Who is your audience and what need are you filling?

When running a business or working in sales, it’s important to know who your audience is and what need you are filling for them. To illustrate that, allow me tell you a little bit about how we got into the shooting sports industry.

I met my wife, Jayne, on the first and only blind date that we ever went on. We married young and started a family quickly. Personally I had started working at a young age at a Dairy Queen since the age of 12 (even though 14 was the legal age to begin work back then), and over the years and several other jobs, had been saving money for most of those years.

As a young married couple expecting their first child, we wanted to buy a home, and we had about $10,000 saved for a down payment. But the financial institutions we visited with weren’t willing to take the risk on us, so we couldn’t get approved for a loan.

We decided we’d buy the biggest mobile home we could find at the time and move it out near Lake Overholser. There was a small retirement village that had just changed their rules to allow young people to live in the area, and we found a spot for our home there.

Now, I had been raised in The Village, and Lake Overholser was so far away it felt like the sticks back then. My dad said, “If you’re going to live out in the sticks, you need to have a gun.”

We didn’t take his advice at first. We were young and had a baby, and I wasn’t sure having a gun was really necessary. But at that time, that particular area had a colorful reputation. We heard gunshots in the distance and then police and fire trucks and even a helicopter the first night we moved in. Suddenly a gun didn’t sound so bad after all.

If we were going to own a gun, we wanted to learn how to shoot, but there really wasn’t a place to do that in the Oklahoma City area. That’s how H&H was born. We saw a need and decided to fill it. It was a joint business for my wife and I, and we were one of only six indoor ranges in the country when we opened in 1981.

What we didn’t know when we started was who we would attract as customers/guests or what they really wanted. We had opened a shooting range, but we resisted getting into the retail business. I knew a professor at UCO and talked to him about the challenges of owning a business. Some of his grad students did a project where they interviewed our guests to find out what they wanted. They wanted more lanes, longer lanes, and for us to step into the retail market.

We were both young, and Jayne was an active partner in our business. We had a wonderful mix of guests, and we learned that many of them were not comfortable in the existing retail market. Women wanted to purchase guns from a place that treated them with respect. Young people wanted the same. The shooting sports market was changing dramatically at that time, and over the time we owned that business, it changed from a white old men’s club to an average demographic of 47% women, mid to late 30s, ethnically diverse as well.

As we really started to define our audience and adapt to meet their needs, we saw pretty rapid growth. It was exciting, but it was also scary, because rapid growth can be scary. We spent time talking to our guests and asking how we could serve them. We built a relationship with them. They were our guests, not just our customers. We invited them to do business with us and treated them with respect.

We started working with other businesses in the shooting sports industry and helping them adapt to the changing market. We talked to anyone who would listen about the lessons we had learned and how they could apply them in their business to better meet guest needs. We would go to conventions across the country and sit down with other dealers and compare financials to learn from each other. We didn’t hold anything back, because we wanted to grow the industry, not just our company.

We talked to other companies about their audience, the needs they were filling, their business philosophy and goals, and much more. Business consulting support in the shooting sports industry was as much a need as a comfortable place for women to buy guns, and we spent a lot of time filling that need, even though we didn’t get paid for it at the time.

We sold the business in July of 2016 and now consult full time with facilities around the country. In the time we owned H&H, the shooting sports industry grew from six ranges to more than 1,900 across the country. And it’s still growing! When you identify the audience and the need, growth will follow.

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