06 August 2014
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Shooting ranges are changing; that fact is indisputable. As more women and families are becoming involved in the shooting sports, many ranges are trying to create a friendly atmosphere that will appeal to families. At the same time, however, ranges still need to stay in touch with their more traditional core customers.
Two ranges, both located in Florida, are grappling with these issues very successfully. Shooters World in Tampa and Nexus Shooting in Davie—both new ranges and both Five Star facilities—have very different approaches to providing a positive experience for their customers. At the same time, both ranges are offering a look into the future of the shooting sports with innovative and creative ideas for reaching new shooting demographics. Furthermore, both ranges are looking to expand through additional locations, although neither one is willing to give details yet.
Nexus Shooting Range
Zach Snow, Manager, Shooting Promotions, for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), said the Nexus Shooting Range is beyond state of the art.
“It uses advanced technologies that really bring shooting sports to life in an indoor format,” he said. “It presents an image that is very clean, and welcoming to anyone and everyone. Nexus uses very diverse marketing with a very diverse approach and technologies that simplify the management process.”
Dr. Bernard Hsiao is a physician and one of the owners of the Nexus Shooting Range. When he became a shooter in 2008, he had health concerns about ventilation and other conditions on the range where he was shooting, so he, his brother Michael and Christopher Longsworth decided to build a range that would be a place they wanted to shoot.
“Michael is from a pure science background,” Hsiao said. “He’s very heavy into technology. Chris is a real-estate developer and general contractor. It’s a very interesting partnership, because I’m the shooter, Michael is the technology guy and Chris was the construction guy.”
The three partners set out to build a world-class range. “The premise behind our range is three-fold,” Dr. Hsiao said. “We wanted to create a very healthy and safe environment. We wanted it to be very modern and we wanted it to be very tech heavy.” They built from the ground up. Longsworth designed and built a $15 million facility, and Michael Hsiao worked on the technology. The most impressive part of the technology is on the Nexus lanes. “On the Nexus lanes, we have an electronic targeting live-fire computerized system,” Hsiao said. “This is a system that we developed on our own. The shooter uses his actual gun, with real ammunition in it, and shoots at a video screen. The computer detects the hits and analyzes and scores the targets.” This is more than just simple target shooting. “It’s immersive and interactive,” Hsiao said. “We can project any sort of video scenario on a screen. We have moving targets, simulated steel, games like shooting galleries and one where you defend the Earth from asteroids that are crashing toward it. We can do zombies or video scenarios for law enforcement.”
This is all controlled by a touch screen at the shooting position. “You have your own digital account where you can keep track of your scores,” Hsiao said. “The system analyzes every shot you take. It tells you how far your shot was away from the center of the target, what your group size was and where your mean point of impact was. Then it guides you to become a better shooter. It will tell you if you’re anticipating the recoil and how to fix it.” The digital account maintains a database over time, so shooters can see how they improve and what they still need to work on. “The system will give you a shot-by-shot e-mail,” Hsiao said. “It will also e-mail you a picture of the target.”
The Nexus Shooting Range has a total of 40 shooting lanes, Hsiao said. “Twenty-two are the Nexus lanes, and 18 are traditional,” he said. Hsiao said the partners set out to create a very welcoming environment. “We have greeters at the door,” he said. “We cater very specifically to groups who traditionally would not come into a gun store because of the intimidation factor. We cater very heavily to women shooters and to youth, and we have five different women’s groups who shoot exclusively with us. We offer free youth classes, because we wanted to reach out to youth. We also do blood drives and work with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.”
Snow says Shooters World also is a great model for tomorrow’s ranges. “It has a short ‘plinking’ range where new shooters can try steel,” he said, “and everything out to a 100-yard range for rifles. This is something I’d like to see become a new norm in the indoor shooting arena. It also has a great store layout that caters to everyone from the new shooter to the law enforcement and tactical shooter in a way that doesn’t present any intimidation to the new shooter. Considering how well rounded Shooters World is with its inventory, its store layout is wisely designed. It’s clean and very easy for a new shooter to navigate and find what he or she is looking for.”
