Summer may only just be fading from view, but for gun shops Christmas is just around the corner. “We’ll start getting Christmas shoppers in some time in the next few weeks,” Wighill Park Guns of North Yorkshire tell me. “We usually sort our orders out at the end of the summer, end of July to August, so we’ll have plenty of time.”
And they aren’t the only early birds. Allcock’s of Stourport on Severn explains that it tends to place orders early on in the year, with gift items featuring heavily on its list. “We always place our general orders early, the January or February of the year,” I am told. “We tend to order the gifty-type things – cufflinks, ties, hats, that sort of stuff – in July ready for Christmas. People will be in looking for them from mid-September onwards.”
But while forward planning might be the norm for our retailers, the same can’t be said for their customers. “We get a lot of last minute shoppers in on Christmas Eve,” Shooting Supplies of Bromsgrove tells me. “And we do an awful lot of gift vouchers.”
This is a pattern observed by many of our retailers, and with recent studies by Kantar Media reporting that one in five men and one in 10 women leave present buying until Christmas Eve, this last-minute market is big business. “Christmas Eve is amazing,” Allcock’s Outdoor Store says enthusiastically. “We have people coming in right up to closing time. It’s our busiest day of the year, put it that way.”
So, what are all these festive customers buying? “Airguns are always a popular present,” says Allcock’s. “Shirts too. Ties and cufflinks and the like – men’s giftware – are a huge seller for us, and we have a lot of people coming in for wellington boots.”
And although every retailer’s experience is different, a general pattern does seem to be emerging. “Usually bigger items like guns go after Christmas,” Wighill Park Guns confides. “In the run-up to Christmas we tend to sell more cleaning kits and stocking-filler type things – accessories rather than the main hardware. The main hardware tends to be bought straight after Christmas.”
And while novelty socks and Christmas cards will pop up on most point-of-sale displays, not all retailers go in for a seasonal stock overhaul. “We don’t order different lines but we do order different quantities,” Wighill Park Guns tell me. Woodys of Wembley take a similar approach. “We tend to keep our stock constant year round,” they tell me. “Sometimes a few promos come up or something special from the supplier, and we can deal with requests and special orders, but other than that we don’t go in for drastic change.”
And it seems that some retailers have found ways to tempt customers to part with their cash even after the Christmas tree is packed away. “We don’t do promotions in the run up to Christmas as we’re always so busy,” Allcock’s divulge. “But we do tend to have special offers afterwards – late January and February. It helps us clear stock for the summer season.”
But Christmas isn’t the only landmark event on the horizon, and for some retailers it’s not the most important either. With the Twelfth kicking off the grouse season, shortly followed by duck and partridge in September and pheasant in October, the game season is well and truly on its way.
“We carry a varied stock, clothing and shooting, and we have quite a few brands,” Allcock’s tells me. “We usually place about five hefty orders ready for the game season. Over a period of three months running up to the opening of the game season I’d probably say it brought us more business than Christmas overall.” There was an even split between retailers that we spoke to, with preferences based on area and stock range. “We get mostly target shooters in here,” Woody’s of Wembley says. “We deal with more of the airgun trade, so Christmas is a far bigger deal than game season. We keep a few shotguns – that sort of thing – but it’s only small game stuff really.”
And what of special orders? Do retailers cater for open season as they do for festive season? “We get some special stock in,” Donaldson’s Gunsmiths of Milton Keynes tell me. “Mainly cartridges. I’d say it probably brings us more customers in than Christmas.”
Although none of the retailers we spoke to were in the right geographical area to attend the Midland Game Fair at Weston Park in September, they had been to a fair few others. “We’ll be going to Stoneleigh Park,” Woodys of Wembley says. “That’s one that’s done every year here. It was a busy one, and covers both tackle and guns.” Elsewhere the CLA was a popular choice, if not always a blissful experience. “We went to the CLA at Ragley Hall this year,” Shooting Supplies tells me. “We thought it was overpriced and poorly laid out – much too far for people to walk.”
Though many had their misgivings about details, on the whole there was optimism for years to come. “We are planning on going to the CLA next year,” Allcock’s confides. “We always plan to go, it’s just a question of getting the staff together. We’re busy seven days a week.” And as reasons go, that’s just the kind we like to hear.