Gun shop’s renovation, key addition prove successful
Ben Oliver came to a fork in the road a few years ago. When the owner of Nature’s Image art gallery and frame shop faced dwindling sales in early 2011, he decided to supplement the business with a gun shop.
Three years later, Lakes Trading Company has found its footing and is poised for more growth thanks to a new 10-lane shooting range.
“Last December I was on my own, and now I have eight employees,” Oliver said.
The transition between contrasting lines of work proved even more daunting that it sounds, Oliver said. He made the hard decision to close Nature’s Image in 2012.
“After the first year (of Lakes Trading Company), and with art sales tapering off, it made more sense to build the gun shop than to try to resurrect the art gallery,” he said.
More challenges came last year when Oliver decided to expand again and install the shooting range.
There were permits to obtain and lease issues involving adjacent businesses in the building at 95 SW Eighth Ave. Nearby business owners wondered about noise and parking. Residents expressed concerns about an influx of guns one block off the crowded Lake Street corridor.
But one by one, those issues have been smoothed out. The leases for The Music Connection and From the Heart Bible and Gift expired within a month of each other last spring.
“It was important not to break relationships with people but to give them fair notice and that sort of thing when the building was going to be needed for this use,” Oliver said.
The music shop condensed its footprint in the building, while the bookstore now boasts an attractive storefront in the Park Place building downtown.
“It was exactly when I needed to start working to do the remodel, so the timing was excellent for everything,” Oliver said.
He determined the range could not simply be stuck into the new space; rather, the entire area needed to be overhauled. The gun shop remodeling came first. Work began in May and the new 7,500-square-foot store was ready just after Memorial Day.
The result was an expanded showfloor and the transition of piano studios into a classroom. Oliver and two employees with construction backgrounds took on nearly all of the work.
“It was a big task,” he said.
The crew then turned its attention to the west end of the building and spent several months installing the shooting range. It passed inspection by the manufacturer, and Lakes Training Center opened in October.
Months of labor and project-related headaches were worth it for Oliver, who envisioned the range from the day Lakes Trading Company opened.
“I wanted to do it but it was an expensive endeavor,” he said. “It’s not something I could just do right off the front.”
The expansion has transformed the business. The range generates revenue through gun and lane rental and ammunition sales, and it attracts customers on the gun sales end.
“The range is a big draw,” Oliver said. “We have roughly 225-250 people a week coming to shoot, which in turn drives ammunition sales and encourages people to try firearms.”
Lakes Trading Company rents many pistols and a handful of rifles. Some customers rent guns and shoot for recreation, and some bring their own for practicing, while others simply wish to try out a gun before purchasing it.
Memberships are available, but the 25-yard lanes are also open for public rental.
The city recently approved a permit amendment allowing Lakes Trading Company to rent out the facility on Mondays. The clientele for group rentals can be surprising – currently a church is renting it out twice a month.
Business at the range has been steady.
“We’re getting there. It takes a long time to get something started and get people to change their habits, but word of mouth and advertising is starting to get people to come in,” Oliver said. “People that try us out usually come back, and they say that we have a great atmosphere.”
The classroom allows for courses, which in turn feed into the range and buy-sell-trade aspects of the business. Lakes Trading Company offers at least three gun carry permit courses per month, and Oliver hopes to expand that number in the fall.
“I love teaching carry classes,” he said. “It’s more than just teaching the law. It’s more about teaching self-protection so people understand that it’s more than about just carrying a gun.”
Basic pistol courses are also held, and Oliver said his team is working toward offering advanced training classes.
There’s also a women-only introductory pistol course, and ladies receive discounts at the range on Friday evenings.
“It’s a growing demographic and we want to help ladies become comfortable with firearms,” Oliver said.
With construction behind him, an attractive and spacious showroom and the range he once dreamed of up and running, Oliver sees a bright future for Lakes Trading Company.
“It’s awesome now,” he said. “Finally I’m starting to see the numbers pick up. We’re going to be here awhile. I’m not concerned about the longevity of the business.”
The range and gun shop are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 1-9 p.m. on Sunday. Call 651-464-7251 or visit lakestradingco.com for more information.