Like millions of Americans, Tom Willingham grew up around firearms. Hailing from Wauseon, a sleepy town of nearly 5,000 in northern Ohio, he learned to shoot as a child, routine for families in the rural community.
After graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in finance and real estate and working in real estate appraising, Tom kept his ear to the ground for bigger, better business opportunities. After listening to feedback from gun owners looking for better retail and range options, opportunity seemed to be knocking.
Willingham began his research, and discovered that despite many firearm customers enduring “unfriendly attitudes” and a less-than-pleasant experience when purchasing guns and looking for a place to shoot them, the industry was exploding with multi-billion dollar annual growth.
“[It looked like a] good industry to be in… I did not want to start a business in a shrinking industry,” Tom said. “I thought I could ‘build a better mousetrap,’ and make it work.”
Invigorated with opportunity, he called on his business experience and entrepreneurial spirit to help him build a shooting range to better serve a wanting customer base.
Building ranges, however, is more than just buying some land and throwing up targets. Tom knew this, and went to the experts – the NRA.
Willingham began his project in early 2012 and ordered the NRA Range Source Book, the technical guide for shooting range builders and operators. The specifications within taught him the fundamentals of establishing a range, and helped him “ask the right questions” to vendors and architects.
The book not only contained important technical information about range construction, but also insights on financial management of the ranges and how to become profitable.
“The portion on demand analysis and profitability really helped me… a range cannot be built just anywhere and be profitable,” Willingham said. “There is also a limit to how many lanes a market can support. There seems to be some overbuilding in places without regard to demand or market size.”
Using what he gleaned from the NRA Range Source Book, Tom went to work on his financial projections and business plan, working non-stop until he had a plan in place. From there, he vowed to follow the plan, understanding that some changes would be made along the way but knowing that he did his homework.
“I had a goal I wanted to meet,” he said. “I also was used to solving problems and writing down goals to achieve them.”
After nine months of non-stop work, Point Blank Range & Gun Shop opened to the public in November 2012, offering 20 shooting lanes. Ever the opportunist, he absorbed the profits from a banner year in 2013 into a second facility.
More success followed, and within four years, Tom had built nine ranges, each with a minimum of 20 lanes, all serving hundreds of thousands of shooters in or near major metropolitan areas, including the Queen City, Dayton, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Chicago.
Unsurprisingly, Tom is thinking of expanding even further, as long as the right markets provide feasible opportunities. He wants more than to be profitable -- his goal is to serve as broad a customer base as possible and have a positive influence on the industry.
“[I most enjoy] seeing people walk into the facility for the first time and thanking us for building there,” he said. “This venue has not existed on a widespread basis and new people are discovering and enjoying it.”
While Tom’s business acumen and entrepreneurial vision is the biggest driver of his success in establishing great places for gun owners to enjoy, the NRA’s Range Services knowledge base helped guide his fruitful foray into range ownership.
Opening a successful range isn’t a short order; it requires hard work and an understanding that building the range alone isn’t enough to bring shooters back time and time again. For those who are ready to take the next step and open a world-class shooting facility like Tom, NRA Range Services is standing by to help turn opportunity into reality.
Ready to get started on building and opening your range? Already a range owner and need help improving or expanding your facility? Attend the NRA Range Development and Operations Conference, scheduled for March 11-13 in Indianapolis! Designed to educate potential and current range owners and operators in identifying potential problems associated with range development, environmental issues, and safety, attendees will learn from America's top experts on range development in this forum to share knowledge, all with the common goal of providing a safe, convenient place for Americans to shoot in order to exercise their Second Amendment rights.