Sammie Cooper of MTC Optics tells Helena Douglas how she created a successful riflescope business, and how good customer service and positive word of mouth have helped it grow.
Owned and run by Sammie Cooper (assisted part-time by her husband Gary), MTC Optics is a UK-based designer and distributor of riflescopes and other shooting related optics. Sammie and Gary, who are well known in the shooting world, started the business by chance in 2005 when they were offered an opportunity to take over a company selling night vision equipment. After a lot of thought they recognised an opportunity to sell good quality day scopes, with prices kept at a reasonable level by low overheads.
“We are both keen shooters,” explains Sammie, “and at the time we were doing a lot of pest control on local farms using several different calibres, as well as competing on the air rifle circuit. There were a lot of good high-calibre scopes out there, but they all seemed to leave something lacking for small-calibre use. We also know a huge number of grassroots shooters and listened to what they wanted, combined that with what we wanted, and Gary designed a couple of reticles specifically for small calibre and for long-range shooting. We then found Optisan, a riflescope manufacturer, at the SHOT Show, liked them, and our business has gone from there.”
Sammie explains the first scopes MTC distributed were the Optisan Mamba, Viper and Taipan: “We still have to find a better scope made in China, which is why we have stuck with them. These are no-nonsense scopes that punch way above their price. We were then asked to produce something a little better, and so we went to Korea and had the MTC Genesis manufactured: our first ‘in-house’ scope brand. This was followed by the radical MTC Connect, designed by Gary and our designer. So now we have a range of scopes to cover all target and hunting sports without an overload of models.”
MTC is strictly a scope wholesaler, and thanks to Sammie’s belief that gunshops are the lifeblood of shooting, does not support internet only businesses, or sell direct. “Nor do we sell to more than one shop in a catchment area, as we believe on a relationship-based business,” adds Sammie. “To help we take on as much of the customer service as we can, encouraging customers to come direct to us with problems or technical queries, which in turn relieves pressure on the shops. As a result, we have built up a reputation for being the most accessible and approachable of companies.”
In addition to Sammie and Gary, MTC employs admin and warehouse staff, but to maintain quality of service Sammie deals solely with sales and customer service and Gary manages all aspects of technical support. “Gary has been shooting for 45 years, and has shot everything from air rifles to antitank equipment in the army,” says Sammie. “He loves talking shooting, so he is often on the phone helping people past 9pm at night. In fact, we even get people who don’t use our scopes calling for technical help!”
Sammie is clearly a natural when it comes to dealing with people, and loves her job. “The phone is always busy here, we get retailers phoning for orders, customers phoning for accessories or advice on how to set up their scopes or asking advice as to which one to buy. We now know an awful lot of the customers and like the business to be very relaxed, approachable and not too dull and serious.”
Despite its success, MTC Optics isn’t standing still and has new products in development, although as Sammie points out, this process is very time-consuming. “It takes an incredibly long time to develop a new product and we have to think up to four months ahead with regards to stock ordering, which can be hard as its difficult to gauge what people will want. The design stage involves a lot of products going back and forwards enabling us to make cosmetic and technical changes so there is an awful lot of work involved in getting a new scope on to the market.”
Clearly the pair have considerable business nous (Gary is a director of a multi-national and Sammie ran a successful business before MTC) and the ability to spot gaps in a market. But as Sammie says, they were unsure about how successful the business would be when they started. “I remember when we booked our first stand at the Midland Game Fair in 2006 and stood there with our scopes thinking ‘I wonder if anyone will visit our stand?’ It did take a couple of years for our scopes to gain a good reputation, but I think the fact that we were well known in the shooting world helped. It gave enough people confidence to try the scopes, and then word of mouth helped make our name. Initially we were probably selling 80 per cent into the airgun market, not because of the scopes but because of us, but now most go into the firearms market as the reputation has spread.”
For Sammie, the secret of MTC’s success is very much down to personal recommendation. “Word of mouth counts for a huge amount. Today, the internet is incredibly powerful and, good or bad, you will be found out. The thing that gives us the greatest pleasure is the many customers who have become friends, and visit us at shows every year, and the loyal customers that have several of our scopes rather than just the one. And while we are proud of our reputation and the business is growing well, we have no intention of expanding past the point where we cannot personally deal with the customers. Gary and I will always be available on the end of a phone.”