As British As Apple Pie

The outdoor fair season has come to an end, but was it a success overall? The GTN team were on hand at the Midland Game Fair to find out ‘‘The English Country Fair is one of the long-standing traditions for shooters.

Typically sprawled out across the gardens of an historic estate they offer access to the rural lifestyle throughout the summer months – though there’s more of an autumnal feel for the Midland Game Fair, one of the last opportunities (not forgetting the South Yorkshire Shooting Show & Game Fair in Doncaster) for exhibitors to have their fill of trading until the new year.

 

As home to many of the shooting community’s key events – including the BASC National Clay Shooting Competition, Chudleys Gundog and Junior Gundog Championships, the European Field Target Championships and the Terrier & Lurcher Champion of Champions – the Midland Game Fair belies its humble origins as a small gathering of like-minded people in the Earl of Bradford’s lawn.

And it is still changing today – but amid an uncertain climate for game and country fairs in general, is that change for better or worse? GTN was in attendance to find out how the show has changed since last year and compare it to the other major shows on the circuit.

The Shooting Party’s Mike Hurney was quick to praise the event following some brisk business, stating: “It was massively better than Ragley – certainly in terms of the number of airgun shooters attending. We did more trade in two days at the Midland than we did in three days there. “People were spending money with us by 8.30am on the Saturday morning, and there were plenty of people walking up and down with gun sleeves and welly bags by 10am. We were on one of the main thoroughfares, which certainly helped.”

But despite this glowing report, he has yet to decide whether he will be returning to Weston Park for next year’s Midland Game Fair. “Times are changing and we need to have a radical rethink about what to attend and what not to. Events like the British Shooting Show and the Northern Shooting Show are becoming very important. Everyone who comes through the door is a shooter and the weather doesn’t really have an impact. That’s certainly not the case with the outdoor shows.”

With this shift in power – as we witness the rise of the indoor expo – country fairs seem to be taking a smaller slice of the pie. That’s the new normal, and reports continue to suggest that traders are happy to accept it as such – as long as they are still able to turn a bit of profit. However, while traders appear happy enough on balance, it’s the nature of the visitors that’s far harder to discern.

There’s a general fear among the gun trade that the steady reimagining of English country fairs has altered their appeal from a festival of shooting into a family fun-day. Helen Reffell from Southams argued that the change is certainly not for the better. “Gunmakers’ Row is now almost a distant memory, with five gun trading stands that I counted. Plus, we had to be on the watch for regular sorties by marauding travellers.

“Other than that, it was ok; but I am afraid it is going the way of most of the others and will soon just become another country fair in the same style as the Countryfile fair at Blenheim.”

Promatic’s Duncan Grisedale was frank in his assessment of the event: “In our honest experience, we have always liked and supported the Midland, but the last few years have been very disappointing in terms of sales. “We understand that for us, game fairs are not all about sales but having a meeting place for clients. The trouble is at the Midland these days we don’t see any of our clients there, so most of the time is spent literally sitting down not doing a lot.

“This year we sold five of our cheapest machines, discounted with very little margin – RRP £330 including VAT – and I wouldn’t say we had a single worthwhile conversation with past or future customers. “For whatever reason, at The Game Fair this year we sold 38 machines – we always do pretty well there – and it has remained a meeting place for our existing and future clients. I can pretty much spend half a day wandering around having conversations that would save me weeks on the road otherwise, as well as people coming to see us.

“I am not meaning to sound negative as we have been at the Midland for an awfully long time, but feedback should be honest.”

Conversely, editor and general manager for Countryman’s Weekly, Tracey Allen, said the outcome of the event was largely positive. “The Midland Game Fair is always the big event of the year for us,” she said, “and 2018 proved to be no different. We found our position on the Festival of Shooting row to be a perfect mix of trade stands – it offered something for everyone. We were busy both days, from when the gates opened to still taking subscriptions as we were trying to pack away on Sunday evening. I am looking forward to the Midland Game Fair 2019!”

ASI have exhibited at Weston Park for almost 30 years and once again enjoyed a good show; as Edward King explained, interest was brisk on the Saturday, with a reduction, as expected, on the Sunday. “Whether this was a general impression only breakdown will confirm, but my feeling is that the advent of weather apps has affected the show-going public’s choice of day to visit, and the forecast for the Sunday was much less enticing than Saturday,” he suggested.

“I did feel that the show was a little light on exhibitors. It seemed to have done away with the ‘Airgun Expo’ that has been a feature for so many years, instead incorporating the airgun section into the row with other gunmakers. On the subject of gunmakers, a number of bigger importers and distributors were conspicuous by their absence, which is disappointing. The tendency is for the ‘big boys’ to avoid shows on the basis that they already have an active sales force on the road and communicate via social media with the public.

” Country fairs seem to be taking a smaller slice of the pie. That’s the new normal.. “

“There is validity to this argument, but it ignores one of the more important benefits of the game and country show, namely the possibility of bringing new people into country sports. It is at shows like the Midland Game Fair that the industry can introduce itself to newcomer, and we all have responsibility to do this – our future depends on it.”

From my conversations with traders, they do know this. They are savvy and becoming increasingly attuned to matching the trends in trade to the shooting calendar. This undoubtedly makes a big difference, and back on their premises, gun shops are getting stuck into the trade that the game season is bringing in.

However, the recurring theme from this year’s outdoor events is that – though they continue to celebrate the rural lifestyle – they are ultimately leaving the serious business of showcasing the firearms industry to the indoor trade shows. They may not embody the image of the Great British countryside tradition that we still hold in our heads, but they are taking up a different role in the industry. Traders are urged to keep their fingers in several pies – they may just earn a crust.

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