Cheeky Blinders

The ever-changing face of gun trade has come a long way in the past century. Stuart Farr investigates the Midlands to see if the price is right 

Shortly before writing this I was lucky enough (well, I suppose I was – please judge for yourselves) to attend a seminar at which the speaker was The Mayor of West Midlands, Mr Andy Street.

In fairness to the chap he is about a year into the job and very much has his work cut out for him when it comes to developing the future growth, prosperity and attraction of our central regions. I felt pleased, however, when he recognised that an important part of the process for future planning involves remembering where we have come from in terms of the past. He alluded to the Midlands’ strength and expertise in manufacturing and, in particular, to some of the trades which dominated in and around the Birmingham region.

Disappointingly for me personally, however, is that we hear so very little, if anything, nowadays of the once mighty Gun Quarter in Birmingham. Sadly, it is fast becoming a distant memory as the younger generations take prominence in shaping our future. Perhaps more realistically, it a part of our history which certain groups of people want us all to forget altogether. I find it rather sad that such an important part of our gun-making heritage is being confined to the history books but I suppose that is the way things are. Over the years I have come across a number of individuals who, like me, don’t want to see that heritage erased altogether but it is understandably difficult to turn that desire into a critical mass with enough clout to make a difference. I still live in hope.

Enough doom and gloom. Despite all of that if one looks in the right places it is possible to find a lot of our gun-related heritage tucked away in dark corners – almost willing itself to be found like some magical treasure. And so I did. From within the bowels of an old Institute in Birmingham I recently unearthed a book, over 100 years old, which contained the following advice for shooters:

“Few recognise the skill and completeness exemplified in a modern gun; and many shooters would never do so unless they were condemned to shoot for a season with the weapons of their forefathers. There is a class of shooters who merely look upon a gun as a machine to kill with, and do not realise the care, expense, and anxiety bestowed on its construction. These are the people who declaim against guns being needlessly expensive if they cost over a very moderate sum. Knowing nothing of the outlay required to produce excellent workmanship, they fancy a cheap gun…making no allowance for first class material or clever artisanship, they cannot see why the lower-priced article should not be as good as that which costs double, and vow it is ‘that rascal the gunmaker’ who pockets the balance”

Pricing of any sort – and especially guns – can be a very sensitive topic and there is obviously a careful balance which needs to be struck around issues such as underlying costs (materials, labour, R&D, transport etc); competition and market forces; and product quality as a whole.

The gun trade also has its own unique set of factors to consider. First of all, it is a trade which is practically waist deep in regulation and restriction. As for products generally, the trade needs to cater for a shooting community with a very broad range in terms of spending power while, at the same time, aspiring to provide shooters with a range of products with sufficient flexibility and diversity in their combinations to enable a shooter at least to feel (if not always in reality) they have purchased something which is bespoke to their individual needs. To illustrate the point, when I was shooting competitively I do not recall ever seeing exactly the same gun (make and specification) being used with precisely the same ammunition in combination by two separate individuals shooting the same discipline. Everyone strived to acquire something different from their comrades – the idea being, no doubt, to gain a competitive edge.

When it comes to pricing the current port of call is the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s Guidance for Traders on Pricing Practices which was introduced right at the end of 2016 but became more embedded into business practice across the peace during the course of 2017. It replaced the previous 2010 Pricing Practices Guide and seeks to provide common sense guidance to traders. It is not legally binding but will operate as a form of benchmark when it comes to the courts deciding whether a particular practice is misleading. It utilises a framework approach to pricing practices and is not, therefore, prescriptive. As such, it does away with some of the concepts of pricing with which we have all become very familiar over the years.

Here are a few examples of how things have changed in the last 12 months or so in terms of the guidance provided to traders on pricing practices.

  •  The practice of price establishing for 28 days within a 6 month period (so that a product is effectively at “full” price for a month and then “discounted” for five months) is now gone. Instead, the Guide recommends a move to 1:1 pricing – the discounted and full price periods should be equal.
  • Utilising different price references across different stores is also actively discouraged as well as using a reference price which was applied to goods long before an actual promotion.
  • Of particular relevance is the use of price establishing on seasonal products when they are out of season in order to give the impression of a discount by the retailer when the product comes back into season.
  •  Also discouraged are pricing practices which seek to use a reference price when only a small amount of the product has actually been sold at that price. The guidance now contains an expectation that a significant number of products must be sold in order to be able to make a valid price comparison.

The CTSI Guidance also offers a variety of examples where it considers pricing practices may not be considered genuine. They include offering successive discounts on the same product and making a series of claims about price but each successive claim does not offer a greater discount.

There is some debate as to whether the new CTSI Guide provides greater clarity or is, in fact, causing businesses to suffer greater confusion over what is and what is not acceptable in terms of pricing. However, as I have said, it is not legally binding. Although it should be a first port of call when devising your pricing strategies. At the end of the day, I suppose it does no harm to consider the advice of a hundred years ago and if, when looking objectively at your pricing, you are beginning to feel like a “rascal” then the chances are, in the eyes of your customers, you are.

Stuart Farr is a solicitor and partner at Knights 1759. He has been a shooting enthusiast for over 30 years and welcomes contact from trade members. 01782 619225 / Stuart.Farr@knights1759.co.uk

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