You can hardly have missed the fact, but in case you did, the mammoth festival of trading that is the CLA Game Fair returned to Blenheim Palace on 18-20 July. Despite battling freak hail storms, burning heat and muddy puddles in Blenheim’s grounds, the Game Fair organisers proclaimed the event a raging success. But did the exhibitors on Gunmakers’ Row agree? We traipsed the aisles to interview dealers and come up with their perspective on the three days.

We were camped at the Sporting Rifle stand, and didn’t have to go far to find our first positive report. Our neighbour Nic Wenham from Pitch Black was keen to share his CLA findings with us. His first time at Blenheim, Nic noticed an elevated response to his NV units: “This is the second show I’ve done as Pitch Black and the response has been much better than at my first. A lot more people have heard about us and as a result there’s been a lot more interest at the counter. People have come up having the product knowledge of what it does and how it does it.” Making the brand known last year certainly helped inspire spending: “I sold out of stock by Saturday lunchtime.” Elsewhere, Nic says online interest has picked up: “After looking at the website hits since getting here on Thursday, it’s obvious people are using the business cards to go and find out more.”

The Pitch Black Hunter NV unit: A big seller at the fair

The Pitch Black Hunter NV unit: A big seller at the fair

This year, Pitch Black shared stand space with Cash and Carry Cartridges. Many smaller companies doubled up to share stand space at the fair and found the arrangement helpful to make the fair profitable, especially with complimentary businesses.
After success at the CLA, what’s next for Pitch Black? “We’re going to be at the Midland, where we’ll be launching our next product, and I’d like to think that based on the interest we’ve got here people will want to come and have a look. When it’s launched, the Pitch Black Field Master will be exclusively available from Best Fittings for retail and resale.” An encouraging account from Nic, who described the fair on the whole as: “really, really good. Tiring, but good.”

Other traders attending the fair had come with rather more anxiety. Doug Florent from the Oxford Gun Company said: “Generally gunshops have been quiet recently, though shooting grounds have been busy. We came expecting a bit of a disaster! However, we had a really good day on Friday, an even better day on Saturday, and I haven’t checked yet but I think we might have done even better again on the final day. It’s been really good.”

When we asked Doug which guns have been most popular, he replied: “I brought five English sidelocks with me, and had sold all of them within two days. If you bring something a bit different you sell stuff. English guns and hammer guns have all sold.” That’s not all – Rizzinis have been well liked this year, with the more expensive models tempting the customers, too. Yet Doug wasn’t unreserved in his jubilation: “I’ve been doing the Game Fair for 35 years and every year I say ‘never again!’ It’s one of those fairs that when you go to it you end up saying ‘never again’, but if you don’t do it, you regret it. You’ve got to come for the social side of things as well. Even if I didn’t come with a stand I’d still come to meet people.”

He’s right enough – the CLA Game Fair is as much about meeting suppliers and clients and showing your face as it is about selling directly. One company putting on a major PR exercise was GMK, which doesn’t sell direct from its stand but opted for a major presence to showcase a number of product releaseas. Emma Parkin gave us the details: “The main thing on our stand has been the launch of the Beretta 690. It’s a game gun based on the Beretta 692 action. It’s been popular – we’ve had a lot of enquiries, as it was only launched worldwide two weeks ago.” The start of July saw the launch of the model, coming in just above the Silver Pigeon III and Deluxe pricewise, and just in time for the coming game season.

Also making a splash is the Benelli Raffaello Powerbore: “It has only been out a couple of months, and that’s been seeing interest as well. We found that the premium guns have been popular, and a lot of retailers have been interested in those. With the 690, we have a few we’re taking orders for, but the main bulk will be coming in August.” At the time of writing, that’s just around the corner – hopefully the 690 will hit a receptive market, marking a successful season for spending.

Emma is a firm fan of the CLA Game Fair, saying: “Blenheim always delivers a high-quality, targeted audience. The key aim of it is to support our retailers and present a good range of products and advice. We’ve had a representative from Leupold in the USA on our stand, plus representation from Beretta in Italy. It’s helpful in that it’s an opportunity for them to learn our audience and get to know the UK consumer and market requirements, as well as being a great source of information for people visiting the stand.” Bringing manufacturers and dealers together is one of the highlights of the CLA, allowing customers to reap the best service in person. It’s good to see the gun trade working together to further their expertise – yet another reason to venture along and ask questions.

Meanwhile, Andy Whitemore from Avalon Guns reiterates the positivity we’ve been seeing at this year’s Game Fair – markedly different from what he was expecting, too: “It hasn’t been a stressful Game Fair; it’s been an enjoyable one. Friday was a good day. We were very busy, and sold several high-profile guns, particularly the good Berettas and Brownings – more than I expected.” Berettas are certainly making it their summer, but even without the sun shining, Avalon Guns still pulled in the punters: “On the Saturday we didn’t do so much expensive stuff, but the middle-range guns went well. The rain did slow things down a bit. On the Sunday, it started slow but we’re going well now.” A mixed bag of customers, mainly spending less as the weekend wore on, a trend reflected by many other stands along Gunmakers’ Row. Avalon Guns also had a charity raffle outside their stand, which was an electric quad bike raffled off in aid of Children’s Hospice South West. Wendy said: “It’s doing very well, we’ve taken possibly £1,500 so far. It’s surprising how many people don’t know electric quads are available. We’ve done other shows, but had more interest at the CLA.”

There you have it: a successful CLA Game Fair after all, with plenty of exciting predictions for next season. Regardless of the rain or shine, the only complaint from the traders we spoke with was about the Gunmakers’ Pub closing for an hour in the evening, leaving parched tradespeople without a pint.


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