After a year and a half as Hull Cartridge’s business manager, Robert Everitt tells Helena Douglas how the company has grown in that time and what sets it apart
Hull Cartridge Company, long known as a manufacturer of high-quality shotgun cartridges for game and clay shooters, was set up in its current incarnation in 1947. Before that it was known as the Kingston Carbide Company, a business formed in the 1920s by Sydney Bontoft to sell calcium carbide to generate gas for welding and lighting on farms. Sydney, an astute businessman, soon saw a means of diversification: as he toured his clients’ farms he realised there was a market for ‘shotshells’, which he quickly added to his portfolio.
After Sydney’s retirement, the management of Hull Cartridge Company was taken on by Sydney’s son Peter. Today Hull is run by Peter’s son David, although Peter still comes into the office every day at the age of 86, 64 years after joining, and keeps a watchful eye on money markets and component costs. With David are his sister Susan, a director of the business, and David’s daughter Faye (the fourth generation of Hull employee) is operations manager.
Then there’s business development manager Robert Everitt, a man with a mission: to take Hull Cartridge to the next level and into the next generation. “Hull is very much a family company with values based around service and loyalty,” says Robert, a keen shotgun and rifle shooter who joined the business in February 2012 after a career in the motor trade. “I really am fortunate to be representing a company with such a brand, history and legacy, and I have had great support from the sales and production staff, all of whom are committed to making the business what it is. After all, production and manufacture is the first part of the sales process for us. Put simply, you can’t sell what you haven’t got. We have also grown the business considerably over the past 20 months, and the production staff ensured we maintained our reputation for quality, service and delivery during this time. This alone has retained and attracted many customers.”
Thirty-nine-year-old Robert has a varied job. Not only does he go out on the road visiting Hull’s clients, but also looks at ways to grow and develop the business internally. In addition, he spends time managing the company’s sales team of four, two of whom specialise in selling shotgun cartridges while two sell Weihrauch air rifles, for which Hull has been the sole UK importer since the early 1970s.
“My role is about winning new business, delivering service, ensuring our clients are looked after, and directing the sales operation in-house,” explains Robert. “All our customers are valuable, whether they are a small gun shop or a high-profile shooting ground that orders millions of cartridges from us each year. They have value for different reasons, and we strive to ensure they all benefit from our experience and commitment to quality.”
Hull is private about volume sales and revenues. “We don’t talk about numbers,” says Robert. “The Weihrauch side of the business is buoyant and reflects that in its share of the marketplace. On the cartridge side, our reputation for producing the finest ammunition has placed us at the top of the industry for decades. Our manufacturing techniques and quality control are second to none, and we have a vast wealth of experience we can use to develop new products. Our production manager, Neil Hookem, has been with us for 35 years – there isn’t much he doesn’t know. We also hold a Royal Warrant from the Queen, which was first given to us in 1992 after several years of supply. This is a tremendous accolade. For a company with its roots firmly in British manufacture, there is no better recognition.”
Based in Hull, with the factory and office on the same site, all of the company’s cartridges are made in the UK, with components sourced from a range of quality suppliers in Europe. Hull’s ethos, Robert explains, is all about giving shooters confidence: “We have always had a tremendous following in the game field because our cartridges really are the best, and as can be seen from the record books some of the most successful clay shooters also use our products,” says Robert. “Cheryl Hall, who we sponsor, has won more world championships than any other current shooter – and that includes top names in the men’s categories.”
What’s the secret to all this? “Making a cartridge is not simply the sum of its components,” Robert explains. “It’s like baking cakes – a huge degree of skill, effort and interest goes into ensuring the end result is as good as it can be. There are certain factors that have to be considered, and some of those we understand more than other manufacturers. But if I tell you more, I will be waiting for a bus outside of our gate! The short answer is that only Neil Hookem and the Bontofts know the recipes.”
To this end Hull takes a measured approach to developing new, headline-grabbing products. “We are constantly innovating and looking at ways to improve the products, but they must provide the trade with a real opportunity to stock a product with a true shelf life and a reputation. That will ensure that customers revisit that shop, driving further sales. Our products have longevity because they are good – everyone knows quality lasts.”
On the clay side Hull offers two subsonic products for corporate shooters or those needing very low recoil. Then there is the Pro Series for club shooters, and the Sovereign and High Velocity range for serious competition shooters. On the game shooting side Hull offers the Drop Dead Gauges range of game loads, a selection of heavy and traditional loads, cartridges for special game and pigeon, light loads and a range of steel shot for wildfowl. Hull has put huge effort into marketing these products, explains Robert: “We are the first cartridge manufacturer to introduce instructional and informative videos to our website. We have seen the benefit already to some of our dealers.
“We also make custom-loaded cartridges, supplied through the trade, which are in some cases specific formulae for a particular client. We supply most of the largest shooting grounds in the country, and can brand loads for individual businesses. As a marketing opportunity, it’s not to be missed. In a price-driven market, a product that is not easily compared has been shown to restore some margin and add value to our dealers’ offerings. We can also tweak the formula of our cartridges too. If a clay ground says, ‘We love your 24g but can you make it a bit softer/firmer?’ we can do that. We can also brand the cartridges as required. So if the Dambusters Clay Club wants Lancaster Bombers printed on the boxes and their name on the cartridge, then that’s fine!”
Distribution is on a 24-hour delivery basis, other than at exceptionally busy periods of the year, with Hull having fine-tuned its order processes over the years. Pricing of the cartridges, Robert says, is competitive: “We don’t overprice ourselves given the quality of our products so we are not the most expensive by any means. The key thing is that there are certain circumstances where saving money doesn’t have a benefit, for example in terms of supply and flexibility to the trade. On the customer side, a club shooter could save a few pounds buying a cheaper cartridge but then find the harsh recoil has a negative impact on their shooting.”
As for his own shooting, Robert is keen on stalking, fly fishing and game shooting, and also enjoys the challenge of FITASC and DTL. He does all of these sports accompanied by his beloved dark yellow Labrador Hamish. “Shooting is all encompassing and I love the way it can be done in many different ways. What is great is that I see more people joining the sport than leaving it.”
And as for the future? “If we are to grow and continue to offer our trade customers a product that is desired, we have to understand how to drive the customers to the dealers to buy that product. I would like to think I’ve brought a passion and enthusiasm for retail to a trade and wholesale environment, and that, combined with the efforts of all Hull staff, will help drive the business forward in the years to come.”