Not unlike a bowling alley or indoor driving range, it makes good business sense for a shooting range to offer reservations services to their customers. What isn’t always so clear is how to execute and create a program that offers value to a customer and doesn’t burden the business with expensive processes and complex policies. Ultimately, a reservation program has to make sense for the facility by driving business and increasing revenue, however, it shouldn’t be assumed that a good decision for the business can’t be good for customers as well. With proper planning, implantation of tools, and allocation of resources, a range reservation program can be a win-win. Bear in mind, there is more to a reservation than simply holding a lane for a customer, there are several elements of a reservation program that influence its strategic and financial success. Practical decisions about the following topics the must be made with care and consideration to ensure the reservation service is beneficial to both the business and the customer:
When developing a range lane reservation program, the customer experience is a driving force when making decisions of when to charge for the lane and whether to charge for cancellations. It would seem obvious that it would be best for the customer to not charge for a reservation, unfortunately, it isn’t as cut and dry as it would appear. Presenting reservations to potential customers as a ‘free’ service (not requiring pre-pay) can drive new business and will be a powerful value-add for the existing customer base. However, if there is nothing committing a customer to the reservation obligation, the likelihood of a ‘no-show’ increases significantly and can literally reduce the revenue earning potential of the shooting range. With no ‘skin in the game’, some customers will abuse the privilege and simply use the reservation as a placeholder they don’t necessarily intend on honoring. When a customer fails to uphold the reservation, the obvious ramification to the business is no revenue generation; and without a payment holding the lane, recourse (cancellation fee) is unavailable to the range operator. Worse yet, on busy days and weekends, the vacant lane is unusable for paying in-store customers waiting to be assigned a lane.
On the other hand, requiring payment prior to the arrival to the shooting range may be off-putting for some customers and can present an operational challenge for businesses with limited resources. For shooting ranges that opt to charge for the lane use at the time the reservation is made, the methods and means which fees are captured, tracked, and re-applied to the session can be more than the operation is willing – or able – to take on. Fortunately, the challenges of holding and applying fees is easily solved through technology. Ideally, reservations can be managed and executed through the gun store POS to ensure money and appointments are managed efficiently and accurately.
An additional consideration that can have a large impact on the success of a reservation program is deciding how many lanes in the facility should be made available for the reservation service. As many shooting range operators that have made the mistake of making all the lanes reservable will attest, it is not in the facilities best interest – or the customers – to include all lanes as part of the reservation offering. Making the entire range fully reservable can create a potential deficit of available lanes for walk-in business. Walk-ins tend to be ‘regulars’, and often are members, who are stopping in as part of their normal visit pattern. When these valued customers visit the facility, the expectation is that they will be able to immediately secure a lane and begin shooting. The ‘problem’ of having someone on every lane is, in its self, not the worst problem to have as a business owner, but as in the ‘no-show’ scenario described previously, the frustration for customers waiting for a shooting lane to become available is further compounded when they are looking at a lane with no active participant present and unhappy customers are never good for business. For facilities that have many walk-in customers, this challenge can be remedied by making decisions about the program that limit the amount of reservable lanes. Variations of this solution include omitting weekends from the reservation calendar when walk-in business is at its heaviest or – conversely – only allowing reservations to be made by participants of range memberships.
Once more, quality point-of-sale and range management software can provide the means of identifying, restricting, and managing reservable lanes regardless of which the policy is chosen.
It may appear as if the tracking and communicating of available times and dates could be handled with spread sheets and telephone calls with employees. It is, however, inevitable this method will overwhelm the staff, quickly making the reservation program subject to neglect and prone to error. The use of technology and software is imperative to the success of a reservation program but must be implemented with a whole solution in mind.
Though arguably better than a calendar and a pencil, online booking software, independent of the point-of-sale, may not be the silver bullet they often promise to be. When shopping 3rdparty applications, be mindful to look for solutions that can accommodate the choices made about policies discussed above. As an example, if reservation pre-payment will be required, make sure to investigate the software being considered to confirm they offer firearm-friendly payment processing. It is also a good idea take a close look at the customer-facing application to ensure it will be easy for the customer making the reservation to navigate, particularly when used on a phone. If possible, interface the on-line scheduling tool to the store POS/Range Management software. Connecting the online scheduling toolto the POS will not only improve efficiency by eliminating double entry when the shooter arrives for their appointment but will also provide valuable data to the POS that can analyzed within the reporting tools.
The development of a reservation program is a balancing act of benefits to customers and impact (both positive and negative) to the shooting range operation. For many firearm retailers and range operators, executing a reservation service for their customers presents many unique challenges that, handled poorly, could do more harm than good. The logistics of tracking dates, times, fees, and shooters can prove to be so burdensome and complex that it can effectively make reservations a profit loser, not to mention having a negative impact the overall customer experience. Even if technology is leveraged, multiple unconnected programs handling the various stages of the process may only complicate the matter – with marginal benefit – for both facility and customer.
Thoughtful decisions about who, when, and how lanes are reserved, coupled with the implementation of quality shooting range management software, will drastically improve how reservations impact the customer experience and the bottom line.
The AXIS RMS automated inventory replenishment tool, AXIS Auto-Order™, offers – an industry first – 14 available distributor feeds. RTG, together with Gearfire, Gearfire Payments and Orchid Advisors, provide the only complete, end-to-end solution for the Shooting Sports Retailer.
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