UK Custom Shop has established its name by creating moderators built to last. Their Wildcat range has continued to grow since Andrew and Carole Banner launched the Predator model over 20 years ago, with more recent additions keeping the range relevant. Andrew sadly passed away just over six years ago, but under the guidance of wife, Carole, sons Josh and Sam, and with the addition of trade sales manager, Alison Green, UK Custom Shop has continued to boom (quietly).
Alison remarks on the long lifespan of their products: “The thing that surprises us is that people still ring up and ask for our ‘new moderator’, the Evolution. Well, that is five years old now – but because it’s such a different looking mod, it still looks fresh and new!
“It took about 18 months to get the Evolution out, with all the testing you have to do. You have to throw thousands of rounds through it to make sure you don’t blow yourself up. Well, I suppose you can blow yourself up, but the trick is not to blow your customers up…”
The Evolution has found lasting popularity not just because of its design but also because of its weight – it weighs half as much as a Predator. Alison explains: “Hunters and stalkers have now got something that isn’t going to kill their shoulder when they’re walking around for miles, but also is strippable, they can clean it, and instead of having to buy yet another brand new complete moderator – because ours are modular – they can buy the parts.
“Not everyone has deep pockets in shooting sports. Too many people out there, especially the uneducated, think that shooting is an elite sport and that everybody has got thousands of pounds in their back pocket, which just isn’t the case – so Wildcat’s aim is to keep our mods as reasonably priced as possible.”
The latest addition to the Wildcat range is the Panther, which launched in March. It joins the Predator, Evolution and Whisper ranges, all of which are designed and made internally by Wildcat’s own engineer at their factory in Worcestershire.
“Everything is manufactured in Britain, by us. Nothing is out-sourced; everything is designed by the family. Even Carole and I have a go – even if it’s mostly drawing pictures on bits of paper and colouring them in with felt tip pens,” Alison says.
This personal touch is one of the selling points of the UK Custom Shop team. “We seem to be doing all right in the competitive market,” says Alison. “Not only because of the quality of the product but also because of the customer service folks get. If there is ever a problem, they just ring us up and it’s dealt with. They haven’t got to go through ‘press this number for this, and that number for that’ – it’s more personal.”
The personal approach is found throughout the business, including on the Wildcat website. “The photographs that we have on there are our customers’ rifles,” explains Alison. “But they are under strict instructions when they send in photos. They have a brief: arty and scenic. If I get one in a kitchen or on the bed then I’m banning you,” she jokes. “We use their photographs for our adverts too. They love it, because they feel part of the family – which they are. They are our Wildcat family. We have a shooters’ gallery on our website and on our Facebook page where all of the lads’ photos go up; it makes them feel part of something, we love to see their kit.”
That customer service emphasis extends to modifying kit and making parts to help tackle external issues. “We customise a lot of stuff,” adds Alison. “If there is an issue, folks ring us up and between us we sort it for them. There’s not much we can’t deal with.” Also offering advice on moderator maintenance, Alison says the best way to clean their Wildcat mod is simply with warm water, washing up liquid and a toothbrush, but admits she knows of shooters using the dishwasher (when the other half is away).
“Just don’t put a Calgon tab in with it,” she warns. “Your washing machine might live longer, but your moderator won’t!”
UK Custom Shop made the decision to focus on advice, customer service and most importantly the moderators four years ago – shortly after the launch of the Evolution – winding down the retail side of the business in the process. “It really had dropped backwards,” confesses Alison. “In the last three years we have rebuilt the Wildcat name.
“Now, the phones get answered, emails get answered, and social media is looked after. I remember at half past nine one Sunday night, I was having conversation with about five different shooters about cold baked beans and salad cream. It’s an important issue…
“It also reminds me of Christmas Day, about three years ago. About quarter past nine in the morning, the phone rang. He said ‘Hello, I don’t suppose you are open today are you?’ “I said ‘You know what day it is, right? It’s Christmas Day.’
“He said ‘S***! I’ve been out with the dogs since half past six – I forgot what day it was! My wife’s going to kill me!’
“I told him his wife wasn’t the only one!
“It just goes to show how much shooters care about their sport. It’s just such a shame that shooting is so denigrated and put upon by people,” she says.
“It’s people that have never been shooting and don’t have the facts, just hearsay. They think that if you have a gun you are a fanatic and a maniac and will run out of your garden gate trying to shoot everyone.”
There are strong feelings towards antis in the Wildcat office, after personal attacks. “I’ve been called a murderer,” says Alison. “Accused of murder because I supply something that is going to make a gun quiet, so therefore I am encouraging people to go out and shoot people.” But back to the positive stories. Wildcat are hoping to bring some new products to the market in the New Year.
“It’s not totally certain to happen yet, because we are so busy with our current stock,” remarks Alison. “We’ve haven’t yet got a machine free to get it into production. Luckily our engineer is in chains and he can’t go anywhere. That’s how we keep it so cheap – he’s kept prisoner in our machine shop.” Alison might be joking but there’s an interesting point to be made on their pricing.
The last time Wildcat raised their prices, they saw a spike in sales, despite their concerns. They may be forced to raise them again following Brexit, but Alison is less worried about the effects of leaving Europe.
“What difference is Brexit going to make? None, I think. People won’t stop selling to us because we are British, or they will go out of business themselves. We didn’t need visas in the 1970s to go to Spain, so why would we need them now? British tourists are the main income for many EU countries; I can’t see that or the trade suddenly stopping.
“Critics of Brexit need to stop moaning and get behind it so it does work. If you look at Switzerland, it is bordered by several EU countries, and there aren’t any hard borders. So why does Ireland need one? It’s just lies and rubbish.”
Including exports to Europe, especially France, Germany and Ireland, the Evolution is the best-seller of the Wildcat range. Alison reflects: “It is such a shame that Andrew wasn’t around the see the Evolution come out. But we reckon he’s up there somewhere, watching down on us and saying, ‘You shouldn’t be doing it like that!’ “But in all honesty, we really think he would be so proud. We’re the best, we’re brilliant, and we’re British!”