Gun Trade News join Gary Lamburn at Sportsman Gun Centre, Exeter, for a behind the scenes experience at Britain’s largest firearms business.

When Gary Lamburn purchased The Sportsman Gun Centre in 1993, the business was in transition. The deal for the mail-order gun store was completed for less than the value of your average Beretta. Now the company is turning over £18m and projected to break £20m in the next 12 months. 

Events at Hungerford and Dunblane soon rendered mail-order guns null and void, so the SGC team made the move into wholesale firearms. The company now stocks a comprehensive portfolio of leading brands, including the most recent addition of Battenfeld. 

“From the beginning we ploughed all the profits from one year into the next and so on. By doing that we were able to purchase large quantities of stock and wholesale it out, therefore creating a cash rich company,” Gary explains, “There are a lot of people that think we have had investors; I’ve heard everything from a potato farmer to a rich Arab!”

Aboo Cattran joined the business as co-director in 2007, aiming to push the business to the next level. “I asked Aboo to join the company to bring his personality, skills set and expertise to drive the business forward; it’s all about having the right people around you.”

Sportsman Gun Centre encompasses three of the largest retail gun shops in Europe located in Devon, Dorset and South Wales. Gary comments: “Emerging markets in the gun trade have changed quite a lot, especially in recent times. In the early days we would look to wholesale everything, but now we are looking at things that are very margin focused for us and for our dealers.

 “Most of the products on the market today have really slender margins. There is an old quip in the trade that says the wholesaler has the retailer margin and the trade has the wholesale margin – we are trying to reverse that because margins of 10 or 15 per cent are not workable.” 

Gary has also noticed the decimation of profits from accessories such as clothing and optics, and suggests markets are struggling because of the continued rise of online retail. “What used to be a 50 or 60 per cent standard mark-up is now shrinking to 17 to 25 per cent,” he says, “The internet is a great marketing tool but it has damaged margins right across the board. If you look at platforms like Amazon, they are leading the race to the bottom.

“I feel that SGC’s strength are using its buying power to negotiate with overseas suppliers and manufacturers to create products with improved dealer margins.” Gary adds. The Exeter superstore opened in 2007, covering a vast 22,000sq ft with 6,000sq ft dedicated to the retail showroom, presently holding 4500-5000 guns at any one time. 

Gary explains: “We are just having a company restructure. Sportsman Gun Centre, as everybody knows it, will stay in the public domain for the retail shops. The trade side is just about to be re-branded where we will have a separate stand-alone company. We have always had a separate division which was a bit of stigma to begin with; hopefully at the British Shooting Show we took our first steps to working solely as wholesalers. 

SGC’s unique approach at the trade show in February saw the business factor in approximately 200 sales through 10 nominated dealers. “The guns and optics were sold with good margins,” says Gary, “It was very well received with our dealer network.”  This highlights the importance of allocating shelf space to the brands that sell through and offer significantly better margins. 

In addition to supporting the trade at retail events, SGC also have a dedicated team on the road who buy and sell from dealers across the country allowing them to use the extra capital to invest in new stock. 

“Maintaining stock levels when demands are high is a constant challenge.  Issues arise when we take in consignments from suppliers as we may not have enough stock for our own shops as our dealers come first,” adds Gary. 

“We have this discussion quite often; we would make more margin on our own website, however, orders are shipped according to back orders placed and allocation is spread evenly to ensure dealers are kept happy”.  SGC is just the same as any other dealers and need to get orders placed in a timely manner to ensure shops are well stocked.”

When GTN last spoke to Aboo in 2016 he noted a migration to online sales. The rise of technology has also created a useful marketing tool for the trade, and one that Gary is keen to utilise to track emerging market trends. “Who would have thought we would be using Facebook as a marketing tool 15 years ago?” he asks. 

“I regularly use Facebook and Instagram to keep track of new and emerging trends, what stock is moving well on the market place and of course to keep an eye on my competitors!”

“We have a trade portal that dealers currently use which is shortly going to be updated to include all the major brands we represent.  It all comes down to margins; let’s focus on larger more profitable margins for the dealers so that they can invest in stock, marketing and people to push their businesses forward.

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