Every distributor dreams of that marquee signing that confirms it as a serious force in the industry. County Louth-based Ardee Sports believes it has got just that – but Cogswell & Harrison is a little different. It’s not reputation alone that makes it a strong proposition – few would say it’s one of the biggest gun brands out there – but its longevity. Founded in May 1770, it’s possibly the oldest surviving manufacturer from the London gun trade.
So, a quarter of a millennium’s history – is David Brennan, Ardee’s director, letting it weigh him down?
“I don’t see it as pressure. I see it as a privilege that I have been given this opportunity to nourish the brand. We have all the records dating back to the mid-1800s. The first three volumes were destroyed in a fire way back in the day, but we have a lot of history, covering 85,000 guns approximately. We even have records of when a Cogswell & Harrison was purchased by the Duke of York in 1933. The Duke later went on to be the king of England and the father of our present queen. We have a lot of history.”
But David’s smart enough to know that history alone doesn’t mean all that much. A brand with a heritage that wins the hearts of customers will give you a leg up, but ultimately end users go for quality and price over all else. David recognises this and knows not to put all his eggs in one basket. “We will not put the Cogswell & Harrison name on something that doesn’t deserve it – it has to be of a certain standard.
“As long as I supply it, the brand will stand for quality. When a dealer buys Cogswell & Harrison, not only are they buying the product, they are also getting support from me in the background. We service our customers to the best of our ability. I try to keep them happy. A man buys a gun and goes to shoot – I want that man to be continuously shooting. I don’t want him sitting at home because his gun broke down. Hopefully guns don’t break down, but should there be a little mishap, we will do the best we can to get the guy back on the road again as quickly as possible.”
Ardee holds distributorships for Silma and Breda and has distributed Beretta to Ireland, so it knows the lower and middle sections of the shotgun price scale intimately. But that brings its own risk of a clash – how can you continue to serve Silma well while also launching Cogswell & Harrison to the same customer base? David says the two are entirely different propositions: “Outside Cogswell & Harrison we are importers, exporters, distributors. Cogswell & Harrison is something that we own. It’s part of our family, if I might put it like that. It’s two different identities.”
Ownership provides benefits in terms of flexibility. Manufacture, origin and price point are all customisable to Ardee’s specification. David explains how the company has already changed its approach once: “When we started off we first went to the London gun trade and got some very expensive guns made. That was all fine and well, but we discovered that whereas the London gun trade has a fantastic talent and great people, the time factor is a deal-breaker. It would be impossible to make a living out of selling those guns – they’re just too slow.
“So we went to the Italians, we went to the Czech Republic, and got people who can make guns quickly. Affordable guns at an acceptable price.”
The next development Ardee has brought to the Cogswell & Harrison stable is the addition of a rifle: the Certus rimfire, available in .22 and .17 HMR. “The rimfire rifle is manufactured in the Czech Republic by a famous rifle manufacturer. First of all I’m honoured that such a manufacturer would allow me to put the Cogswell & Harrison brand on their product,” says David. “Having done that and introduced the product both in this market and in Ireland, to date I haven’t had a negative response. Everybody likes it, I’ve had nothing but positive responses, and it’s selling really well.” A centrefire is on the way too – but don’t expect it next week: “Relaunching a brand or bringing new products to market is like having children. You can only have the one at a time. You have one, you develop it, you take care of it, then you may consider having another. You can’t rush these things. If you overdo it, you’ll pay the price.”
The next step, ahead of new product developments, is to build the global footprint of the brand: “Cogswell & Harrison is bigger than just the UK and Ireland. We know from people contacting us looking for certificates of origin – particularly the former British Empire countries. We get a lot of enquiries from India, Australia, Canada – obviously Cogswell & Harrison is very strong in those countries. As we move towards the 250th anniversary in 2020, we will try and reawaken the brand in these countries. With the factories we have supplying us, it will be possible to do that.”
Finally, there’s another anniversary to mention: The 40th anniversary of Ardee Sports itself, which was founded on 1 January 1977. “In July 1976 we ran a clay shoot in our local town,” says David. “I saw a man going to shoot, and I saw the excitement in his eyes before he shouted ‘Pull’. I said to myself, ‘If I can harness that excitement, there’s a future in it.’
“Of course, I had no idea that I’d be doing business for that long, or that Cogswell & Harrison would be involved. It’s part of my evolution. When you go through life, you should never have one year the same as the last. Every year should be different.
“This is a course I have been taken on. I saw the opportunity and I just went for it. It was there for anybody to do – I didn’t do anything fantastic. I just did what I do.”