TGIF: After day one of the British Shooting Show, exhibitors tell Ollie Harvey how a change of venue has led to a record-breaking opening day.

Cast your mind back to 2008. British athletes were enjoying a then record-breaking Olympics in Beijing. Film buffs were falling in love with Slumdog Millionaire and Duffy was begging us for ‘Mercy’. In the gun trade, we were looking forward to the first ever outing of the British Shooting Show.

Slumdog’s director Danny Boyle was subsequently chosen to direct London’s own Olympic Games in 2012. Duffy, meanwhile, has gone into hiatus, bar an acting cameo in 2015’s Kray Twin biopic, Legend. The British Shooting Show has become legend itself and is now the real big boy of the UK indoor show circuit.

This year saw the show change location for the second time in its history and relocate to the prestigious NEC, a move that prompted no small amount of discussion as to whether it was the right thing to do. Well, only the trading at the show itself can answer that. Francis Lovel & Co have been an exhibitor with the BSS from the very start, as Charlie Taylor-Wood explains: “We have been doing it since the first one, where we were one of two retailers, and have carried that relationship on.

“The new venue has been perfect. Because we have one of the bigger stands we were a bit concerned, but nobody had tried to walk away with anything! We haven’t brought anything brand new. We have only got second-hand stuff because we don’t think it’s good practice to slash and sell new products. We’re happy to bring the already reduced stuff and aren’t competing to be the first to put something new on the market. Making sales has been our priority.”

With a selection of guns, from £50 airguns up to high-end shotguns, Francis Lovel enjoyed record footfall on Friday (and then matched it again on Saturday), with rifles proving particularly popular. “We’ve probably sold more rifles this show than other Shooting Show,” adds Charlie. “It might be because we have brought a lot more rifles with us, and a good selection of second-hand rifles. But there is certainly a lot more interest in rifles – I dont know whether they have done something with the marketing. Perhaps they’ve targeted that area more.

“Alan has been busy. He makes one of our over-and-unders, so he’s been showing that to people. People have seen the marketing, they come to see us at other shows and show a lot of interest. Certainly for us, we find that people buy into the gunmaker, the man that makes it. We were blown away, and we’ve sold a complete mix of things, from airguns all the way up to English sidelocks.”

Francis Lovel were able to keep their two shops, in Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire, open while they attended the NEC, but not all retailers had that luxury. Fife-based Cluny Country Guns made the 670-mile round trip to Birmingham to be part of the anniversary celebrations but said they would still need some convincing with the new venue. However, Robin Shedden was quick to praise the organisers: “John and his staff are brilliant, he’s done a brilliant job and its so well-run.

“This is our fourth show. We were down at Stoneleigh and this has addressed the issues that had arisen with that venue, but the aisles are tight here. We liked Stoneleigh. There is mega red tape here. But John and the team have been really helpful – they’ll bend over backwards for you. The venue is better; the people at the NEC have been worse.

“There is a big cost to being here, and I’m not talking about the cost to rent to stand, or the time to get down here. We have to shut the shop. We’ve lost five days – nearly a week of trading. We only do the big shows, we’re not doing the wee ones because of the timescale. Business at the shop is good – bloody good. Which is what makes us scared about coming away.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in optics and Blaser stuff. We’ve got optics right across the board, at the high end, Swarovskis and the like. People here generally know what they want. I’ve only had one person here today who had come to browse. There’s good inter-trade interaction too – thats important.

“That said, all of our competition is on the internet. So we watch our margins. We don’t bring basic guns down here. If you walk around here, you can get a Beretta for £20 more than they paid, or a Browning. I wouldn’t do that – I want margins – because that’s what you live on.

“We have two separate websites, Cluny Guns and Cluny Optics, and we also run a selling arm of our site, where we can post and advertise a seller’s gun, taking that hassle away from them for a five per cent commission.”

With companies aiming to stand out from the crowd, the general consensus seemed to be to pack your retail stand with firm favorites and guns with proven popularity. Luckily for Premier Guns, their trump card was a ladies’ gun that is not yet officially on the market. I joined Matt Morgan just as the sale of a Browning 525 Liberty Light was ringing through the tills.

“We were accidentally given a Liberty, which we brought with us. It’s one of the first in the market because it is not officially released until April. We have just sold it, so its a good opportunity to go to press with it and put it out on social media,” says Matt.

“We had an excellent first day by our usual show standards. We are the number one supplier of Beretta guns and the number two for Brownings – so, as usual, those have been in high demand. We were extremely busy first thing and the noticeable thing about this show is that the layout gets everyone included, whereas before, if you were in the ‘shed’, you might get missed. 

“That said, I did enjoy the show at Stoneleigh because we were very familiar with it, the venue, hotels, and pubs!” adds Matt, whose team of nine staff travel to the exhibition from Doveridge on the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border.

“This is our sixth BSS and probably our best Friday at the event and we’ve sold about 25 guns in the mid to high range for between £5,000 and £15,000. We are hoping for a lot more of the same. It is tricky at a show like this for us to go to other dealers because we already stock two of the leading brands, but people come to us and we offer specialist advice. 

“Its true that February is a quieter month, which is part of the reason the British Shooting Show is so successful. It gives people the chance to see what is in the market and time to think about how they are going to spend that Christmas money. What we do is help people make that choice, we aren’t about the hard sale here today because it is all about making sure that we can send people away with the right information and allow them to buy the guns through the right channels.”

Now with a decade of experience and an ever-expanding fan base, the BSS has once again fulfilled its role as a springboard for the industry to leap back into action and hopefully hit record-breaking heights in 2018.

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