Walk through the front door of Shooters World and you find yourself in an airy entryway with a concierge desk, where an employee greets you with a cheerful smile. The interior of the store looks like a boutique in a mall, with general shooting and hunting on the left and tactical on the right. Down a long, wide hall you can see the shooting range. It’s all open, well lit and inviting.
According to General Manager Bruce Kitzis, the separation of general shooting and hunting from tactical was deliberate. “That was one of our main concerns as we laid the store out and designed it,” he said. “We wanted to get away from the stigma that a gun shop is a ‘man’s place.’ Separating the two areas lets new shooters who may be a little nervous about the ‘gun thing’ have a relaxed introduction to firearms.”
That kind of detailed planning also extended to the range area. “We wanted to be sure that the range area was well lit,” Kitzis said. “We wanted the lanes to be wider than standard so that customers can have enough room to shoot with an instructor.”
Kitzis and the owners of Shooters World also departed from the usual layout of ranges in other ways.
“It’s almost an unwritten rule that the distance from the back wall to the shooting line is 10 feet,” Kitzis said. “But that spacing makes the area cramped and loud.” In contrast, the shooting line at Shooters World is 20 feet from the back wall, allowing room for customers to walk behind active shooters to minimize the chance of getting hit by flying brass and with reduced concussion from guns being fired on the line. The flooring, also, is designed to create a hospitable environment for shooters. “We used pads like they use for weightlifters who drop those big barbells,” Kitzis said. “It’s hard rubber that’s comfortable on the feet.”
Outside the range proper, two different lounge areas provide a place for shooters to put up their feet. In one of those areas, Shooters World provides complimentary coffee and sodas for customers. The range itself has both an entrance and an exit for smooth traffic flow and improved noise management. “We made two airlocks so there’s an entrance and an exit,” Kitzis said. “That way you don’t hear the noise of the shooting range. We also put in full windows of bullet-proof glass so the range can be viewed from the lounge.” Shooters World has a total of 34 shooting lanes. Twenty-seven of them are 25-yard pistol lanes, and the remaining seven are 100-yard rifle lanes and are located on a separate range. On the rifle range, shooters have access to special technology to enhance their range experience. “We created a camera system that has a TV screen on each lane,” Kitzis said. “The camera is focused on the target area, so when your target is out and you shoot, it shows your bullet strikes.”
It doesn’t matter what target the shooter is using; he or she can see exactly how the firearm is performing without bringing the target back to the shooting lane. Kitzis said he had several reasons for designing the rifle range this way. “One is that it’s more convenient for the shooter,” he said. “It also saves wear and tear on my equipment.” The cameras are mounted in bullet-proof housings to protect them.
Shooters World has more than 40 different paper targets you can shoot, but that’s not all you can do on the range.
“We have one lane set up for interactive steel targets, which is really fun,” Kitzis said. “We have knockdown targets, moving targets and frangible targets. We can do just about any target you can think of. It’s a lot more fun than just shooting paper.” Range safety officers are present at all times to help customers who need assistance. “We have a full staff of licensed RSOs,” Kitzis said. “We always have someone there to help and to maintain safety.”
Walk up to a counter in Shooters World and you’re just as likely to be helped by a woman as by a man. “Almost fifty percent of our employees are women because these women give such good customer service,” Kitzis said. “We want women and families to have an experience when they come in that’s similar to what they would get at Nordstrom’s or any other high-end store. Everything we do is based on what we can do for the customer.” When it comes to classes, Shooters World goes all out. “We offer about 50 classes,” Kitzis said. “We offer NRA’s First Steps program. Then we do Refuse to be a Victim and concealed weapons classes. We have Introduction to Handguns and Intermediate Handguns, Introduction to Shotguns, Defense in the Home and Defense outside the Home. We also do a family course where we bring in Mom and Dad, or just Mom and kids, and they complete a course on safety with firearms in the home.”
Kitzis said his main goal is to create a friendly, open environment. “This is much more than just a retail store and range,” he said. “It’s an experience.”