Schmidt & Bender is at the forefront of the global optics industry, providing some of the most precise and technologically advanced scopes in the marketplace. Three years after going solo with its distribution in the UK, the company has expanded its presence and is preparing to release a scope it says breaks new ground. We talked to Thomas Pehlke, area sales manager for the UK, about how a company can benefit from direct distribution and where the technology can go from here.
The decision to go direct with distribution can be a formative moment for a company and we’ve been hearing reports of more big name brands such as Gerber and Leica going solo in recent months. In 2012, Schmidt & Bender announced it was assuming responsibility for distribution of its products in the UK. Thomas Pehlke has since been striving to develop the brand in Britain and expand its marketplace presence. Three years on, does he think that the decision to go it alone was a rewarding move?
“Due to the direct contact and prompt service to our dealers, and taking care of advertisement and events ourselves, Schmidt & Bender as a brand has developed very well in the UK,” he says. “In the days of having a distributor we did not present our brand in the UK like we are doing now; for example, at the British Shooting Show. At the show the customers have the chance to look at all different kind of scope models Schmidt & Bender is producing.”
Thomas emphasises the importance of direct distribution and the market awareness that it brings: “The UK market is definitely a very competitive and dynamic one. That plays more or less straight into our hands though, because Schmidt & Bender, as a small family-run company, is flexible enough to handle various trends and demands from the UK market. In order to do so it is even more important for us to feel the heartbeat of the UK shooting industry. This can only be done by dealing direct.”
This flexibility is reflected in the variety of Schmidt & Bender’s scopes, with over 40 basic versions. “No distributor in the world will be able or will be willing to carry such a diverse and unique portfolio of scopes,” Thomas says, “But having this broad variety – besides ‘no comprise in quality’ and ‘customer is king’ – is one of our unique selling propositions: to have the perfect scope for each kind of wallet and for each kind of application.”
However, production and distribution are under scrutiny, ensuring that Schmidt & Bender can keep providing retailers with an excellent service. “It is key to minimise the lead time for production. Nobody wants to wait for a scope; neither do the dealers want to spend a lot of money by stocking a big inventory. That is why we are now heavily modernising and restructuring our production, which shall come in effect in August this year.” Thomas says, “Our target is to eliminate the need for stock since our production will be optimised in a way which makes delivery times longer than a week obsolete. Also, our sales team is prepared to give fast information either by phone or email about the stock that we are keeping at our factory in Germany for quick dispatch. For those who want to be even faster, Schmidt & Bender rewards stockist with a discount.”
The company fully also intends to keep growing the brand in the UK through marketing and retailer support. “We are keeping brand awareness high in the media with adverts and reviews published on the internet and in magazines. We also supply our dealers direct with advertising material and support them at events.”
It’s not long before talk turns to Schmidt & Bender’s newest arrival, the Polar T96. “To keep growing means that we have to be better than our competitors,” Thomas says, “That is why we are now developing – based on the customers demand – our new high transmission Polar T96 hunting line, with a previously unreached light transmission of 96 per cent.” Schmidt & Bender describe the scope as “the brightest low-light hunting scope in the world” and it’s certainly getting a strong build-up – we first saw it nearly half a year ago, at the SHOT show.
“The Polar T96 scope was initially developed because of the frequent requests for the ultimate low light hunting scope which allows for the perfect shot in the vanishing light of the day,” Thomas says. “With this in mind, we investigated different possibilities to realise such a riflescope, featuring maximal light transmission at night, a large objective diameter and superior optical quality, as well as other useful features for long distance shots at the raised stand. Finally, we ended up with the idea of a new optical design and AR coating concept for maximised light transmission, meaning that the night transmission is above 93 per cent and the maximal transmission is above 96 per cent – values that are unmatched by any other company today.
“From the idea to the final prototype, our development team tackled many questions, discussed a lot of different ideas and made many decisions, leading to the final product with a huge field of view, a 34mm tube, a metal ocular and magnification adjustment ring, a total elevation adjustment of 380cm/100m, a lockable BDC compensation turret and optional 1st or 2nd focal plane reticles. The diffractive reticle technology in the second focal plane allows for a bright, daylight visible, red centre dot, while the 1st focal plane reticle is optimised for low light applications only. And finally it is a perfect deal: prices will start from €1,600 RRP, which is currently around £1,150.”
We also asked what other new products the UK market can expect from Schmidt & Bender. “Besides the 2.5-10×50 Polar T96, two more models are to follow by end of 2015 and beginning of 2016: a 3-12×54 Polar T96 with optional parallax setting and a 4-15×56 Polar T96 with standard parallax adjustment for long distance hunting and shooting. Schmidt & Bender is of course working on more new products, looking for further innovation and unreached desirable product specifications for hunting, sports, police and military applications. However, while the Polar line is pretty close to market release, other products are still top secret and no look behind the veil is possible. But you can be sure: there is much more to come!”
But with such notable leaps forward in scope technology, are we reaching the limit of what is possible? Are there any more boundaries to be broken, or are scopes as good as they’ll ever be? “Development is always looking for other options, new technologies and ways to improve the current state of the art of optical devices,” says Thomas. “Having a look into the past, we can see that some years ago a 8x or even 9x zoom scope seemed unreachable. Today, the Exos 8x zoom scope can be considered a state-of-the art scope. For many years, the military have asked for a projection of data into the field of view; since 2014 our digital line has proven this concept to be possible. A light transmission of 96 per cent without loss of optical quality or field of view seemed unreachable for many years – in 2015 it has been realised in the Polar T96.
“With this in mind, the only answer to your question can be: there is always further space for development. The frontiers are pushed forward with every single product. Whatever the customer requests, whatever the market asks for, there will be ways to realise a product accordingly and to set a new standard for riflescope development and manufacturing once again.”