Trevor Horner, the energetic 65-year-old owner of Idleback, tells Helena Douglas about the company’s shooting chairs, the move to using trade retailers, and why he waited until the age of 59 to get his first gun
Trevor Horner is one of the shooting world’s late starters, but his energy and success indicate he will be a firm fixture in the gun trade for many years to come. As owner and managing director of Idleback, best known for its rifle and shotgun shooting chairs, Trevor has his work cut out. Not only are the chairs popular in the UK, they are now being sold in Europe, the United States and Russia. On top of this, Idleback has just taken on the UK distribution for Marocchi shotguns – so it is a busy time for the company.
Trevor took up shooting rather late in life: “When I was a youngster I had dogs and ferrets, but my mother would never let me have a gun. Then at 15 I started working in the printing trade, got married and had children, and any money and time was taken up,” he jokingly explains. “Eventually, when I retired from the printing business at the age of 59, I informed my mother that I was going to get a gun. She still said ‘no, you’re not!’ but I told her I was grown up and that was that. So I’ve now got a ferret, a gundog and finally my own gun.”
It was going out with a rifle and a night vision unit that gave Trevor the idea for the shooting chair. “With a heavy rifle and night sights I found I was getting tired from holding the rig and scanning the fields through the NV. I looked on the internet for a product that would support the rifle so I could shoot without getting so fatigued, but there was nothing out there. I ended up drawing a picture of what I wanted, then welded some aluminium together and used that for six months. It occurred to me that this could be a saleable product, so I went on to develop it further. I took a rough example to the Newark Show five years ago, and a magazine editor came and sat on it and thought it was fantastic. It has all taken off from there.”
Currently Idleback manufactures three models of shooting chair: the Rifle Chair, the Shotgun Chair and the Premier Combo Chair, a multi-functional shooting platform that can be used for rifle and shotgun purposes. The chair’s legs can be fully extended to facilitate a natural, comfortable seating position that allows a shooter to quickly stand for shots if necessary.
As to the Idleback name, Trevor explains that an idleback is a Yorkshire word for a fishing rod rest. “The front cradle on the chair is similar to that. We think it’s a good name, and I’ve stuck with it as it interests people and has been received very well. We have spent a lot of money getting the brand known and the name has really helped with that.”
Since its launch in the UK Idleback has sold a couple of thousand shooting chairs direct to end users, but it has recently decided to establish a network of trade retailers rather than continue to sell direct. “We have now got a trade price, and I’m looking to establish a network of retailers on a county-by-county basis, who we will support through marketing materials, advertising and a dealer locator on our website,” says Trevor. “We want to establish a range of quality outlets as the chairs are not a cheap product – the Premier Combo Chair with an upholstered saddle seat retails at £485. They are an investment, not just an accessory. One good retailer in each county would be my preference. We want retailers that are proactive at demonstrating and selling, rather than those that will just put the chair in the corner.”
Trevor also believes the chairs have broad market appeal. “We’ve only scratched the surface so far. As the chair also has great potential in the sports and outdoor photography market, I can see the business growing well,” he explains. “The military and security companies also like them as they are like a turret. In fact, I’ve just sent four over to Hong Kong that are now on the roof of Hong Kong International Airport for the SWAT team.”
The chairs are all assembled in Rotherham, Yorkshire, with components made to strict specification in east Asia. “The east makes fantastic things,” says Trevor, “but you need to specify high quality to get high quality, and that’s what we do. The parts come in to us and we then build the chairs, which can take people weighing up to 30 stone. The product is an investment but it will last a lifetime.”
Distribution in America is managed via a warehouse with orders coming in through the company’s website. Idleback will exhibit at the upcoming SHOT show to find more partners, and the company has already received interest from distributors in Canada, Alaska and South America.
Another feather in Trevor’s cap is the fact that Idleback has taken on UK distribution for Marocchi shotguns, which are made in Italy where they have a strong reputation as high-quality guns, comparable with, say, a Perazzi. Trevor explains: “Marocchi approached us to see if we were interested, and we jumped at the chance of becoming sole UK distributor. We went over to Italy for a factory visit a few months ago and plan to distribute the shotguns via a wide number of retail outlets. Marocchi, which has been going since 1922, has worked very hard to build its reputation. The new Marocchi 612 and Zero 3 models will be the first guns we have in stock, sitting in a price bracket that compares with similar Berettas and Brownings. We’re taking these models and other examples to the Tackle & Gun Show to show them off and build that business.”
Trevor says his sense of humour helps him cope with his busy lifestyle. “On top of the chairs and the Marocchi guns, we also run an indoor shooting range branded the South Yorkshire Shooting Club from our 5,600-square-feet premises in Rotherham, where we have a shop, a café, the range and the chair assembly. Shooting club numbers are increasing rapidly and we’ve just finished installing a shotgun theatre simulator with a 5mx4m screen so we can coach people with shotguns. They can also have guns fitted, which ties in with the sale of the Marocchis. Then we want to push the sale of the chairs into new countries and markets. I’ve got that many plates spinning, I get a bit dizzy now and then. We work seven days a week and it’s all go, but it is great fun and I really love what I do. I consider myself a lucky man.”
As for how his mum feels about it all, Trevor says she has now given in. “My mum lives with me and my wife Diane, and after threatening her with eviction she eventually said ‘Ok’,” he tells me with a grin.