The last few posts have got me thinkng about recruitment and retention strategies within the shooting sports, and issue that is guaranteed to come up in the first meeting of the NSSF 20/20 Shooting Sports Task Force in mid-October.
Speaking strictly for sport shooting, we typically put the huge majority of our efforts on recruitment — how do we get new shooters? Most of the sports have junior programs in place (in some case for a long time), and we define that as "recruitment."
That's good, but not nearly good enough. I think the strength of the NSSF report is dividing potential shooters into a number of distinct markets that all require different strategies to reach. I'll deal with that in a later post.
I do plan to put the issue of retention squarely on the table, because I think we do a very poor job of it. That's because retention has only in the last couple of decades become an issue. In the semi-mythical Old Days, hunting/shooting was in fact a lifetime pursuit. You had "hunting families," where generations of family members went into the field. However, the same megatrends that have affected shooting and hunting — urbanization/suburbanization, competition for declining leisure time, liability issues — have also worked to alter the retention equation...there's more to do and less time to do it. A constriction of places to shoot, rising ammo prices and, let's face it, a change in the social acceptance of the shooting sports have made it easy for even dedicated shooters to "drop out." As I've been fond of saying for years, "net is net" — if we recruit 10 new shooters and lose 10 through attrition, it's a wash.
Interestingly enough, about a decade ago I did some research in participant retention in another sport, scuba diving. At that time (and I haven't looked at it in a while, so the numbers may have changed), the average time-in-sport for a scuba diver was 18 months. After a year and a half, new divers started to drift away, so to speak. And this was in a sport with pretty high barriers to entry: a certification process requiring classes and in-field tests, relatively complicated math skills required, expensive equipment to purchase and an element of danger in the sport.
My take on the issue was what I termed the "blue fish conundrum." As a sport scuba had built a huge recruitment machine and it worked extremely well. People come into the sport really pumped up after the recruitment phase, ready to explore the underwater world; after a year or so, divers without gobs of money to travel the world, started wondering how many blue fish they could look at. While there were upward paths that would help keep divers involved in the sport, they were often not readily accessible, expensive and often scary (my own certifications, which interestingly enough I never use anymore, are Full Cave/Mixed Gas/Deep Air, and that's a path not a lot of people would choose to follow).
I see a good bit of similar retention issues in shooting. We're actually pretty good at getting people into the sports, but once they're in they're pretty much on their own. That works just swell for serious competitors,, who tend to be both self-starting and little Energizer Bunnies on moving forward. More casual competitors, however, tend to drift away.
As usual, I don't have giganto answers, but I think the key to retaining shooters is to both publicize what's "under the tent" — that is, show the breadth of what's available to shooters in all the venues...sport shooting, hunting and self-defense/training — while making it as easy as possible to sample those items under the tent. We definitely need to make sure the self-defense/training component of the industry — huge — is under the tent. the NSSF report makes only one "action item" reference to that side of the industry, and it's negative...allegedly some newcomers to sport shooting are 'troubled" by the huminoid targets used on the self-defense side of the industry, so, hey, let's abandon ship!
To quote John McCain, "Oh, pleeeeeeessssssse!"
We need to figure out how to keep the people we've got in the tent in the tent. I'm open to suggestions...