An Elite Opportunity

At the turn of the year GTN caught up with Shaun Ellis of Optics Warehouse. He outlined that the business was branching out; developing Elite Optical Distribution to meet the needs of the trade.

With new optics brands launching at seemingly every major trade event, such as Eotech at this year’s British Shooting Show, there is a huge array of stocking options for the retailer, and a potentially vast cost if they want to be sure of stocking what their customers want.

The aim of Elite Optical Distribution is to defeat that confusion by becoming a ‘one-stop-shop’ for optics – a single distributor than can supply a scope to suit any customer’s requirements, and help solve retailers’ stock issues while they’re at it.

The recently appointed Stuart Grant, is the man responsible for turning this vision into a reality. After taking on the role of Sales Director in September, he explains how the new venture will run completely independently of Optics Warehouse.

He stresses: “The new business, Elite Optical Distribution, is focused entirely on supporting the trade. We don’t want there to be a conflict of interests, so we run as completely independent businesses. I have been brought in as sales director of Elite to reach out to dealers and grow the business.

“Having grown from Optics Warehouse, we are able to share in their knowledge. From their experience, we know what works, however I must stress that they don’t get any special treatment. They are a good customer, that’s all! Elite came about as Optics had such a strong retail presence they were getting approached to buy direct from manufacturers and import brands that were unavailable or not reaching their potential in the UK.

“So we have entered the wholesale market backwards. Rather than starting with a handful of small brands and adding to it, we have started with some big names and now it is about offering those products to a wider range of dealers.”

Elite aim to stock everything a client could ask for, from high quality mounting systems and specialist target scopes with technical reticles to traditional hunting scopes. Elite is developing as a response to necessity as much as anything – consumers are requesting the brands in shops and dealers seek a reliable supplier to meet this need.

“Elite was conceived about a year ago,” explains Stuart, “and it’s just grown of its own accord ever since. My focus is on developing the list of trade customers.” Despite being new to the Elite hot seat, Stuart is no rookie in the industry with four-and-a-half-years at Highland Outdoors under his belt, and further involvement in the trade through his family ties.

“My uncle, Mike Ladd, owns Ladds Guns down in Crediton and I used to go to the Game Fair with him. I have been working around the trade for a long time but haven’t been able to meet everyone yet. I look forward to building those relationships with new dealers over the coming months!

“I was approached by Elite to bring that level of trade experience, combine that with the great team of people that work alongside me and we can offer a high level of support to dealers. I’m here to add to the product portfolio and take the business to the next level.

“The showroom is finished and ready to welcome dealers, and we are now at a stage where we can push for more coverage. We are shaking everything out. The catalogue is going to print, we have emailed out to 500 potentially new accounts, and the website has just gone live. It’s very full on!”

With a newly-created team based in brand-new premises, Elite have also been focused on developing a cutting edge website that supports dealers and acts as a data resource for consumers. www.eliteoptical.co.uk – went live in October and once registered dealers can check trade prices, stock availability and build orders 24 hours a day.

“We have developed a website that is very strong. It makes things as clear and easy as possible and offers access to information on pricing, placing orders, and tracking accounts. The plan is to get more accounts open, we will be getting out on the road to find out what people need. Identifying their requirements will help us to fill the gaps in their products,” says Stuart.

“Encouraging traders to apply for an account is important, and we have already had loads of requests from the email marketing, so there is definitely an interest. The vision is to help dealers maximise their business and see the products that are available. We can offer the dealer a quality product from entry level to top-end and help them maximise profit.

“We also have one-off deals coming through,” adds Stuart, “J-P is well dialled into the international supply chain so we can find deals from all over the world, and then pass them on to the trade. Optics can be quite a technical sales process and a complicated product – we want to make it easy. We can use sales data and patterns and benefit from the knowledge of Optics Warehouse.

“But we are not led by Optics Warehouse,” emphasises Stuart, “So while Shaun is focused more on Optics Warehouse, I will be focusing on Elite Optical Distribution. We need to be clear about the relationships between the businesses; I’m driving this business, so from an Elite perspective, we want to help all dealers maximise optics sales in their business.”

Focusing On The Dealers

Beyond the subject knowledge, comes fundamental changes to conversations with retailers, changing the sales process into a more consultative one. Due to the nature of the product – expensive, high-precision instruments – Elite are happy to invite selected retailers down to Paignton to offer a buying experience.

“We want to invite the trade to spend a day with us in our showroom. We have recently installed a sliding window and shooting bench which looks out over a 300 yard range  – so you can compare scopes back-to-back. “We want dealers to come and have a look, we are pleased to show them around and take them out for a few beers! It can be a difficult thing to rep. You simply can’t bring 60 scopes into a shop; the only way is to invite people down to see the full range,” adds Stuart.

“That is the aim of the business; to bring a modern and efficient approach to wholesale and support the dealer in different ways. That is what I feel I did well at Highland; you spend the time to understand the dealer and the business and identify the gaps then recommend the best product to fill that opportunity.

“It isn’t about how much you can make somebody buy, it’s about recommending the products that work for that retailer. You can only do that when you understand their business. It isn’t the same approach for everybody, but ultimately you want to find them the right products. I believe that you should be with them every step of the way; it’s not just about sending off the invoice and forgetting about them.”

In 2019 Stuart will be setting out on the road, seeing how businesses are set up and gauging the customers. In conjunction with the showroom which will allow accounts to see what else Elite can offer. The objective of Elite is to provide customers with the opportunity to chat and see the scopes properly mounted on stocks; its easier for a dealer to sell a product if they understand the brand and have experienced all of the technical features of the product.

“It is a smart facility and something we are very proud of,” explains Stuart, “but the key to success is getting out and building relationships with companies that we haven’t done business with yet. With people that know me, the trust is already there. I can ring them and share information which is positive, but the biggest challenge is where I haven’t got those relationships already in place.

“That, I suppose, is the biggest challenge; meeting dealers, explaining the Elite brand and ethos and getting new people onboard. It’s the opportunities that excite me – not a challenge but certainly the biggest task. Contacts are what drives the business. This is made easier when people trust you and enjoy dealing with you. I had that Highland and now I want to build that here – I am relishing that.

“The response we have had from the trade in the month has been great, so I can’t wait to see where we are a year from now. Once I get out on the road and start visiting dealers Elite will move up another step. It’s really exciting to see all of that potential, and once I start to drive it and make those connections, people will start to buy into Elite.”

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