Was 2013 a year of recovery? Not according to Philip Moss, who recounts the tribulations of another 12 months in business
Another year is over. I would love to celebrate this fact with a light, breezy and entertaining article based on the current fiction that there are more hours of sunshine under a Coalition government, every problem you can think of can be blamed on global warming, and, most laughable of all, the recession is over. No doubt this is true if you dwell in the rarefied atmosphere of a London trading floor or the exhilarating, thin-aired upper floors of those few companies who employ thousands of workers on an international basis. For the rest of us grovelling around in the commercial mire, trading conditions remain the same, if not worse than the previous 12 months.
“Why don’t you try something different?” people ask me. Well, by ‘people’ I mean Mrs Moss, who has taken such a close interest in my business affairs that she seems oblivious to the disastrous campaign of trading at this year’s point-to-points. Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow was a roaring success by comparison. The only difference was that my withdrawal to Wales at the end of each day’s humiliation wasn’t harried by bands of marauding Kalmuks and Cossacks (except for that one weekend that the Vale of White Horse held their race meeting).
Neither did Mrs Moss notice the two months of slogging up and down to London I did to trade at the Apple Market in Covent Garden, with such dismal results that I had to retreat with my tail firmly between my legs. The costs of getting there and staying there had firmly killed my venture. Even if these had been free, I would not have died from a surfeit of wealth, I can assure you.
As if to really grind in the idiocy of ‘trying something new’, the car restoration market, into which I dipped a tentative toe, had about as much commercial activity as the darker parts of the moon. So, if it’s a hearty and happy end-of-year summing-up that you’re looking for, may I suggest that you go and share a needle or two with a fashionable celebrity in the loo of some urban hellhole, because that’s more fun than I’m having at the moment.
The point is, perhaps we should be happy for all the bankers and civil servants for whom the recession is, as they term it, ‘over’. But for us mere trading mortals to get just a whiff of the feel-good effect will probably take another 24 months, minimum. As the sounds of general rejoicing, broadcast by the BBC, recede over the next 12 months, you will become more accustomed to words like ‘inflation’, ‘interest rates’ – and, on an entirely unrelated topic, ‘Fenton’, as I am convinced that the owner of Richmond’s rogue flat-coated retriever will be ‘outed’ during this period. In fact, I really hope he is, as I have placed substantial bets at a number of the 17 betting shops that occupy Monmouth’s main thoroughfare.
But back to the economic guff. Just when things seem to perk up, in about 24 months’ time, at local markets, car boot sales, game fairs and the Department of Defence bring-and-buy procurement events, the word ‘inflation’ will be used in conjunction with words like ‘higher’, ‘soaring’ and, of course, that old favourite ‘since records began’. As a direct result of these unhappy combinations, politicians and journalists will tumble out of the woodwork to preach about using interest rates to control inflation. Ah yes, what the Bank of England giveth, the Bank of England also taketh away. Rising interest rates will probably negate any improvement in trading at game fairs and other country events by making your mortgage, utilities bills and other living costs more expensive. Politicians will talk earnestly about the need to ‘protect growth’ from the scourge of inflation, regardless of the short-term effect it has on households or small businesses.
I suppose it’s facile to think that the gun trade is just going through a bad patch and that soon everything will be as it once was. Looking back over the year, it looks like there were big structural changes taking place in the gun market. The fact that I talk, on a pretty regular basis, to three reps with many years’ experience in reputable gun businesses, all of whom seem unable to find a niche for themselves, suggests that things will not just revert. The fact that the leather accessories market (for me at any rate) is down for the second year running supports this analysis. I am doing more trade business with retailers in Europe and Scandinavia than I am with British gun shops.
Looking at my sales at outdoor events for the past year, shooting goods have been knocked off the top spot by personal accessories such as belts and iPhone covers, as over recent years selling shooting goods has become an internet-based activity. Sales of loaders’ bags and gunslips have remained unchanged from last year in number, but most have been sold over the internet as opposed to over the counter.
So what does the year ahead hold for traditional counter trading at game fairs? Specialist shows like the British Shooting Show seem to go from strength to strength – though the addition of an extra trading day in February may have the effect of stretching two days’ business over three days. At least this should leave time for things like toilet breaks, coffee and sandwiches, or even the occasional nap if the crowds go a bit thin on day three.
For more general shows, I predict that the specialist shooting accessories trade will remain on the internet, while more general items may see an increase in interest. One thing is for certain: the shows will go ahead and will be well attended by traders old and new. Few event organisers have missed the opportunity to offer ‘early bird’ deals for shows in 2014, with some of these offers starting to arrive in September. While many traders used to object to paying for a stall up to 10 months before it actually took place, the savings offered by these ‘early bird’ deals may take the sting out of another uncertain year of trading.