- March 8, 2013
Drive 22 miles east of Naples along a lonely stretch of the Tamiami Trail to Port of the Islands and it's easy to understand why the development struggled since it was built in the 1960s.
So why did Colin Burrows buy an old shooting range in this isolated outpost on the edge of the Everglades?
“My wife thought I'd gone mad,” chuckles Burrows, the CEO of Special Treats Productions in London.
It's not like Burrows hasn't got enough to do. His company has a long list of credits, including promotional films for 16 James Bond movies. He is currently producing a making-of-the-film television show for the next Star Wars movie and also has a growing film-production company in India called Beautiful Bay Productions. On a recent day at the club, he was busy answering 200 emails on his laptop.
But it turns out clay shooting is Burrows' passion and relief from the stressful movie industry. “One of the things that helps is shooting,” says Burrows, who qualified as an instructor two years ago and competes in tournaments.
An advertisement for the sale of Port of the Islands Gun Club in Pull! magazine in 2012 caught Burrows' attention. He visited Naples over the Christmas holidays that year and negotiated to buy the business and lease the 50 acres on which it is located from owner Lou Zalesnak for an undisclosed price. Burrows renamed it Gulf Coast Clays and has since invested $100,000 in new equipment and plans to partner with gun dealer Cole Gunsmithing to provide members with an onsite service center.
Burrows says he didn't buy the business solely for personal amusement or to establish residency in the U.S. He's determined to make Gulf Coast Clays into a viable, profitable business that will draw tourists from as far as Great Britain. “It needed fresh capital,” says Burrows, who is installing new Promatic trap machines.
Burrows didn't borrow to buy the business and expects an operating profit this year. To establish the corporation, Burrows hired Naples-based Aomac, a company that specializes in helping Brits and others set up companies in the U.S. “That takes a lot of the hassle out,” Burrows says.
Already, Burrows lowered prices for memberships to the club by 25% to $225 a year after finding that it charged the most of any gun club in South Florida. “Now my kindness is being rewarded,” he says, noting that membership nearly doubled to 180 since he acquired the business late last year. Annual revenues could rise from $350,000 to north of $400,000, he says.
Burrows says he's careful to match his prices with those of his competitors, even though the closest one is two hours away. “We've got to be careful that we don't price ourselves out of the market,” he says.
Membership entitles shooters to discounts on shooting rounds and ammunition. “That's the core of the business,” Burrows says, noting that he'd like to see the membership roster rise to 220.
But Burrows is targeting visitors, too. This includes corporate groups staying at Naples-area resorts, groups of men on sports vacations and tourists with children who are looking for a break from the theme parks.
Still, the challenge is the gun club is far from anywhere further than Naples. To get there, you have to drive east for half an hour into the Everglades from Naples on Tamiami Trail, which narrows to a two-lane road. Port of the Islands rises from the swamp and the gun club is located on a dirt road behind an abandoned hotel near the community's water-treatment plant.
But the club has been in existence since 1966, so there is an existing clientele. And most visitors to Florida rent cars, anyway. Burrows has no plans to bus people in to the site. “I don't want to be a travel operator,” he says.