As Gunpower UK continue to embrace new ventures and takes on new brands, GTN meet the man behind it all, Geoff Darvill
From a shop window ad in Sheffield to a vast airgun factory in Texas, Geoff Darvill has almost seamlessly transitioned from insurance broker to airgun magnate. since starting Gunpower uK in 1994 the business has grown from strength to strength with a new venture always on Geoff’s horizon.
“We have new partnerships with Theoben and rapid air weapons, which we started just before the Shot show,” he explains. “That is the big thing for this year.
“From my point of view the exports side is booming. We get represented all over the world, and this year we have added more countries – firstly it was Iran; since then we have also started in Saudi Arabia and Serbia; I believe there are more too.”
Shipping all over the world requires an expert knowledge of infrastructure, and for Gunpower, working with Armex is proving to be very productive. “They are so proactive. We have seen with other dealers they might wait for the calls to come in, but Armex are actively out there trying to sell and getting in touch. that was how i was introduced to selling guns,” Geoff says.
“When I first started i would head out in my long-wheel base Mercedes van, with a few products, and sell directly from the back of my van. But of course i had to give that up as i simply didn’t have the time to do everything. in my first few years i was doing about 84,000 miles a year – from Inverness to Helstone down in Cornwall and from Bangor in Wales to Great Yarmouth.”
Geoff says selling is where his strength lies. After early work as an estate agent and insurance broker, a lloyds syndicate scam in 1983 meant he had to rebuild a career from scratch. after seeing a window sign for an ‘Air Force agent’ in Arthur Turners gunshop, Sheffield, Geoff enquired and was soon loading up his van with airgun springs and silencers.
“In the first year I increased sales from 6,500 to over 64,000 – a tenfold growth! The second year I took it to 90,000 and over 120,000 in the third year. My forte is sales – its what i’m good at and what I enjoy doing. I started with Air Force in 1987, in 1994 we set up Gunpower and we launched the stealth in 1997.
Gunpower PCP Air Rifles are designed for both hunting and target, with a distinctive styling to them. Geoff explains that their original goal was to offer an entire shooting system that allows for modifications and upgrades as the shooter’s interests or needs change.
“When you buy one of our models, don’t think of this as one rifle – think of it as a changeable platform to meet a variety of shooting needs. our rifles offer advanced design, performance, and versatility for every shooter. with our precision german-made barrels and recoilless design producing high levels of accuracy, shooters trying a Gunpower airgun soon discover the major advantages of our PCP system.”
From those humble beginnings Geoff has now taken on a completely different role within the business. “It’s tricky to describe what a ‘typical’ day looks like to me,” he laughs, “basically it is a lot of handling orders and shipping. most of it is email work nowadays, which is so much easier due to the sheer volumes of countries that we work with.
“Usually I work on packing and shippings, which I enjoy. It’s nice to know that i know what is going on and I’m in control of what going out. I enjoy the hands-on aspect and it lets me keep an eye on the quality.”
All manufacturing is done in their new factory in Fort Worth, Texas, a necessary expansion owing to the sheer volume of orders ringing through. the new premises are three times the size of the previous building, as Geoff explains: “I would estimate that around 90 per cent of what we produce is done in house. This allows us to have such high quality control.
“One of the perks of stocking Gunpower is that they are the one of the original ‘different’ PCP’s – they’re designed without any wood at all so they look quite space-agey and futuristic. they are really well designed for takedown and easy to carry, making them great for pest control. Some people see it as a marmite product, but it does exactly what it says on the tin and is a good little hunting tool.
“We are looking at taking some Theoben and raw manufacturing in-house to help ramp up the production on that side – that’s something that is taking priority for us. It is a really good position to be in in one way, and not so good in another! It’s always nose to the grindstone time.”
Expanding the position of Gunpower in the world market is no small feat – initially opening in the USA and UK, they have since branched out to the Middle East and Eastern Bloc.
“I do enjoy doing the shows such as Shot and IWA,” says Geoff. “I have done a few in Abu Dhabi and some in Moscow, which were very good – great for meeting customers. I like to ensure we have good relationships with customers so they know who they are dealing with – when they call up they know they are going to speak to me. Likewise, it is good for me to know who I am dealing with and being able to put faces to names. It’s all about providing a personal touch.”
Keeping up with global demand is certainly the biggest challenge that Geoff and his team face, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I would much rather it be like this than the other way around, but we do face a constant battle to keep ahead of it. Some of the orders we take are humongous! One recent order we have taken was over twice our annual turnover in the UK – that was a single order.
“Trying to manage these orders can be challenging as the business keeps on growing. This is the second time we have moved factory and each time we are tripling the size of the premises. It’s nice to see it grow year-on-year because we have no outside influence in the way of backers – it’s great to see it grow organically.
“In terms of marketing, we do try and push it from our side. distributors advertise for us as well so we get double exposure. With all of our products, we try and get them out to advertisers so they can take them out for a field test and see for themselves. We also have a big stand at trade shows, especially Shot and IWA, which we have done every year since 1988 – 30 years now. We share Air Force’s stand in America – this gives us international exposure, and we are always really busy.”
Shot and IWA are invaluable events for Gunpower, with a single successful meeting able to make for a very good year. 2018 is already marking record sales following two shows and growing interest in the Middle East. With representatives in Dubai, and more recently Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, Geoff remarks: “We have been inundated!
“In the Middle East, which is traditionally a spring gun market, it took a while to get them to transition to PCP’s but now they are comprehending the value of them – and their ease of use really sells it.
“We are hoping for more of the same in the coming months. it’s a tried-and-tested method that is working for everyone involved. Now we have Theoben on board, that will provide a lot of interest, and it’s great for us to have it back from the brink – it is one of the best-known of the pre-charged rifles.”
Geoff confirmed that gunsmith Martin Rutherford of Rapid Air Weapons would still be involved in the operation, and concluded: “It’s a very strong and trusted brand with a reputation for quality. we are committed to maintaining that, while ensuring much wider future availability.”