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SHOOTING RANGE BRAND IDENTITY
Over the years of building indoor shooting ranges across the United States, the process of taking a brand from concept to cash register has increasingly included more involvement in floor planning and brand identity. Recently, in a conversation with a soon-to-be range owner-operator, the idea of including the term "outfitters" on signage arose. The rationale is that firearms are historically an outdoor activity and the products offered in-store should correspond or at least complement.
The use of “outfitters” is a new idea in discussions about the brand, so we explored the notion further, and below is a summary of some considerations worth mentioning.
Retail prophet Doug Stephens talks about "New Retail" and the need to empower staff to put the customer at the center of everything we do. Use tech to streamline and improve our operations across all aspects of our business. From the services we offer that make it easier to book an appointment, a service, a product. The physical store allows the customers to EXPERIENCE the brand. What is an experience? Content: physical, digital, emotional & cognitive content needs to be brought to the customer. Commerce and entertainment needs to be blurred. Content and experience through engagement. When in the store, more physical displays and touch points are key.
The store is the media channel. But what unique purpose do the public facing spaces (for the typical indoor shooting range facility this is, the range bays / lanes themselves, the retail store, lounge and classroom spaces (individually and when stacked / combined in various ways)) offer, that ultimately serve the brand? If your brand is the answer, what's the question?
Facebook, Instagram, the shooting range’s website, radio, billboards, and TV ads as media channels should be seen as marketing tactics, not strategies. They all have their time, place, and specific purpose. Therefore, to answer specifically, there are questions that need consideration...
real estate options for indoor shooting ranges
Discussed below are Real Estate Options for an Indoor Shooting Range table of contents
a) lease / retrofit an existing building
Design Issues with leasing space for an indoor shooting range
GC’s Perspective on upfitting space for an indoor shooting range
Landlord’s Perspective on an indoor range as a tenant
Perceived Time Savings in constructing a in leased space
Perceived Money Savings and construction budget implications on leased space
Market Conditions for an indoor shooting range
Change of Use Permit for an indoor shooting range
Financial Implications of leasing space for an indoor shooting range
b) new ground up construction
Property seller’s mindset and willingness to enter a contract for a shooting range
Funding for an indoor shooting range
Design implications for an indoor shooting range
Regularly the topic of property is the first issue someone wants to tackle when considering establishing a new shooting range facility. However, the Range Development Services, LLC recommended sequence of tasks has a proven track record of searching for, evaluating, contracting for, and dealing with a host of requisite due diligence issues for real estate further down the list.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the three major hurdles to establishing an indoor shooting range, but absolutely not the first (or even the second) priority. If it is, you’ll have the cart before the horse from day one. Another key element of real estate for a shooting range is time. Time is necessary to complete your project funding, zoning, entitlements, design, permitting and bidding.
Leasing and retrofit of existing space for a shooting range are the same with the exception of the landlord’s perspective mentioned below. While not impossible, because a few do exist, leasing a building for purposes of establishing an indoor shooting range rarely occurs. Just a few of the reasons why include:
Design issues: when the building you are considering was designed and constructed, it was engineered for a different use, a less intense use. Shooting ranges have significantly different requirements which, to-date, we have not found present in any buildings we have evaluated for renovation. The issues will be unique to each property but include structural capability of walls, roof / ceiling structures, ballistic requirements, sound abatement issues, etc. Additionally, the footprint locks in a limited number of options for the building floor plan. Floor plans can impact the customer experience and operational excellence when forced to “make it work”.
For starters, generally speaking, an indoor shooting range retrofit requires:
14’ clear high for ductwork to be installed above the ceiling baffles.
Existing walls need to be poured in place or tilt panel construction and smooth to avoid additional costs in making them ballistically safe.
Floors must be flat
The space needs to be void of any structural features
Down range doors will need to be either sealed or ballistically protected.
General Contractors perspective: Through the remodel process, the existing structure has to be both selectively demolished and protected. Even in the instance in which the historical construction documents are available, the level of detail and location of key improvements (i.e. the location of electrical, plumbing, etc) are going to require some guess work, which translates into more time and money spent.
Landlord’s impatience: Most landlords will only give a short period of time for due diligence 30 days, maybe 60 and then serious escrow money will be due and then rent commencement will begin. The rent commencement date is typically going to occur early in the construction process and to upfit for a range with the concrete walls can easily take months for numerous reasons. Then range equipment ballistic and HVAC combined will be six weeks sometime as long as 10. All the while monthly rent is due creating a cash flow hold to dig out of starting day one of operations.
Perceived time savings: A building must be constructed inside the existing building for ballistics and sound abatement. Once the walls are designed to carry the load of the steel baffles and roof system (whether concrete or bar joists) the existing slab likely will not have the structural capability to carry the loads. This will require cutting the several feet of width around the wall footprint, digging the subgrade up and installing new footings.
Perceive money saved: A different approach to design will be required. Different approach to due diligence. The GC and the subcontractors will have to 1) care for and protect the building systems that are to remain and sometimes explore to find exact locations of a pipe or wire. Because they can not build in the same order they would in ground up construction with backhoes and bobcats it's more tedious work. In the end, we might shave off a month, at most two or it could take longer than building a new building. It all depends on the given set of the existing building conditions.
