Show season is here, says Airgun Shooter’s Nick Robbins. For once, let’s grasp the opportunities it provides rather than focusing on its negatives
The last few weeks have been hectic both personally and professionally for me. I moved house, and as we all know, that’s the perfect opportunity to have a good sift through the assorted junk and detritus that gets accumulated in modern life, put the items of value – sentimental or fiscal – in a box and everything else in a bin bag. It was during this process that I stumbled on back issues of Gun Trade News – well, the ones I had written in at least. I had held onto them for posterity and so I could look at the image in my mugshot, taken over two years ago now, and remember what I looked like before I had worked in publishing for too long. I won’t tell you whether they ended up in a box or in a bag, but, as you do when undertaking a particularly dull task, I took the discovery of these mags as a cosmic sign to put the kettle on and read back through them.
I was delighted to see that I had skilfully managed to crowbar in references to cricket in nearly every column I had written. I tallied this against mentions of cricket in the pre-Nick Robbins days, and the score was a resounding 14 articles to 0. Yet, despite frequent submissions, Wisden is yet to publish one of my On Air columns.
However, the second recurring motif that seemed to inspire me to put fingers to keyboard was trade shows. That shouldn’t be surprising – and at least it is vaguely on topic – as the airgun shooters’ year is littered with events that demand a draw on their time and their wallets. But it’s not just the punters who are faced with these financial decisions. Airgun manufacturers, retailers and suppliers need to know which shows offer the best reward for the associated costs of either attending or exhibiting. For UK-based companies, the biggest one is the annual behemoth that is IWA. How big a presence should you have there? What price do you place on a few hours in an exhibition hall followed by more hours in an Irish bar drinking and trying not to do anything too embarrassing as the keen journalistic eye of GTN’s Sniper surveys the scene?
Yet the airgunners’ lot is not always the happiest one at these shows – something again that has been the topic of a number of columns. Whether it’s the CLA prioritising the game shooters, the Midland putting the Airgun Expo up a hill and in the corner, or the British Shooting Show’s airgun area paling in comparison to the rifles and shotguns, airgunners have always found something to indicate their lot could yet improve. This despite the fact that, in my experience, many of the most exciting products, the greatest innovation and the most forward-thinking marketing can be found on the airgun stands.
Having spent time at trade shows in various markets, I’ve begun to realise that this dichotomy remains the same wherever you go. Take the music industry, where expensive, luxury items – grand pianos, handmade acoustic guitars and orchestral string instruments – are pored over with envy by visitors and placed front and centre by the organisers, while the innovative new products – often those that are non-traditional or digital – are sidelined, and engaged in a battle to be taken as seriously as their more established counterparts.
Plus there are the internal politics that go into it – the annoyance on the faces of the violin manufacturer placed alongside a cavalcade of drum manufacturers who are ever so keen to let guests sample their products. Doesn’t sound so different to a stand holder who gets put next to the clay line – or worse, a large display of electronic fox callers.
Yet even in the increasingly digital age in which we live, trade shows and game fairs retain a huge importance to the creation of new business, the marketing efforts of companies and direct sales. So much so that new ones seem to keep popping up, while the established ones become indelibly etched into the calendars of the trade. For all the bluster, figures continue to show that punters are attending the shows in increasing numbers. Take the recent British Shooting Show, where there was clearly more than enough demand to justify an expansion to the three-day format.
Like the pile of teenage poetry and unsent love letters I ritualistically burned in my back garden last week, the economic climate has forced companies to shed their unprofitable aspects – or those things that you thought were a great idea 10 years ago, which have no place in your life now, though that might just be specific to my situation – and focus on what works. I’m not going to say the crisis is over – and I’m sure there’s plenty more work to be done – but companies that can survive through periods like this have done so for a reason, and that’s because they are built on a core of success. And for airgun manufacturers and retailers, the effort and cost of focusing on innovation – in the design of the guns or just how you market your own store, for example – will begin to pay off. Trade shows and game fairs retain importance not only for financial reasons, but because it’s a chance to make a statement and put your business directly in the faces of customers or the trade. It’s the opportunity to go to them, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
I should probably mention that the most common theme that ran through my previous On Air columns was negativity. Over and over again it was about things that weren’t happening or other portents of doom. There was little in the way of positive news. So those copies of GTN I found did survive the culling process, and are now in my new house. Perhaps I’ll look back on them again in a year or so’s time and find that I was right to be so negative, but for now – and this could just be down to the fact that the Christmas bourbon I was bought has been finished and not replaced – I’m going to look for the positives. And that even includes spending an evening in the Irish bar drinking Guinness at IWA.