I posted this following a trip to a range in Florida for a big match.  This led to the creation of our Public Range...

Big Changes at the Range
due June 1st, 2002

Hi all!

A few of us IPSC shooters made our way down to Jackson Florida and shot the Area 6 Championship. We did OK at the match and had a lot of fun watching really good shooters show us how its done. I also spent several hours checking out the operation of the Gateway Rifle and Pistol Club, the host range.

I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot about how a really successful gun range operates. They have 2800 members, several employees, 15 bays, a nice picnic camping area with RV hookups, a 80 by 60 foot airconditioned building for indoor airgun matches, a nice retail area, new shooter classes, and 17 different competition events every month. The one big difference between what they do and what we are doing here is they have a day rate for nonmembers and a different operating plan. I am in the process of incorporating several of the really good ideas into my business plan and will launch the changes on June 1st. A few of the immediate improvements are remodeling the restroom with counter space, real sinks, and better lighting. Remodeling the Range office as a retail sales area with much more counter space, shelf space, cold drinks and snacks, a much more diverse inventory of the items my members have told me they are looking for at the range, better lighting and fresh carpet and paint.

The main range will be modified to cater to a "day rate" setup that the members can still enjoy but the nonmembers will be restricted to the main range with the rest of the facility off limits until they join.

As for changes in our business plan, I am still sorting them out but it looks like we will make a few changes in the range guest practices, change the age limit for those considered your family, require you to check out rifle rests, spotting scopes, sandbags, shot timers, chronographs, staplers, eye protection and ear muffs by leaving a driver's license as security. I have spent a small fortune over the years replacing the above items as they were either taken from the range or damaged beyond repair. You will want your license back... I need the range items back. It won't cost members anything to use the range stuff and I will now have some accountability.

A change in how often you may bring an individual to the range as your guest is also being considered. At the Gateway Club, members may bring any one they want to the range... they just may only bring that individual once a year as their guest and have the guest use all the bays at the facility with them. The next time the guest comes to shoot with the member, he now pays the day rate and is restricted to using the day rate range area. This encourages people who have come to the range as guests to go ahead and join.

I am considering changing the membership plans available here. I like the family membership and life membership plans. I have not changed the membership dues since we opened. The rate has always been $200 per year with a $75 initiation fee for annual family memberships and $1000 for a life membership with a $25 maintenance fee per year. Would you believe the dues at Gateway are $65 per year with a $65 initiation fee... prorated quarterly for those joining late in the year and collected annually on January 1st.

The F.O.P. Range will now have a "Limited Membership".  It will work like this...    a person can join at a $75 per year rate,  renewable on the first of the year.  The initiation fee will remain the same $75, payable at the time of joining the range.   It will be a family membership with spouses and children up to 20 years old shooting with the member for free.  At 21 they will need their own membership and can purchase one without any initiation fee.  They will have unlimited range use four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  To use the Range on a weekend, defined as Friday, Saturday or Sunday, they would have to pay a $10 per head Range use fee.  This membership plan will allow more people range access at a reduced rate during the days of the week when the range is typically lightly used and will encourage full membership for those wanting to shoot on the weekends.

New members will have to attend a new member orientation that will be held once a week on Friday evening before getting to use the entire facility.  This will cut down on the time the range staff spends going over the range rules, procedures, etc..  New members will be able to use the day rate area until they attend the orientation where the membership badges will be issued.  Anyone can attend the orientation and it will be a good gunhandling and firearms safety refresher course.  It will be free of charge.  Members will be responsible for their card.   It must be displayed attached to their clothing while they are at the range and, if lost, will have a $5 replacement fee.

Nonmembers will be able to use the "day rate range" for a $10 per day fee weekdays and $15 on weekends, Fri. Sat., and Sun.   Children up to 17 are half price.  The nonmembers are restricted to the main range beside the office where they shoot on a highly supervised range that runs hot for 20 minutes, cold for 10 minutes every hour.  I am working of software that will call the line like this... "going hot in two minutes, going hot in one minute, the range is hot - you may commence firing, the range will go cold in two minutes, the range will go cold in one minute, cease fire -  the range is cold - unload and clear all firearms".  When range users arrive, they sign in at the office and are issued a non-member range badge which must be displayed on thier clothing, they will then jump in enter the main range and set up to shoot during the 10 minute cold range period.   They will be able to rent glasses, ear muffs, staplers, rifle rests, chronographs, etc., the things members will be able to use for free.

Because of the day rate income, the Gateway range has really fixed up the member's area of the range, making it the nicest in their part of the world. Their range is paid for, well maintained by paid employees, and stocked with some very nice stuff in the store.

At Gateway, they do not shoot humanoid targets. Not because of any politically correct stance, but because the tall targets leave a greater margin for firing bullets into the ground, skipping them over the berm. They use bulls eye targets on square carboard backing. The target stands last longer, the bullet trajectory is safer with targets placed close to the firing line, away from the berms.

They do not allow rapid rifle fire or pistol fire. A speed limit of 1 round per 2 seconds is enforced there. Here I have already heard many complaints from guys sighting in rifles or doing some benchrest shooting about guys dumping a whole 30 round magazine downrange as fast as they can pull the trigger... many of the rounds hitting the ground before the berm or hitting close to the top of the berm. Those are unsafe actions that need to be addressed. There is now a speed limit on how fast you can empty your mags at the F.O.P. Range.  If the Range Officer hears a rate of fire that is faster than one round every two seconds on the rifle range, he will speak to the shooter - warning him to slow down.   A 2nd warning will result in ending the day of shooting, and a 3rd will result in expulsion from the range.

Look for these and a few other changes in the way this range is operated. My eyes were really opened up this weekend to the way things should be done at a sucessful firing range.

The shotgun range will go the way of the dinosour. I have really enjoyed using it for the last few years but a safety concern has been identified and needs to be corrected. To fire a gun and have the projectile land off your property is an unsafe and inconsiderate act. It also has some liability attached to it. As of today, the shotgun range is now a Police qualification / 50 yard target range. The clay bird thrower will be removed from that range. The covered area will be expanded both to the left and right and several benchrest tables will be added. The surface of the range will be covered with the crushed asphault and permenant target stands installed. The height of the berm will be increased and the distances the police use will be marked.

The last thing I am wanting to do is open 7 days a week. When the income is increased enough to pay the labor to watch and run the range another day, I'll make the change official. The range will them be open 7 days a week with hours running from 9 am til 7 pm Mon - Sat and noon til 5 on Sunday.

I will be posting flyers everywhere I can announcing the changes. My Birmingham News ad will change soon to announce the day rate. Look for the main page of the range web site to detail the changes when they go into effect.

I have let the cat out of the bag because I want your input. What do you think? I think I need to do something to increase the amount of money the range is making. I am working way too hard just to break even here. The Gateway Club is and has been doing it right for a long time. They have a business plan that is working for them. I hope that adapting it to my business plan will work here.

Jacksonville is not any bigger than Birmingham. We have tens of thousands of gun owners in our area. Where do they shoot? They need to shoot here. We have a really nice facility now and it will only get better from here. Let me know what you think. I know any changes will make somebody out there mad and they may quit the range because of them. I know that these changes will bring in more shooters who will join, increasing the capital I'll have for things like a paved road, clubhouse, additional employees to serve members better, new plate racks, water fountains, etc..