If market conditions are such that land is not available or getting development approvals is difficult, retrofitting a building is a good option to save time. This is rarely the case though. Several metro areas in California are likely better for retrofitting an existing building for an indoor shooting range. Other exceptions making retrofitting an existing building viable would be 1) for the purposes of a simple range without all the typical, more prevalent features of a modern shooting range, or 2) when you have a desperate landlord who just wants a tenant (an exceedingly rare occurrence in today's market.) In other words, if you want to establish just a place to shoot and can pay rent while you rezone and remodel the building, it may be an option. But that’s a cash flow hardship that building from scratch does not present.
Change of use permit: As an example...
ONE SHOT AT A SHOOTING RANGE
Most people who have an interest in building a shooting range really only get one shot at it.
Their motives are to own and operate a range. They are not independently wealthy and otherwise “set for life” financially. They are entrepreneurs at heart with a number of other skills and tendencies, have a passion for firearms, and are driven to share that passion with others as the platform through which they can generate not only income, but wealth.
Why do you only get one shot at the process of building an indoor shooting range? There are several reasons, but first let's clarify something. The processes involved in establishing a range are numerous and require an experienced hand to navigate efficiently and effectively. They are unique to each shooting range facility established. And notice, I said, “processes”. Establishing a shooting range is a process consisting of many processes (steps, tasks, scopes:) legal, financial, real estate, brand, design, HR, marketing...
Indoor Shooting Range Development, Design and Upfit Checklist
Over the past year or so I've been diligently organizing and documenting a detailed Indoor Shooting Range Development, Design and Upfit Checklist that I use with the architect, civil engineer, and General Contractor to improve the quality of the design documents they produce. I continue to find items to add and issues to update and further clarify weekly. It takes me and a design team and GC many hours over several meetings to sort through all the issues but I'm requiring that on each job, we in fact work through the list and check each item off to ensure it's been addressed appropriately in the plans. The list includes issues that impact each of the trades; mechanical, electrical, plumbing and structural, and virtually all the subs; as well as vendors like ballistic and HVAC equipment, facility security, retail displays, etc.
The result is a dramatically increased level of detail and quality in the permit / construction documents which are then used by the GC who can now bid the project with unmatched clarity. GC's earn a fee on each project, as you know, and they also make money on the change orders. Many good ones will seek to price a project while bidding by asking questions and addressing the issues, but it's not a guarantee that they will catch everything. They do, however, have within their exclusions and exceptions language in their contract that ensures that the owner will be the one to pay, not them.
However, that's not a complete picture. They earn a fee on the change to cover their time for the issue to be addressed / fixed / modified and then, for a large percentage of the change orders, there's the need for the design team to document the change with updates or new detailed design documents. At this point the design team charges hourly. They may or may not have additional time if the issue concerns building code items and must be re-reviewed by the city building standards department so that the city field inspectors will have the accurate information. It's when the need to modify plans costs the owner additional hourly fees from the design team, and the time it takes to produce those changes then causes a delay because other work can not be completed and / or materials or even special equipment have to be ordered (a much bigger issue in today's supply chain issues). When the GC's work is slowed / delayed, they will charge thousands of dollars per day (on top of the percent fee they charge based on the cost of the changes,) because for each day they are on a job, they have certain fixed costs...
Building and Site Plan Design
Equipment and Utilities
The decision about which bullet trap to use in your indoor shooting range is an important one. Bottom line, a granulated rubber trap is the way to go. Below is a deep dive into why.
RUBBER BULLET TRAP FEATURES:
are one-third the cost of a steel trap.
require less building square footage than a steel trap.
involve no moving parts.
I’ve seen more than one steel trap fail and have to be replaced with a rubber trap at the owner's expense.
more quiet than a steel bullet trap
BUILDING AND SITE PLAN DESIGN:
Steel traps require at least three feet behind them with an access door for lead removal if your design utilizes buckets that are manually removed and replaced with empties. Or, if you have an auger, the rounds will be augered out of the building and dropped into a 55 gallon drum. The auger set up requires storage space for multiple empty and then full drums in a location that is accessible to the recycling truck. When working through the details of your site plan, (building footprint, parking, setbacks, firelane, screening requirements and buffers) including a pick up location for the drums often adds cost and unnecessarily complicates the design solutions.
Steel traps also have a larger footprint than rubber traps. Considering the different trap designs, you will save approximately six linear feet of depth with a rubber bullet trap. Multiply that by the combined width of all your lanes and then by the per square foot cost of your building and you have more savings. Oh, don’t forget the three feet behind the trap mentioned above.
Also, there’s the dust collection unit (DCU) that removes lead dust created when a round strikes the steel on its way into the decel chamber that has to be located outside the building. Bullet trap DCU’s are approximately 14 feet tall. Most zoning regulations require equipment like augers and DCU’s to be fully screened which, again, adds to cost. For security purposes, and to keep curious ones away from stored lead, this equipment will need to be secured. If it’s not screened per zoning, you’ll want it locked behind a fence.
EQUIPMENT AND UTILITIES:
The DCU and auger have electric power requirements which add to a range’s operating cost. There are filters in the DCU that have to be replaced, so there are material and labor costs associated. Don’t forget to add some storage space for...