If you have a passion for guns, gun safety or gun security, then starting a gun range business can be an excellent way to be your own boss, make good money and indulge in your passion. A gun range can be ideal for a small business model. A 2019 IBISWorld report shows that total revenue for shooting ranges in the United States was $2 billion annually with a growth rate of 1.2%. There were 7,081 shooting ranges in the country, and unlike other businesses, no single company dominates a significant share of the market.
A sample income statement provided by Michael Davey, an Arizona-based shooting range designer, shows an example of indoor shooting range profitability when it's well-managed. With operational costs of about $900,000, it brought in $1.6 million in revenue for about $700,000 in profit, with about a third of that profit coming from the sale of accessories.
Zoning Requirements for a Gun Range
It's important to ensure the location you select for your gun range is allowable before you buy land or sign a lease. Outdoor shooting ranges are almost always located in rural areas away from population centers. Indoor ranges are usually restricted to commercial or industrial building zones.
In some areas, zoning may not be an issue for a shooting range, but other communities may restrict their locations. Some states, like Washington, require that any business selling firearms cannot be located near schools. You should become very familiar with zoning requirements and gun control laws for your city, county and state. You don't need a special license to operate a gun range on the federal level, but you will need a Federal Firearms License to sell firearms and accessories.
You should check with your city or county government officials to find out where a shooting range can and cannot be built. A call to your local police department's nonemergency number should quickly get you in the right direction as far as regulations regarding a shooting range in your area.
Starting an Indoor Gun Range
There are three types of shooting ranges: indoor, outdoor and hybrid. An indoor range is more expensive to build and maintain. However, it usually generates more money than an outdoor range. Benefits of an indoor range include:
- Can be located in high-population areas
- Is easier to manage lead contamination
- Is easier to control noise leaving the range
- Facilitates a profit-making pro shop
- Provides all-weather shooting
A pro shop should be a key part of your indoor shooting range business plan because of the significant revenue it can generate through the sale of guns, ammunition and accessories. If you rent guns to customers to try on the range, they will be more likely to buy a gun from you.
Drawbacks to an indoor range include ventilation requirements, limited space and building costs. Smoke and lead-contaminated dust must be filtered out with a good HVAC air-filtration system. Noise-reduction measures must be installed to protect the neighborhood, such as noiseproof doors, foam and sealants. Indoor ranges are often limited to pistols and single-shot firearms due to space constraints.
Starting an Outdoor Gun Range
Outdoor ranges are almost always in rural areas. Noise issues and the risk of stray bullets make them unsuitable for cities and towns. They don't usually bring in as much revenue as indoor ranges due to them being farther from populated areas and limited to daylight hours, but the costs can be much lower.
Outdoor ranges can attract visitors because they can offer realistic scenarios with multiple stations and varying-distance targets, and they can accommodate automatic or semiautomatic weapons. Themes and decorations can provide an adventure park experience, with inexpensive shooting sheds offering shelter from the elements.
Lead contamination is a serious issue, so your range can't be close to a water source. Under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requirements, you'll have to register your range as a hazardous waste site because of the lead from bullets. You will have to keep records of how and when you pick up and store used lead bullets. The range and the owner can be sued if your activities threaten the local environment with lead contamination.
Startup Costs and Pricing
An indoor range is expensive to build, with a cost of several thousand dollars for every stall. Count on spending about $500,000 to convert a building into a range. The HVAC system alone will cost about $25,000 per stall. Bullet traps, target systems and baffles will cost about $20,000 per lane. A gun shop, which will be your main moneymaker, will cost $10,000 to $50,000 to set up.
Outdoor ranges aren't nearly as expensive to start, provided you already own the land. Shooting sheds can be constructed from wood and concrete, something many people can do themselves. You will also need barriers and bullet catchers at the very least. A large, well-designed outdoor range with an adventure park theme can cost a couple million dollars.
While you're establishing your startup costs, you will also need to determine your pricing models so that you can pay for those costs quickly and begin turning a profit. Gun ranges usually have membership fees and lane fees. Check out what comparable ranges are charging when setting your prices. Decide what types of discounts members will get, like discounted rates or a number of free visits each month. In addition to selling firearms and accessories, consider offering training or classes to novices.
Funding Your Shooting Range
The capital needed to start a gun range is sizable, so you will need to plan how you will finance it. Personal savings is a good start; however, there are many other available resources you should consider. If you know of a couple interested investors with deep pockets, a partnership may be a good idea. Similarly, forming a corporation could attract more investors with smaller amounts through the issuance of private shares.
A GoFundMe account could bring in a lot of money if there is a lot of interest in a gun range in your community. Ideally, there should be interest if your range is to be successful anyway. You should also research grants that may be available. The National Rifle Association offers grants to shooting ranges, for example, and it has a lot of information regarding grants on its website.
Loans are also an option, though you may have to put up personal collateral in order to get decent interest rates. Check out the Small Business Administration's website for information on SBA-backed loans, which should get you better interest rates due to the SBA's guarantee to lenders that they will get their money back.
Marketing and Promoting Your Shooting Range
Fundraising has a double advantage of letting everyone know that your shooting range will soon be open for business. The best advertising is always word of mouth, but prominent signage and online marketing and local advertising are important too. Include a marketing budget in your startup costs, particularly for your opening day.
Contact local newspapers and radio stations to see what kind of ad rates you can get for the launch of your shooting range. Free caps and T-shirts with your range's logo on them make great walking advertisements, particularly if you offer them to people during your grand opening and to new members.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation has a five-star rating system it awards to high-quality ranges. Although the additional costs required for a five-star rating may be sizable, being listed with the NSSF should do a lot to attract customers.
- WeatherPort: How to Own and Operate a Commercial Shooting Range
- IBISWorld: Shooting Ranges Industry in the US - Market Research Report
- Shooting Academy: Indoor Shooting Range –Income Statement
- National Rifle Association: Apply for Grants and Funding for Your Range
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Loans
- National Shooting Sports Foundation: Star-Rated Ranges
- Start-up costs can be significant. If you will need financing, write a business plan. Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration for help.
- Build a website listing your classes, prices, age limits, member information and other safety requirements.
- Consider selling gift cards.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.