, the building plans should include space for them.

Ceilings should be low near shooting stalls, and each stall needs ventilation. Each vent must have a HEPA air filter to trap lead particles.

Be sure to include a bullet trap, either steel or rubber, based on your preference. Rubber traps are better for noise control, since they don’t resound the impact as much as steel traps. In addition to rubber traps, steel core doors help trap sound and are perfect for your range entrance.

To minimize the noise problems that gun ranges have to combat, you should consider installing foam to line the walls and absorb the firing sounds. Class-1 foam is very popular. Start applying it 12ft  from the firing line and end 20ft away from the bullet trap. You can line the entire ceiling, and be sure to seal all outlets with weather stripping.

Some final tips:

  • Place the shooting line section of your range as far away from other businesses as possible
  • Keep shooting targets away from shared walls with other businesses
  • Stick with concrete flooring for the shooting line

 

Building Your Outdoor Range

 

An outdoor range doesn’t require any extra construction or special equipment, so you can set up fairly quickly after you purchase the land.

Vegetation can also lower setup costs. You will need a backstop berm, and it can be man-made or out of vegetation. Keep in mind that vegetation requires more upkeep. Sandbags or cement blocks can secure backstops.

A bullet box is an alternative to a backstop berm. An option for a low cost bullet box is a tree butt and three-sided box lined with industrial belting and filled with sand. Chicken wire can hold up targets.

An exterior berm prevents bullets from leaving the range. It must be 12ft tall with sidewall slopes, and can be made from vegetation or other materials. An interior berm keeps bullets from leaving the bay. It must be a minimum of 8ft tall with a slope and flat top that is 4ft wide.

You may also want a firing line bench rest with a seat and platform for shooters to aim shots. A firing line enclosure sits behind shooters and stops fired bullets. It sits over the firing line, and also helps prevent blue-sky.

Bullet catchers are required, and are installed perpendicular to the backstop berm. This device makes bullets come back down on the range so that you can effectively collect them and dispose of them appropriately. Baffles are optional. They sit above the firing line to catch bullets and trap some sound. You should note that, while very useful and effective, they are expensive to install.

Vegetation can also block sound. Grass and shrubs, depending on height and thickness, can reduce 5 to 50 decibels in a 300ft area.  Trees can reduce sound by 3 to 23 decibels in a 300ft area.

Some final tips:

  • If possible, gate your range to keep out non-shooters/wildlife
  • There must be a driveway leading to your range
  • You can also control noise with an elevated or depressed range

 

Launching Your Gun Range

 

This is the point where you are preparing to open your range and want to attract shooters (finally)! Initial safety should be your number-one priority, but you should also plan branding and promotion – they are key in attracting potential customers to your new gun range and business.

How to Keep Your Gun Range Safe

 

You want shooters to have an enjoyable experience so they will want to come again or become members. Part of giving shooters a great experience is having a safe range. In addition to the information provided earlier in this guide about controlling sound, have ear plugs available for shooters. You could also make ear protection mandatory at your range.

Check air filters and HVAC systems frequently to make sure they are working properly. Also never allow shooters to eat on the firing line. This will help limit lead exposure from shooters.

If you will be hiring employees, make sure you are aware of OSHA guidelines. Failure to protect employees can lead to closure and costly fines. Be sure to give employees protective clothing and gear for lead exposure. You should also train them on lead safety, and encourage them to change clothes upon leaving the range.

As the business owner, you should be very knowledgeable about gun safety to prevent any accidents on the range. Post appropriate signs about gun safety throughout your range to remind shooters of any potential risks or dangers. Also include signs about range safety with rules for the range.

 

Branding Your Range

 

The first step in branding is knowing your customer. Unless you have targeted your range to a niche group, you should brand your gun range to appeal to anyone from police officers to first-time shooters. Make sure your brand attracts the kinds of shooters you want in your range.

Before you can brand your range, you must know your purpose and what makes you special. Do you want your range to be more social or used for training purposes? What do you offer that makes differentiates you from other gun ranges in the area?

Next, develop a look and style for all of your documents and promotional materials such as business cards, signage, and merchandise. Think of a logo that is easily identifiable. You will be using it for any advertisements, building designs, and swag so it must be appropriate for all platforms.

Finally, set up a website and get active on social media platforms. After potential customers see your logo or advertisement, they will look for more information and it must be available.

 

Advertising and Promotions

 

Aside from word-of-mouth, advertising is the way to get more people to come and use your gun range. Before you open your doors for the first time, get a plan in place to promote your gun range in local newspapers as well as using digital marketing methods.

Your advertisements should include any promotions offered at your range. Think about giving special discounts or reduced membership fees when you first open. Opening day is a good day for promotion as well. You can give out free swag with your logo, which customers can wear and promote your gun range whenever they wear it. T-shirts and hats are especially good because customers can wear them at any time, as opposed to branded gun accessories that they may only use at the range.

Advertising isn’t just for promotion; it can help minimize questions from potential customers. If you wish to cater to a wide demographic, you must prepare for questions. Answer common questions within your advertisements to do the work for the customer and make it easier for them to simply jump in the car and head to your gun range.

For example, first-time shooters may not know that they don’t need a gun permit to shoot. So your advertisements can include statements like, “no permits necessary, come learn from an experienced instructor.” In that way, you draw in a customer you may not have had the opportunity to reach otherwise.

 

Consider NSSF Star Rating Status

 

Reviews and ratings are another great way to pull customers in. It shows them you are credible and offer quality, safe services.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation has a star rating system to award quality ranges. Ratings range from 3 to 5 stars. The NSSF site provides a rubric with the criteria to get a star rating. Once you are ready, you can apply directly on the NSSF site.

Requirements include offering services to help your community. You can impact your community by lecturing schools on gun safety, offering classes and letting officers train at your range.