The Game Fair is estimated to bring record-breaking financial gain to the local businesses surrounding Ragley Hall. More importantly, traders were hoping to reap the same benefits. Ollie Harvey investigates the trade view of the event.
During the heatwave building up the event, locals were keen to voice their support for the show suggesting that this could be the most successful trade event of the year. Independent research found that last year’s event generated an average spend of £288 per head, with £2m of that spent on local accommodation alone.
With Warwickshire poised to reap the rewards of exhibitors and guests arriving en masse in the midst of record breaking temperatures, the Game Fair opened following two months without any significant rainfall – the most recent downpour was almost two months before, on 29 May.
Indeed the last time the Game Fair enjoyed a build up this hot was in 1976; that year the event was based in Glanusk Park in Powys, and provided a huge boost to the local Welsh economy.
Almost inevitably the festival was treated to the whole gamut of British weather, with a sweltering opening day, followed by a weekend of sporadic and occasionally torrential rainfall, leaving exhibitors debating the ideal conditions for trading.
ASI said their weekend had certainly been affected by the weather. managing director Edward King said: “It was a shame that the weather had to break halfway through the second day; after eight weeks without rain, a couple more days of sun would not have done any harm. instead, the downpour on Saturday afternoon sent most people scurrying for the cover of their cars and the latter part of the day saw very reduced numbers.
“Among the memories I will take away was the lack of logic in the layout, with no fewer than five Gunmakers’ rows, spread about with no rhyme or reason.
“People wandered about not knowing where they were and had difficulty finding their way around, mainly because the site maps entitled ‘You are here’ in bold letters did not actually indicate where on the site you actually were. I think that most people had worked out that they were at the Game Fair, having parked and paid to come in.
“In addition, Gunmakers’ rows were full of stands which were nothing to do with guns at all. ASI faced a sporting artist, a tweed skirt manufacturer, a watch seller and a sporting agent; with the exception of the sporting agent, none of the others were stands one would look for in Gunmakers’ row. It is obvious that the organisers were trying to keep these standholders happy by putting them in the rows where there is the most footfall, but the result is that Gunmakers’ row ceases to be what it purports to be, namely a place where people come to see guns.
“While on the subject of footfall, this was not helped on Row C by the positioning of an ice cream van diagonally across the entrance, thereby channelling visitors away from the row. Not clever.
“The exhibitors did their best, as did the public, but it seems that the organisers still do not listen to the exhibitors, many of whom have been doing shows for considerably more time than they,” Edward concluded.
Traders did seem to be in agreement that the cooler temperatures on Saturday morning were proving better for business. Allistair Croot said that he had spotted a spike in footfall and that interest in their tweed rifle slips were proving particularly popular.
“Rifles tended to be a working gun whereas shotguns were more for leisure. Now we are seeing rifles gain popularity away from pest control and its right that there are the same high quality slips for them as there are for shotguns,” he said.
Elaine Stewart of Longthorne also said that respite from the searing heat was more inviting for visitors. Their new nouveau was drawing plenty of attention and anticipation was also high for the new boxlock (expected later this year), but despite this Elaine mirrored the view that Gunmakers row had lost its way. “It used to be the main avenue through the Game Fair, now it’s mostly clothes retailers…”
Before Saturday’s washout GMK were also busy. The Game Fair marked the introduction of new products from a range of brands including Beretta and Benelli. “Yesterday (Friday) was too hot; you could barely think,’ I was told.
“People were coming onto the stand for respite. In a way thats a good thing because they are looking at the products and we have a few new ranges out so there is plenty to shout about. We even have Domenico Marini over from Italy promoting the new Benelli which we expect to be available around December.” Also exhibiting exciting new product lines, the Shooting Party were enjoying mixed days. Mike Hurney described this year’s Game Fair as “disappointing” and said the problems caused by the weather highlight the value of indoor shows when it comes to guaranteeing healthy visitor numbers.
“The time and preparation involved in attending is very expensive – traders won’t come if it’s not economically viable,” he warned.
Commenting on the layout of trade stands, Mr Hurney added: “The weather was beyond the organisers’ control but the layout wasn’t and it didn’t seem to work at all. Some areas looked busy while others really were out on a limb and devoid of people.”
Despite this, he said some of his product lines had proved popular at Ragley. “It’s so difficult to judge what to bring to a show like this. You never can tell. We brought a lot of what sold well last year, as well as our new stuff. One year you might sell out of something and the next year you can’t shift it.
“The compressor is popular because it’s so unique. nobody else has anything like it, so that is something niche for us. scopes are usually popular, they are best seller along with the accessories that always go well.”
Tony Belas, back at Daystate, Brocock and MTC, said: “We had intense heat, strong winds blowing tents and gazebos down, then a total washout – all in the space of three days.
“It really wasn’t the weather for an outdoor show and a lot of people evidently stayed at home. We had half the usual staff but still had more staff than visitors most of the time.
“The airgun ranges looked empty. There was hardly ever a queue and there are usually always lots of people waiting for a go at a show of this magnitude.”
Mr belas said although the weather had a big impact on footfall, he also believed the layout of the show made it difficult for visitors to find some areas. “The layout was crazy – the countless Gunmakers’ rows made it really confusing and everything felt very scattered.”
On a more positive note, one organisation that made it onto a central aisle, The Countryside Alliance, did welcome plenty of interest across three days. With temperatures peaking at over 30 degrees, Jack Knott said the weather was a good reason for people to stop and come on to the stand for a chat and a G&T.
Cheers to that!