Why You Should Consider Hands-On Events at Your Gun Store

With more new gun owners than ever before, hands-on events are more important and more popular than they’ve ever been. How can you cash in?

Why You Should Consider Hands-On Events at Your Gun Store

The firearms industry experienced something different in 2022, a shift some claim borders on tectonic. Manufacturers and organizations held more open-to-the-public shooting events than ever before, and the focus wasn’t competitive shooting. Safely providing gun owners an opportunity to get behind the trigger of company products while showcasing their advantages and building brand loyalty was the target. By all accounts, their aim was true.

Range sessions took place at a variety of locations, and major firms made serious investments in staffing, travel, lodging, food and material to conduct them. There are big benefits if a tactical retailer can get involved or harness the approach as a template for their own mini version. The public’s hungry for information, too, so a seminar featuring an expert speaker on loan from a manufacturer can drive some serious traffic.

Bergara was likely the first company to dabble in the company-exclusive, hands-on approach. In 2017 it quietly held its first Bergara Experience in North Carolina. The location was far from ideal, but the heavy crowd it drew waited patiently in long lines, eager to get behind one of the company’s rifles, send some lead downrange and ask questions.

The program was a big success that continues to this day, but 5.4 million people purchased their first gun in 2020 and 2021, according to the National Sports Foundation. Building brand loyalty was tough in that non-traditional crowd, apparently, because an explosion of company-conducted events quickly followed. A few of last year’s biggest gatherings demonstrate a decided shift in outreach efforts, and precisely why wise retailers should catch this wave before your competitors do.


Freedom Days

Sig Sauer hosted SIG Freedom Days May 6-8, 2022, at Arizona’s Ben Avery Shooting Facility, just north of Phoenix. It was the first consumer range/shooting event ever for the storied company, and attendance was heavy despite a daily pass price of $79.95.

The main attraction was an opportunity to shoot roughly 50 different Sig Sauer guns, but Mossberg was also on hand with some of its most popular shotguns. Demonstrations by professional shooters, expert seminars, no charge for ammunition, displays by 5.11 Tactical, Fieldcraft Survival, Black Rifle Company and others ensured there was something for everyone.


Sturgis Gunfest

Most locations don’t have an annual event that lasts more than a week and attracts roughly half a million people. They do in Sturgis, South Dakota, though, and for 81 years it’s drawn motorcycle enthusiasts from across the nation and every walk of life.

Last year the 82nd Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally added something completely different and, judging by the response, long overdue. GunBroker organized the inaugural Gunfest, which ran August 5-7 at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip Shooting Complex. It allowed enthusiasts to take firearms and gear they’ve been eyeing—or didn’t know existed—for a supervised test ride.

Admission was free, Ammo Inc. provided cartridges, and some of the industry’s finest were on hand, letting prospective buyers send lead downrange. The list was a long one and included Springfield Armory, KelTec, Walther Arms, Kimber, Sig Sauer, IWI and many more.

“Having the opportunity to shoot an extensive line of Springfield Armory firearms makes this a must-attend event,” Steve Kramer, Vice President of Marketing for Springfield Armory correctly predicted before Gunfest. It didn’t hurt that Silencer Central hauled suppressors to the firing line and hosted a Suppressed Village with freebies, giveaways and celebrities.

Companies are eager to get their guns and gear in the hands of consumers, but there’s another current in the water that ebbed a few weeks later.


Shoot United

On August 20, Shoot United, a program quietly launched by Winchester Ammunition in 2021, held something completely different. The free, open-to-the-public event took place at the Hyatt Farms Shooting Complex in Polkton, North Carolina.

The location isn’t as convenient as Phoenix or as magnetic as Sturgis, but it attracted a near-capacity crowd — roughly 150 people. “There is a significant need and responsibility to share accurate, helpful information on responsible firearm ownership, safety and all the benefits of the shooting sports,” Jason Gilbertson, director of marketing for Shoot United, said. “There are millions of people who have never been exposed to firearm ownership, as well as new firearm owners who are searching for information and opportunities to properly train and learn.”

Ammunition was free, golf carts ushered attendees between firing lines, lunch was provided and loaner guns from a wide variety of makers were on hand. The effort hit the bull’s-eye. Every person Tactical Retailer spoke to, including dozens of new gun owners and first-time shooters, gave glowing reports.



CanCon, co-hosted by Silencer Shop, opened several months later, on November 11 in Savannah, Georgia. For three days, enthusiasts sent rounds downrange using suppressors from Dead Air Silencers, Gemtech and SilencerCo. Other manufacturers in attendance included Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory, Taurus, Diamondback and more.

