Friday Media Group runs 75 online outlets for both the business-to-business and business-to-consumer market segments. One of these is Gunstar, a specialist site for trade and private customers to buy and sell firearms and shooting accessories.
Friday Media started out in 1975 as a family concern running a classifi ed advertisement business. The business did well and after spotting the potential of online media early in the mid 1990s, the directors decided to focus on this area and expand the company’s online portfolio through acquisitions and new launches.
“Now we own horse websites, boat websites, recruitment sites and so on and have grown organically over the past 40 years to become one of the biggest classifi ed ad businesses in the UK,” says Ian Partington, one of the company’s directors who has overall responsibility for Gunstar. “These sites generate around 15 million visits per month. In March 2013 the Gunstar site had over 400,000 unique visitors, viewing over 6.44 million pages, so it true to say it is a signifi cant part of our business.”
After negotiations during the latter half of 2011, Friday Media bought a majority stake in Gunstar in early 2012 from its owner, Dominic Booth, despite having previously turned down an offer to buy into the business a few years before. “At that time fi rearms wasn’t right for us,” Ian explains. “But when we were approached again at the end of 2011 things had changed and there was clear potential and synergy. Dominic is very experienced at building technology and growing sites, and we are good at commercialising them, so the association between us works very well.”
Commercialisation, as Ian describes, is based around Friday Media’s sales staff building the base of RFDs who use the site to advertise their firearms. Dealers pay a subscription rate to advertise on the site, with Gunstar offering stock listings that can either be uploaded manually or by a feed. Four sales staff work on the site, with two focused on selling the stock listings and two selling email advertising. “We send out specific, targeted emails to our opted-in database, from particular manufacturers for example,” Ian says. “This is a new side of the business for us but one that is working extremely well. Then we also send out quarterly newsletters that we sell sponsorship around.”
Currently, around 200 RFDs use Gunstar to advertise their wares. However, as Ian points out, with more than 3,000 RFDs in the UK of various sizes, there is much potential for growth. The fact that some RFDs are also a little sceptical of the web has also fuelled a new move for the Gunstar business, and it is currently developing a website product for dealers. This means that if RFDs advertise on the site, they will also be able to set up a website branded with their own logo and contact details. As well as advertising their stock with Gunstar, a stock list will appear on their own website.
This is a move that Ian thinks will appeal hugely. “We are bringing that to the market this summer and have already had a lot of interest in it from dealers,” he says. “To be frank, many of them are a bit nervous about websites and either don’t have one or have one that is rather out of date, so offering to do it for them and manage it for them is very appealing.”
As well as the website development idea, Gunstar is also developing a gun register facility that dealers can use as their legally required firearms register. “Some dealers still keep paper registers, which is nice in a way,” says Ian, “but many now understand the benefit of having a register online and also of tying that into the Gunstar website, thereby reducing the amount of work they have to do in terms of processing paperwork.”
As with any business dealing with firearms, Ian is keen to stress Gunstar takes its responsibilities seriously and works closely with the police if it thinks there are any rogue advertisers on the site or if it is suspicious about something. “While we are just a conduit for a deal, we are aware that we could be implicated if something untoward happened, so we want to be responsible and careful. So we make it our business to be aware of firearms licensing law, and if we are given any warnings about sellers on our forum we will report those straightaway.” He notes, however, that individuals must take responsibility for informing the police if they have bought or sold a firearm, as they are required to by law, and must remember that the contract is between buyer and seller and not with Gunstar.
Ian explains that the forum is an important part of the Gunstar site, and sees around 15,000 visits per week: “People are building a community around us which is good, discussing things like what gun to buy and the pros and cons of certain products.”
As to the future of the site, Ian stresses that continued development of new products and features is on the cards. “Gunstar is a good business for us, and for all of our customers, whether dealers or private individuals. What I have learnt is that shooters are passionate about their sport and we are proud to support the industry and to offer buyers and sellers a much needed service. And like it or not, online sales sites that have clearly proven themselves are here to stay!”