The managing director of GMK, Karl Waktare, tells us how the distributors are getting on in the face of coronavirus, and why he has decided to seek nomination to the BASC council.

Karl Waktare is the MD for GMK

Tell us a little bit about GMK?

GMK are the UK’s biggest distributor for civilian shooting sports products in the UK. We do a full distribution service for brands that want to be represented in the UK.

Tell us about your key brands, and what makes your business tick?

Our biggest brand is Beretta and we also distribute other market leading companies including Sako, Tikka, Federal, CCI, Benelli, Franchi and Steiner. In addition to this we have a retail division with our flagship ‘Beretta Gallery’ in London and a concession in Harrods. We also have a strong tactical division which has won contracts with the UK MOD and supplies all the UK Police forces.

Tell us about the history of GMK?

GMK was originally called Gunmark but the name was changed in the late 90s as we were selling an increasing amount of non-shooting products (Le Chameau, for example). 

My father founded the company in 1971 with four other people mainly selling Spanish side by sides. The company was appointed Beretta distributors in 1977 which was the catalyst for growing the turnover from £1.8m in 1980 to £6.6m in 1987. Obviously there have been tough times over the years with new legislation and recessions but we have grown consistently through generic means, new brands plus the retail and tactical divisions. We turned over £27.5m in 2019, our record year was 2017 when we managed over £30m.

With regards to Beretta buying into the business; the UK is the biggest market for Beretta after the USA and Italy and they wanted to cement their already strong relationship with us by taking an equity stake. Initially it was 20 per cent in 2005 and then a majority 60 per cent shareholding in 2013.

There’s a ‘Beretta’ on the board. How is your relationship with the Beretta corp?

Franco Beretta is on our board and we have an excellent relationship with him. This is one of the great things about working with the Beretta Group, they may be huge with a turnover of about £750 million and several thousand employees but we still get direct access to the owners and key decision makers. I also think Franco enjoys getting direct feedback from my brother Oskar and I on his periodic visits to the UK.

Your last filed accounts show a healthy profit on a slightly declining turnover for 2018, your 2019 accounts must be due soon. What do they show?

They show a very similar turnover to 2018 of £27.5m and a similar profit level. GMK will be 50 years old in 2021 and to be honest if we weren’t managing to show a reasonable return with such a mature business and excellent suppliers we would be doing a poor job. We are lucky to have the best brands in the business, so sales are generally reliable—the biggest challenges are dealing with exchange rate fluctuations and getting our high value inventory levels right.

2020 will obviously go down as a difficult year. Do you have any idea yet of the impact coronavirus will have on your figures?

We came into 2020 feeling very optimistic, Brexit was finally done. We started the year with strong sales of new models like the Beretta 694, Sako S20 among many other. Then boom Covid-19! April sales were below £400k when we would be expecting £1.5 to 2m, May is looking better but still below half a usual month. We expect a strong bounce back once shops open but then we will have to see. It would be naïve not to expect a difficult year but on the plus side this downturn was due to something exceptional rather than a weak economy.   

How have you coped with coronavirus as an organisation?

We have remained operational throughout with much reduced staffing levels. Most staff were furloughed as it made sense, where we could cut costs we have. We cannot do anything about fixed costs, of which there are plenty, so we will lose money during lockdown months.

On to you a bit more personally, of interest to our readers because of your BASC nomination.

Tell us about your background.

My surname is Swedish and my parents moved to the UK, from Sweden, when I was seven years old. I remember my parents being told that wearing clogs in school wasn’t appropriate. I studied ‘Management Science’ at Manchester University in the late 80s.

My first job was in advertising sales at British Satellite Broadcasting, six months into the job it was announced on the nine o’clock news that we had merged with Sky. It was quite an experience to be part of a merger between two bitter rivals and all that goes with it.

I worked at Sky until late 1994 when I moved back to Hampshire to work for GMK. I have four children and two dogs, and we are expecting another (dog, that is!).

What’s your personal shooting pleasure?

I am an outdoors person and quite competitive in nature, outside shooting I love cycling and tennis. I love the competitive challenge of clay shooting and the physical challenge of upland stalking. That said I love driven game shooting and all that goes with it. I like to try all forms of shooting whenever I get the chance.

Why do you want to join the BASC council?

Two main reasons really, firstly they are the most important shooting organisation due to their size. Secondly I believe I have something to offer to the council in terms of business experience and shooting knowhow. As part of my job I need to understand the needs of shooters from across the spectrum of fieldsports.

I want to understand how BASC works and if the structure can be improved to make better use of the available talent. I would be one person on the council but I want to use my knowledge of the shooting industry and business in general to bring a new perspective to the meetings. I have a very broad personal experience of many forms of shooting.

I also understand how the shooting press works and I have extensive contacts in the shooting media, among manufacturers and the retailers. I believe I offer a unique insight to the council that would complement the legal and scientific skills that are already represented.

I also have experience of being on GTA Council and other trade organisations. In short I believe I can help BASC Council make better and more informed decisions on the future of our sport.  

What are the big challenges facing BASC?

I would say getting better and smarter in delivering positive shooting PR and dealing with the threat of the anti’s.

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