A 2023 version was held in April of this year at the Ben Avery Shooting Range. General admission was $50 each day or a $700 VIP early-bird option.


And More

There are plenty of regional or specialty events that take place annually across the nation, although the number with company-sponsored rifles to test remains relatively low. Despite that fact, many of the gatherings thrive and draw a loyal following.

The popular Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot highlights the danger if a retailer becomes to dependent on one event, though. For half a century, thousands gathered twice a year in West Point, Kentucky, to get behind exotic fully automatic guns, flamethrowers and more. Crowds were thick, and when you weren’t behind a trigger, nearly 1,000 vendors were on hand to peruse.

Shooters came from across the nation, eagerly paying by the magazine they emptied, and they returned with Sturgis-like enthusiasm. The Knob Creek Gun Range remains open, but the last machine gun shoot it will ever host was held in October 2021.


Have Trailer, Will Travel

Shoot Like a Girl was founded in 2008, and its team hauls a fully contained shooting range in a trailer around the nation, allowing people to get behind the trigger at various Bass Pro Shop and Cabela’s stores. The retail chains may be direct competitors for most tactical retailers, but the success of the program speaks volumes.

“With our two brands, Shoot Like A Girl and Safe LivinG, we are able to introduce people to the basics of shooting, inform them on how to be safe and responsible gun owners and encourage them to get training and practice in order to become proficient with their firearm,” Karen Butler, president and CEO of the organization, told Tactical Retailer. “With all kinds of attendees showing diverse backgrounds and demographics, we see an immense thirst for information on firearm safety, along with the confidence and empowerment that accompany shooting sports.” 

Similar trailers can be rented from a variety of different companies nationwide and arrive with trained staff. With a large enough parking lot, an expert speaker on loan and an annual sale, it’s sure to attract a crowd.


Training on the Move

There’s another closely related trend afoot. Training is a critical component for gun ownership, and every retailer has instructors they recommend, but major facilities are expanding. Sig Sauer Academy, for example, recently established a Sig Sauer Outpost system. It allows gun owners in different areas of the country to experience the same level of expertise once only available at its New Hampshire headquarters. Locations currently available include Volusia County, Florida, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“There are at least 25 million new gun owners over the past couple of years and millions more who bought guns over time and never take a training class,” said Tom Taylor, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of commercial sales at Sig Sauer. “This is a major disconnect. Sig has one of the best training facilities in the world with Sig Sauer Academy, but it was formerly one location in New Hampshire. Now, we have expanded our Academy training program to something called Sig Academy Outposts. We think this is just the beginning of doing everything we can to provide great training for anyone who wants to take that important step.”

Armament Systems & Procedures (ASP), traditionally known for its law enforcement products and training, is harnessing a different approach. Its brand new Be Your Own Defender (BYOD) program is establishing a network of trained instructors nationwide to train citizens on self-defense techniques, awareness and effective use of the company’s pepper spray. The reviews have been glowing, and if you’re a retailer who doesn’t have a range on site, hosting one could attract a different flavor of customer — and publicity.

“After researching the market, it was clear that the kind of training program we would develop was really not available at a national, much less international, level,” Michael Hess, ASP vice president of marketing told Tactical Retailer. “Especially outside the law enforcement community. So we decided to create ‘Be Your Own Defender’ — our first-ever civilian instruction program. Developed by police officers and training experts, but designed for everyone.”

As this article was going to press, Hess said the program was just spinning up and had yet to be officially announced, but word of mouth was spreading the news quickly. By the end of this year, though, demand will likely be heavy and might just entice a few people who’d never consider filling out a 4473 into browsing through your clothing, accessory and flashlight offerings.


Get Involved

It’s a big mistake to ignore this new trend. Some of the biggest companies in the industry invest heavily in the market research, and something they uncovered drove them to develop and participate in these outreach programs. They hold that data close to their chest — instead of tipping off competitors — but they showed their hand in 2022 and again this year.

You may not have a budget for a statistical analysis, but you can still get involved. Ask your reps if any events are scheduled in the area or if they’d consider holding one. Call the company directly and inquire if your store can help and if there is booth/exhibit space available.

If that’s cost prohibitive, consider holding your own mini event scaled to your store’s budget. Find out how much it costs to rent a range trailer for a day or two. If the price is right, schedule it to be on hand as a big sale breaks, and arrange for special speakers and seminars to run concurrently. Set up a few chairs, offer free bottles of water and coffee and, according to what we’re witnessing on a nationwide scale, it’s the kind of value-added service that builds brand loyalty.


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