Whistling Pines cleaning up the shooting range business

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William Gaddy, (center) an NRA handgun instructor at Whispering Pines Gun Club works with club members Jose Pacheco (left) and J. Luisito Pacheco during an NRA First Steps class.

Joyce Holmes wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of sinking her family’s savings into an indoor shooting range and gun club.

It took some big-time lobbying, said Bob Holmes, her husband and owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club in Colorado Springs.

“I looked around and there was no indoor shooting range here in the Springs and I said to my wife, let’s do it — let’s take everything we’ve got, all of our assets, what we spent basically 30 years building up, and let’s dump it into a gun club,” Holmes said. “How do you think that conversation went over?”

Joyce, an Army veteran and accountant, had a few conditions. The club had to be clean and not smell of gun smoke. It had to be membership-only to keep out the riff raff, and the women’s restroom had to be pristine.

Done, said Bob.

He had 850 members signed up for the Whistling Pines Gun Club before he even opened the doors in 2006 at his 12,000-square-foot facility, just off Highway 94 at Marksheffel Road. Today, there are about 2,000 members who pay an initiation fee of $350 and monthly dues of $27.50. The club has 14 employees, all NRA-certified instructors. And, the business is on the verge of expansion.

Bob is a former Navy weapons officer with an MBA. He always enjoyed shooting. While living in Seattle in the 1990s he attended an indoor shooting range with Joyce, who found the range to be dirty, stinky and filled with thugs who gave her the creeps and she vowed never to go back.

Years later, the couple moved back to Colorado Springs. Bob was in high-tech sales, but in 2004, downsizing forced him out of a job. That’s when he came up with the idea for an indoor shooting range.

He secured a Small Business Administration loan and a commercial loan and built the $2.5 million facility, which has an air system that completely removes lead from the air.

“I wanted something that when people drive up they go, ‘wow,’” he said.

Indoor gun ranges are not for the faint of heart, Bob said. He nearly called it quits before he ever got started after he attended an NRA seminar in Arizona that detailed all that comes with shooting ranges — Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive and Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements on guns, safety, training, air quality and noise exposure, to name a few.

But, then he visited the Scottsdale Gun Club, a $9 million facility, which was going to pay its bills through memberships.

He refigured his math and decided a members-only club could work. Across the country, shooting ranges vary in scope from indoor to outdoor, from private to public. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates there are between 1,600 and 1,800 indoor ranges in the U.S.

In Colorado Springs, there was no indoor shooting range, Bob said.

Joyce became convinced about the need for an indoor shooting range when she was selling memberships for the Whistling Pines club before it opened.

“People were coming by and throwing money at her — one guy gave her the $175 initiation fee and was so excited he walked away before signing up,” Bob said.

Club memberships and dues make up about half of the club’s annual revenue.

The club’s main attraction is the 10 shooting lanes, which feature targets that retreat or advance in the lane. Some of the club’s members include Olympic shooters and coaches.

Bob also operates a retail store inside the club with guns, ammunition and accessories for sale.

“Retail is tough in the gun business,” Bob said. “The margins on guns are maybe 10 percent.”

The club has two gunsmiths on staff who do repair jobs and ultra sonic cleaning. And, the club offers gun safety and shooting courses, concealed weapons permit courses and the popular “Girls Night” classes, for women who want to learn to shoot safely.

Patty Fowler, a retired El Paso County deputy sheriff and Whistling Pines manager, teaches an advanced class that leads students through scenarios in which they must decide when to shoot.

“Just taking a safety class doesn’t make you qualified or competent to carry a concealed weapon. You have to practice,” she said.

In recent months, Bob has stepped up his membership drive to raise money for a tactical bay, in which shooters can move past the firing line and shoot at moving and pop-up targets. The bay will ideally have a steel ceiling and walls to keep bullets from penetrating them, he said. A range officer would be by the student’s side and critique their moves.

Bob is selling 10-year memberships for $2,475, which comes with some perks, including bringing a guest for $5 anytime and free gun rentals. He expects to open the new bay next year.

“The goal is to get 60 of those memberships — then, we would have enough money to go the bank and say, hey, we are ready to rock-and-roll with this,” he said.

As for Joyce, she’s happy with the business. The couple is in discussions with investors about opening a second indoor shooting range in the Castle Rock area.

“The demographics up there are incredible,” Bob said. “I’d rather open sooner than later — We’ve found something that works.”