Secrets of a (really) Successful Range Operator

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Secrets of a (really) Successful Range Operator

We recently sat down with Joe Dahlstrom, the owner and operator of one of our most successful Inrange® partner venues - Dobson Ranch. We talked all things range success and he shared what other operators could do to ensure a busy range all year round.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about Dobson Ranch? 

A. Dobson Ranch has always been a very popular golf course so when it went up for RFP in 2019 with the City of Mesa we were excited to pursue it.   After a several month process we were selected and its been an amazing experience.   Being local residents, Amy and I viewed it as more of a Mission to bring golf to golfers of all skill levels and walks of life than just business.  The property had a lot to offer which provided us the opportunity to bring our customer focused approach along with innovation to make the property a very special place for  all demographics in the local community.

Q. How has range tech changed your business? 

A. For the past 20 years we always brought a different approach to the range experience by adding music, fun/goofy targets, goal posts etc.   We did this because even back then there was a good amount of non-traditional golfers looking for more casual experience.  However, it was difficult to keep them engaged and many would move on to other recreational activities.   Then, we were introduced to the tech range technology which was a game changer.

With the newness of the tech range, we initially thought all range tech was equal but realized that’s not true. Some tech (like yours) offers much more of an experience for players. Before we put in any tech, we were doing around $400k turnover. Then we brought in tech and our numbers blew up - and we reached $1.1m. But it stagnated - so we brought in new ideas and ways to use it better and we were able to reach $1.7m. But tracking reliability issues and software limitations were still holding us back as a business because we couldn’t get to certain customers - then we found you guys and ‘upgraded to Inrange’ and this year we are on track to reach over $3m. So yeah, tech changed our business.

Q. So what is it that you do differently?

A. I would say there are several things we do differently than traditional golf course operators but I think our commitment to understand our customers  likes/don’t likes and buying pattern would be the biggest difference.    The tech range concept is still very new along with it being popular with traditional and non-traditional golfers, you can’t make price, market, and operate with age-old management policies.   You need to invest in showing consumers all the features, benefits and mode in a way that they can enjoy.  

Q. Where do you think other facilities might not be ‘getting it right’?

A. It’s hard to say but I assume other ranges are part of the ‘old guard’ who still want to operate their business the traditional way with all the rules and regulations. But what they don’t get is a huge portion of todays customers don’t come from the traditional golf world. We saw an opportunity to do things differently and gain an edge by basing everything on customer behaviour. And to spend time on the ground. As an owner I think it's a really good idea to walk the tee-line and talk to their customers to get an understanding of what they’re interested in and what kind of people they are. I do it almost every day and it has given me insight on business that I never would’ve thought of internally - plus its’ a nice break from meetings and emails and it gets me out of the office for a bit. 

When it comes to operators getting into the tech range space, I would say that the biggest mistake is trying to mirror their business model after Topgolf.  Topgolf is an entertainment outlet that operates their business accordingly.  However, we manage, market and price our tech ranges as state of the art/high quality driving ranges and as an alternative to traditional golf.   We found this to be the best strategy by listening to customers and seeing the remarkable response. 

Q. Speaking of every customer, you have a very strong base of female visitors, how were you able to get this right?

A. I’d guess most ranges have a 90% male customer base but at Dobson Ranch we are probably around 50/50, which is awesome! And it all comes down to making them feel comfortable. We have created an environment for everybody and run events for female groups and have female coaches and staff. Inrange has played a big part in the movement of attracting more females and kids with its fun and inclusive games, very cool graphics and by having the best game improvement technology on the planet. Our range really is a space where anyone can play golf and enjoy themselves and once you set the right environment, people will come.

Q. What role does staff and hiring the right people have in making your range a success? 

A. We don’t care who you are, what your background is or why you applied for the job – Amy and I focus on the person and make sure to hire kind people that are motivated. We also include rewards or incentives as part of our culture so that we are all in it together. But it's not just about them converting somebody to a SmashPass or selling them a range card. What is important is that they talk to the customer, they ask questions and get to know them and their needs and how we can make them happier. But ultimately it all comes down to hiring kind people with drive and then spending time to train them and make sure they are happy at work.

Q. To get to the kind of numbers you are doing - you can’t just sell buckets of balls to golfers. So, how do you successfully attract that ‘non-golfer’ customer to your venue? 

A. A common misconception is that the guy who wears jeans and a backwards cap isn’t a good customer - and that entertainment means loud parties, but that is far from the truth. I have spoken to customers who might look ‘typically out of place’ at the driving range but often they’re just a local business owner who enjoys playing golf at the range. 

We have all types of people at our range and some are here to practice and are very focused, and others just want to hit some balls and blow off some steam. They are both spending money with me and this idea that the two can’t live under the same roof is absurd! We have never had an issue and in fact, the range it's actually a unifier. 

Q.  Where do you see the future of the game?  

A. People are busy and don’t want to or can’t afford to play traditional golf all the time - so we are focusing more on Inrange golf, Inrange tournaments etc. I believe everyone is competitive and if they’re not getting that same competitive feeling on the course they can get it at the range. Inrange golf as a sport is where I see the future of the game which is why we’re working on campaigns like the Smash Tour. 

Only 7 to 8% of the population plays golf in America but now with Inrange technology everyone can play and win. Because golf is expensive and time consuming and most people are busy with work and their money goes to their families and homes but now they can go to the range and get the same feeling they get when playing golf but at the range. 

Q. What would be your number 1 suggestion to any range owner out there?

A. I think there are 2 things I would suggest the first is promotion not discounts, promotion to bring that value-based customer in but you don't have to lower your prices. Time based promotions instead of discounts.  And secondly which I think is the most important is getting to know your customer and get to know who else you could bring into the range to fill your empty bays.

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