How’s Business: December 2013

Gun Trade News’s Nicola Turner finds that shooting retailers are being affected by factors as varied as location, online sales and the weather – but overall, they’re still healthy

With the game season well under way, I asked retailers across the country if the influx of game shooters had given sales a much-needed boost – or whether other factors, such as the weather, had put a dampener on affairs.

Mark from Leominster Gun Room says the game season has ‘definitely’ had a big impact on sales, with cartridges doing particularly well: “Size-wise, there’s a lot of pheasant shooting round here, so sixes do well.” Likewise, he has seen an upturn in gun sales but explains it’s not the same as it used to be. “We obviously do more, but with the websites selling guns now it’s getting harder and harder to get second-hand stuff. I think all the shops are finding that,” he says, going on to explain that second-hand guns were traditionally a core part of Leominster Gun Room’s sales. “It’s the same with everything. At one click of a button you can see 100 gunslips or cartridge bags. In a small shop like mine you just can’t keep that many – maybe half a dozen.”

With pheasant shooting popular in the local area, Mark explains wellies and breeks are mainstays of the clothing he sells. “It’s been pretty quiet so far. It hasn’t started getting real busy on clothes yet,” he says, but he’s hopeful that the sector will continue to pick up over the winter months as it has done before.

In Preston, Mike at Entwistle Guns says, “As always at this time of year, it’s cartridges and clothing, which builds up to a crescendo. There’s nothing startling about that – it’s the same every year really. We get these surveys, ‘Do you expect to get busier next month’, and obviously during September, October, November, December, it’s going to get progressively busier as we move towards Christmas. It always does and it probably always will, even though there’s a recession on.

“But we’re doing well. We’re selling a lot of clothing – Barbour in particular. We have a lot of Barbour clothing, and they’re probably our main brand. It’s a name on everybody’s lips – they spend so much on advertising telling everyone how good it is that it’s what they want to buy. It’s working – for Hunter boots too, I dare say that even though they’re not s

o good quality it’s a name everybody knows. We also sell a lot of Le Chameau boots.”

We talk about whether a brand’s advertising can have such an impact on retail sales: “Absolutely,” Mike says, “Certainly with Barbours, and Le Chameau to an extent too.”
Victory, Eley and Gamebore are the main sellers for Entwistle Guns on the cartridge front, with driven pheasant shoots in the locality. However, Mike reveals, “There’s a lot of goose shooting. Morecambe Bay and Preston Ribble Marshes are main overwintering grounds for pink-footed geese, and that’s quite a big thing with us.” Is that reflected in gun sales? “Well certainly in cartridge sales, on the heavier cartridges,” Mike says, “and the three-and-a-half-inch steel cartridges. And gun sales, yes – we import the Yildiz brand from Turkey and we do extremely well with that. In fact, we’ve had our best year ever with those.

“The best seller has always been the over-and-under .410, for which there’s no season really – it sells all year round. But obviously for the wildfowling season we sell some of a relatively new three-and-a-half inch wildfowler that we have. Side-by-side, there’s nothing else quite like it, so that sells quite well. After that it’s just a normal run on game guns – the second-hand Berettas, Brownings and so on.”

Has he had the same problem getting hold of second hand stock as Leominster Gun Room have? “Well, you can’t ring up and order second-hand guns,” Mike laughs, “you’ve got to wait until they come in through the door, and that’s the problem – always will be. I could do with another 50 or 60 second-hand Browning, Beretta or Miroku sporters and game guns, but I can’t order those.”

In contrast to stories of second-hand demand, Sue at West Country Guns down in Somerset has a tale of a new gun that is selling well. Selling well in the last few weeks have been Schöffel clothing and Krieghoff shotguns – in particular the new Parcours model launched earlier in the year.

GAME SHOOTERS:
A driving force behind sales for many gun dealers

“Obviously they’ve been promoting the gun,” Sue says, “but because my husband and the owner of the shop have been out there shooting the gun, people have been trying them and there’s been a big response to that. Whereas previously the K-80 shotgun was popular for clay shooting, the Parcours is really designed a bit more towards game shooting, and the sales are being generated in the game field.”

West Country Guns is located in a big game shooting area. Sue explains: “It’s mostly pheasant shooting. We’re probably the heart of commercial game shooting in the country, I’d say. Game is where our sales are – Le Chameau wellies and things like that are all very good at this time of year for us.”

Has West Country Guns found the mild winter weather so far a hindrance? “No – it did during the summer when it was hot. I couldn’t think of anything worse than going shopping in that heat.

“But as soon as the season started on the first of September down here things improved. There’s a lot of commercial partridge shooting going on, and then obviously when we come into the middle of October the pheasant shooting starts –  we’re well situated and located and we do have a very good trade.

“We get a lot of foreign visitors coming over here shooting for four or five days. It’s cartridges and clothing for them really.”

West Country is also the importer and UK distributor of Nobel Sport cartridges, and Sue reports those are doing well. “Fibre wad is becoming more popular. More and more of the shoots are requesting that.”

And having just taken on an agency for Go Pro cameras, Sue is hopeful that it can prove to be a growth area – particularly as a training and coaching aid. “It’s very interesting, I have to say. For people who are training and instructing as well, if that’s person’s got the Go Pro cam on, you can see where the shot’s going and play it back to see how and why they’re missing things. We do a good mount that goes onto a cap, so it’s really good in that way.”

In Staffordshire, Peter at Livens Gunshop says: “Wellies have been on the increase. There’s nothing else jumping out at me that’s sold particularly well.” Based in an area that does better with rifles than shotguns, he says the start of the game season hasn’t been as big for him. Rimfires and centrefires sell well, and Howa seems to be the standout brand for Livens. He also reveals another area of strong sales: “Air pistols also do quite well, surprisingly.” He reveals that the mild weather has affected clothing sales in Staffordshire too. “You do notice that as soon as it goes cold we get more enquiries for the clothing. It went cold, clothing picked right up, and it’s a bit warmer now and it’s gone quieter.”

Anthony at Shooting Supplies in Worcestershire has one standout product of recent weeks: “Cartridges, we’ve sold shedloads of cartridges.” Eley are the main brand stocked at Shooting Supplies, but Anthony explains that the VIP cartridges are selling the best.

He adds, “Also coats, obviously because the weather’s changed. We’ve sold a lot of the Harkila ones, which are £400 coats. We’ve had to put in another order, because we just ran out.”

A £400 coat is not a trifling buy. “No, exactly,” agrees Anthony, “and with the impact of internet sales as well, our coat sales died a death last year but since then it seems to have picked up a lot.

“Apart from that, shotguns are steadily moving, but that’s more of a year-round thing for us. Air rifles have slowed down, but that’s just because of the time of year I think, and the weather. The lamping gear is starting to pick up, but again that’s another aspect of internet sales that’s killed us a little bit.”

Online retail hasn’t just affected Shooting Supplies’ pricing policy – it’s also changed their buying strategy: “With the technology moving so quick, everything’s always out of date. You get one model and the next week there’s a new one out, and everyone wants the new one. Batteries are also an online thing. You do see a trend where certain things drop off and disappear.

“The thing is, it’s easy for me to check, because we’ll get customers who come in and say ‘I can get that for £30 cheaper online’. Or, if I get a rep in and he says, ‘Oh, I’ve got this new lamp’, and we ask the price, I can immediately bring it up on Google, and if there’s one there for a tenner over trade we’ll just have to forget it – there’s no point.”

While trade seems to be bolstered by the game season, it seems the demand for second-hand guns and an online bargain haven’t ceased to be things retailers are thinking about – even in a traditionally good season for shooting shops.

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