The flagship store in Gary Lamburn’s ever-growing empire is on an industrial estate on the edge of Exeter, just off the M5, and gets visitors from all over the world.

When Gary Lamburn purchased the Sportsman Gun Centre in 1993, the business was in transition and the deal for the mail-order gun store was completed for less than the price of your average Beretta. Then events at Hungerford and Dunblane rendered mail-order guns null and void, so the SGC team made the move into wholesale firearms.  When GTN lasted visited Gary, in 2019, the business turning over £18m, and it continues to go from strength to strength. We asked Gary what he thought were the secrets to his success.

Tell us about the one member of staff you couldn’t live without and why.

James Cook, the Retail Manager of the Exeter branch. He is very passionate on delivering quality service no matter if the customer is spending a penny or a pound, so to speak. He is always willing to assist or advise with no obligation to purchase. He is very good at gun fitting and also passionate on making sure customers are sold the correct items, no matter their value, whether firearm or accessory. He always offers a personal touch, which is great in this age of retail shopping as he looks at customers as a human rather than just another number walking through the door.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, why you’re managing a gun shop—what your passions are.

Where to begin! I have always been involved in this industry one way or another as my main passion is clay shooting. I started working on a clay shooting ground when I was 12 and was lucky enough to be shown and taught the ropes of the sport very early on, for which I am very grateful. This extensive taste left me wanting more from this niche career. By being involved in the clay shooting world my love has developed for this sport constantly and I have been lucky enough to represent my country in international competitions and even got lucky to win a European Championship. You must hear this all the time but it is nice working with your hobby, or as my partner would say, ‘my passion’.

Best day ever?

I enjoy Game Fairs as there is a constant flow of customers who are like-minded. By the time you look at your watch at the Game Fair it is Sunday evening and you are ready to go home. You simply do not stop, which is great fun.

I love the days that are unexpected in terms of sales. You never know what is about to come through the door in terms of sales. For example, one day a customer who I had not seen for a couple of years popped in for some cartridges and an hour later walked out some £75,000 lighter. (Expensive cartridges, I know.) He purchased three cracking unique shotguns from me and was over the moon as one of them was for his good lady, so he got out of going to London to do some shopping for her birthday and squeezed another day’s shooting in for him. (I haven’t told you his name so you can’t tell his wife!)

What’s your clientele like? 

Wow! A complete mix from all walks of life. From twin boys aged eight who live for shooting and spend all their pocket money on shooting attire to UAE sheiks. Our clientele come from all areas of the world and upbringings, which is why I enjoy the retail world as I get to meet them all from my place of work. (It saves on the air miles.)

Who’s your best customer and why? 

Sadly too many to list as they all have different personalities and interests, which is what makes them interesting to me. Dealing with all these different types of personalities has helped me to develop my skills within the gun trade, making me a better person as well as a manager within this industry.

What’s your funniest or most memorable story about a customer? 

Where to begin… but the most memorable that stays in my mind was when a gentleman pointed to a very expensive gun and said, “I’ll take that.” In my mind I was like, “That is the easiest sale for a £70,000 gun I will ever make.” As I thought this he passed his certificate to me and I started to fill out the certificate and make conversation with him. Once this was done and he walked to the till with me, I asked how he would like to pay the vast sum, at which point the colour drained out his face and he spluttered, “I thought it was £7,000.” I quickly made light of the situation to avoid his embarrassment and to put him back at ease again. 

Every time he comes in now he always asks me to confirm the price before we do the paperwork and of course it still is a talking point to which we both laugh. On the plus side, if his lottery numbers ever do come up he has assured me he will take a pair of those guns.

I also must mention that I do love and get my kicks from hearing from fathers who have brought a gun from me and we have had it fitted for their son or daughter to start their shooting hobby off and they have shot their first clay or game bird, and as a result of this are hooked on this great sport. We must all encourage youngsters and band new shooters, no matter their age, into this sport for future succession. You are never too young or old to step into this cracking lifestyle, no matter your background either.

What’s been the most successful product (or area) for you in the past year? 

With Covid lockdown I have to say air rifles—and good quality air rifles at that. We have sold vast amounts of FX Air Rifles, and good optics and Pard night vision units to go with these, as it appears that many customers, though thy couldn’t go out shooting, have chosen to continue their sport in their gardens over these past two difficult years for all.

I firmly believe that with the innovation of FX as a brand and their productivity in bringing new, innovative air rifles and products to the UK market, they have helped with sales through these crazy times we have experienced, which has helped grow sales not only for us but for the entire UK gun trade.

What do you anticipate will be the trends for the coming year. 

The biggest trend and topic of interest is the steel shot saga. We have noticed we are selling more new brands of guns to cope with this, as it is only a matter of time before the law comes into force. We must all team together on this, both trade and customers, in order to support our hobby—be you an air rifle enthusiast, game shot or rifle shooter—as this legislation will change our sport and if we are not careful we could cause our own decline in what we can do within the sport we love.

When you order stock, what’s the first thing you put down?

My cup of coffee… I like to ensure we order the correct products, so we look back at trends and sales history to ensure we have the correct amount of stock coming in and to ensure that the stock is relevant to the season, where applicable.

Any other interesting facts about the business you would like to share with our readers?

By being part of a business that supplies the trade and looks after retail customers, I get to see what other shops are doing in respect of products they are stocking and indeed selling. This helps me to stay at the top of this industry as it is like inside trading. There are a number of people within the industry who I have looked up to (still do) and who I hold in high regard, as they conduct and present their business to a superb standard. That has helped me to adapt my own methods, making the best of a retail environment which should be a wonderful experience to shop in and be a part of for all.

What’s the best thing for you about working in a gun shop? 

As it is my passion, I get to see the new products that come to the market before the rest of the world does. I am very lucky to attend shows such as IWA, which is a great insight, to see the suppliers—not only UK but worldwide suppliers—and the new products they are bringing to the market. As a result of this I have made many friends from across the world who share the same interest as me, and I am very grateful for this as I meet and interact with all types of characters in this trade.

When you meet people outside the industry, are they ever surprised when you tell them you own and run a gun shop? 

Only people who don’t know me directly. It is always a great talking point and adds to an evening’s conversation over dinner.

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