Mat Manning chats with Eric Irish from the Crackshot Air Gun Centre to get his take on the current airgun market and how he is making the most of it.
Eric Irish is no slouch. When the government told him he couldn’t open Crackshot Air Gun Centre during the first coronavirus lockdown, he got in his van and started his own delivery service. The Crackshot shop and range in Newton Abbot, Devon, are now open but Eric has kept his door-to-door service going alongside the business’s boosted online presence because it proved such a hit.
For those who are able to visit Crackshot HQ, the business offers a huge selection of new and used airguns and a massive array of accessories.
The site also boasts some of the country’s most exciting indoor shooting opportunities. I caught up with Eric to find out just what modern airgun shooters want from a gun shop and how he has adapted the business to keep his customers happy during a difficult and uncertain couple of years.
Mat Manning: Why did you decide to focus on airgun shooting at the Crackshot gun shop?
Eric Irish Locally, there are several large, established gun dealers but no one specialising in airguns. There was a huge potential market to grow a business by looking after the established airgun shooters in the south west and offering a way into a sport that was historically difficult to enter by providing a welcoming environment for newcomers.
MM: How have you developed your business to accommodate the needs of airgun shooters?
EI: We started with a supply of airguns for the general airgun shooter but are now stocking many specialist and higher-end target rifles, while not forgetting where we started. We have sought out some of the top people to provide a really specialised knowledge base within the business. We have the facilities to work on and look after many of the well-know brands in house along with our new service of supply and fitting of Huma regulators to many popular brands.
MM: You offer quite a variety of indoor airgun shooting. Which is the most popular?
EI: The air-rifle range is usually the most popular but this year there has been an influx of families looking to enjoy one of our combo packages, where they have the opportunity to spend time on the air-rifle range, pistol range and Simway shooting simulator.
We have had four generations of one family on the range at the same time—there are very few activities where everyone can take part, enjoy and compete on a level playing field like that. We also host discounted evenings for youth groups like Scout groups and the Pony Club, along with regular shooters who come along with their mates for a bit of a social.
MM: What do you regard as the key elements of the Crackshot customer experience?
EI: Our aim is to offer unbiased advice on the range of air rifles that are stocked. We always listen and ask many questions to determine which makes and models we can recommend, but it always comes down to what suits the customer, not ourselves. We build packages to suit the individual rather than customers having to fit a package that we have put together ourselves.
MM: We have seen all sorts of trends in airgun design over recent years—from bullpup proportions to tactical styling. What is the most popular type of airgun with your customers at present?
EI: There are always new developments appearing on the market, which cause a stir. Some will prove popular and become firm favourites while others never quite hit the mark. It’s really difficult to say which type sells best as most of the popular brands always do well, but our pre-owned section—where there is always a bargain to be had—is always changing and fast moving. Overall, the more traditional, general, multi-shot PCP with a decent shot count tends to be the most popular.
MM: What features do most customers prioritise when choosing a modern, pre-charged airgun?
EI: This all depends on the intended use. Most hunters are looking for an adequate shot count for a day or evening out hunting. We have a few who go for the guns with the massive shot count and then bring it back to us for filling, which avoids them having to purchase a charging system.
Spare magazines are a great feature for hunters as it allows the spare mag to be filled during quieter times, so it is ready to go as soon as needed. The target shooters usually go for specialist, single-shot air rifles with adjustable stocks, butts and hamsters. Almost all buyers are looking for reliability over gadgets and gizmos—they can be great if completely reliable but are sometimes just something else to go wrong.
MM: Pre-charged airguns seem to have taken over during the last decade. Is there still a demand for spring-powered airguns and, if so, why do you think that is?
EI: We still have a varied display of springers with many of the premium brands still being in demand. Most of these are capable of competing with pre-charged guns in the right hands. We also sell cost-effective springers to people who have the odd rat problem around a chicken pen or bird feeder but don’t want the expense of a PCP. They’re also great for someone who just fancies a couple of hours of plinking in the back garden when all you need is a tin of pellets and a few targets.
MM: Apart from guns and pellets, what are popular purchases among your airgun-shooting customers?
EI: We always do well with scopes, either as part of a package or as an upgrade once someone has the bug for shooting. Once you get into airgun shooting and you are sat next to someone with the same gun who can hit targets that you can’t, then it’s time for a new scope. We also stock an enormous amount of accessories, including spare magazines, fillers, air bottles, pumps, compressors, suppressors, gun bags, slings, shooting sticks, knives—the list goes on.
MM: What have been the biggest obstacles to your business over the past year and how have you adapted to overcome them?
EI: The first lockdown was like walking into the unknown; being told to close with no hint of any help to start with, the banks not answering the phone or replying to emails, and no idea when we could open again. After a couple of weeks our new website launched with a far greater online offering, all calls were diverted through to my mobile, all emails answered and all advertising was continued.
We also started offering delivery of airguns within a 30-mile radius (which is still running for anyone who is unable to visit) and we started operating a click and collect service for essential workers, like pest controllers. This put us into a great position once we opened again. Stock supplies were and still are a bit slow but, with a long-term ordering strategy, we have overcome most of the supply issues.
MM: Crackshot seems to be a progressive business. Can you give us a hint as to what developments we might see in the future?
EI: The past 18 months have really altered our view on which direction the business will be heading in, and I believe that it is all mostly for the better. It has emphasised the importance of looking after our existing customers, listening to their wishes and acting on them if it is to our mutual benefit. We will also be integrating more digital marketing along with the expansion of our traditional offering.
Careful monitoring and analysis of the return on investment is essential to ensure minimum wastage of any advertising budget. There are a couple of other projects lined up for the next 12 months. They are in their infancy and I can’t really divulge any more at the moment. Watch this space.