It’s a long-standing, respected fair, but is it as good as it once was? Alex Ormiston asked companies that attended the Midland Game Fair about their experiences
Placed at the end of summer and the start of the game season, the Midland is perfectly set up to attract a spending audience. Knowing it could be the last chance to get a game fair bargain until next year, punters come ready to part with cash. The result is a fair that’s not as glitzy as the CLA or British Shooting Show, with fewer product launches and major distributors, but is, typically, a positive experience in terms of takings for traders.
It’s not all plain sailing for the fair, though. There are some, owing to stories of security issues and one or two high-profile names choosing not to attend, who proclaim that the Midland isn’t what it once was. Is that a fair comment? There’s no better way to tell than to hit the aisles at Weston and find out what the traders really think.
And broadly speaking, the companies described this year’s fair as a positive experience. Those selling directly to consumers, particularly in the clothing and accessories sectors, were particularly upbeat. Phil Ogden of Ogden’s Shooting Supplies said: “I felt it was an extremely well run show this year, everything went smoothly – there were no hiccoughs and no problems. I had a successful show and sold a lot of the products. Shotgun slips sold particularly well, which is predominantly what we were showing – the Cambridge slips. We actually sold out.”
Premier Guns echoed Phil’s sentiment with regard to the show itself: “This year we sold quite a few ‘better’ guns than at previous fairs. A lot of the cheaper guns just sat there, untouched. Overall we sold quite a lot of stuff – it was good.” An added bonus for Premier Guns in 2014 was the lack of thefts at the site, an issue in previous years. This was applauded by Cheshire Gun Room as well: “Last year we were ready to ditch the Midland Game Fair but I spoke to Ian Harford and I’ve got to hand it to the man and give him congratulations for a job well done. We had the police presence this year, which helped turn it around.”
A key attraction to the Midland is the Airgun Expo, which continues to attract the biggest names in the airgun business. I wouldn’t describe it as the perfect setting – as evidenced by the large toy shop placed in the middle of this year’s expo – but it is a major date on the calendars of most airgunners, and that’s the kind of appeal you can’t replace easily. Liza Lavender of BSA Guns – which chose the Midland as the venue to launch a major new range – confirmed that the mood on the airgun aisle was good: “We were very pleased with the MGF – it was a successful weekend. We have attended and been a part of the fair for many, many years and certainly hope to continue to do so in the future.”
Longevity clearly comes naturally to Midland traders – all the companies I spoke to about their experiences had been present for at least the last three fairs. “This was the sixth year we have been trading at the show,” Phil of Odgen’s said. “The Midland is a good show, you know the crowds are going to be there and you know that people will be coming around your stand. You get to meet a lot of people because they also know it’s a good show and turn up. A handful of people said to me that there are only a couple of shows that they go to every year and the MGF is one of them.” Cheshire Gun Room added: “We have been trading at the fair for 14 years – you get all sorts of characters, people from all walks of life. Overall we were quite pleased, we did very well on the English side-by-sides.”
Premier Guns, in its third year at the MGF, said: “It’s always a well put together affair although a lot of people would say it’s got smaller over the last few years, that the numbers have decreased. The people don’t want to pay the money to go in – but what can you do?” Phil of Ogden’s also remarked on this phenomenon, saying: “the entrance fee was griped about, that was the only negative – but that’s the general public in general.”
Edward King of ASI, one of the biggest distributors to grace Gunmakers Row, noted that the event was “still relatively well attended,” but that “it is no longer a big show in the way that it used to be.” The Midland Game Fair itself estimates that 80,000 people attended in 2014 – still huge compared to most fairs, but down on the last two years. A veteran MGF attendee, ASI has been present at the fair for over 20 years, with Edward observing how the fair made its mark on the country scene initially due to a “good Gunmakers Row and a large quantity of wholesalers and principal importers setting up shop” but that it had changed over time. Premier Guns told a similar story: “The thing about this year was that none of the main manufacturers were present and people normally view the fair like the CLA as somewhere to go and see all the new products, which wasn’t possible this year.” Comparisons with the CLA occurred elsewhere, with Blaser commenting: “We work with the Midland and CLA, and will definitely continue to do so, but we are unsure which of the smaller fairs we will be present at in 2015.” This is despite the overall experience for ASI and Blaser being respectively “positive” and “very good – for us, it worked well.”
Ogden’s said it will “definitely continue to trade at the fair in the future.” Premier Guns will do likewise, but added: “The thing about the MGF is that there’s no concession price. There are a lot of people that go to the fair that are quite elderly and for whom it’s all quite a lot of money.”