How’s Business: November 2013

The weather may be frightful but the Christmas profits can be delightful if you get your stock spot on

The weather may be frightful but the Christmas profits can be delightful if you get your stock spot on

With Christmas looming ever larger, Craig Nicholson finds out what retailers are stocking up on this year

The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in, the kids have gone back to school after half term and the temperature is dropping. Yes, the countdown to Christmas has well and truly begun. While gifts and accessories provide a solid income throughout the winter months, it can often be difficult to gauge the required stock levels when it comes to guns. Churchills of Dereham is one of Norfolk’s leading country gun shops and Chris from the store told me that they tend to buck the tend when it comes to Christmas sales. “We maintain a good stock level of guns and we’ve been selling a lot recently,” he explained. “Last year we sold a lot of guns even over Christmas so the sales will continue. A lot of people will say they don’t sell many guns at that time of year but we do. We sell a lot of Caesar Guerini, Beretta and Browning – we sell a lot of the smallbore Caesar Guerinis because they’re very good value and as a product they have a much better finish than a Beretta.”

Chris told me that Churchills tend to steer clear of discounts and promotional offers, even during quieter times. “All you’re doing is cutting your margins if you start doing discounts. We’ve seen a lot of smaller shops closing down and all they were doing was cut, cut, cut and then they’re gone so it doesn’t work. It’s all about a fair price and a good service.” Of course at this time of year gifts and accessories become a key part of any retailer’s armoury and Churchills is no different. “We sell a lot of knick-knacks, smaller stuff and clothing. Boots are always popular and general clothing and knives sell well as presents for people.” Chris told me that while the Churchills Christmas party has yet to be organised, it’s a very inclusive affair. “The company usually do something and it involves integrating customers,” he said. ”They’ll hire a venue and invite a lot of the customers who have bought stuff over the year so it’s not just a staff event.”

Roy Hart has been running WM Shooting Supplies in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, for over two decades, so he has seen it all. He runs two businesses out of the same premises with CB radios responsible for an increasingly important chunk of his sales. “I lost out 18 years ago when the Dunblane tragedy took place,” Roy explained. “I was a specialist in the Midlands for handguns at the time. Once that happened, the government took our handguns and I was knackered. I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket because I did shotguns, rifles, ammo and other bits and pieces but in my mind I wrote it off.” He told me that whereas previously guns accounted for three-quarters of his business, that figure was now nearer 15 per cent. Nonetheless he has adopted a philosophical approach. “If I get business on the shooting side I get business,” he said. “The main thing I sell is cheap and cheerful air rifles – I don’t bother buying BSA and Webley because they’re too much trouble. I like the action guns from Edgar Brothers and I like the profit we make off SMK products.”

Knives and accessories often prove a popular present purchase

Knives and accessories often prove a popular present purchase

Having been in the business for so long, Roy accepts that customers will shop around to find the best price. “I’m not here for fun – shooters will come in and say they can get cartridges cheaper elsewhere and I will say, ‘Well, you don’t have to buy them off me!’ I’ve got 75,000 in the cellar so if they want 10,000 I can do them a 5 per cent discount but a lot of them will say they can’t afford that.” Roy said that after a busy month, sales dipped during the half-term period but he is content to sell what he knows. “I specialise in stuff that doesn’t give me much problem and earns me money. Anything in the consumables, inexpensive airguns, up to about £250. But if we talk quality then I buy in Air Arms from Rothery. With Air Arms I don’t see why I should give my business to any other product on the market because it’s an English product, it’s a really good product and I will back it to the hilt.”

Phil at Derbyshire’s Ripley Rifles told me that while business has been quiet recently, the expertise and quality they offer will always keep them competitive. “We’ve had a quiet period but it’s given us chance to get parts made which keeps us busy during the quiet time,” he said. “We are starting to get people in who want something for Christmas but generally we’re steady all year round. We don’t carry any stock as we make all our rifles to order. You can have one AR5 the same as another one but they’re all individual to that person.”

Elsewhere Brian Sorrell at East Grinstead Guns in West Sussex said he was getting ready to adjust stock levels ahead of the festive rush. “I need to get a few more accessories and bits and pieces in before Christmas but it tends to be a busy time,” he said. “We do our own thing, we get in a few extra bits but we rely mainly on second-hand guns like Berettas and CZs, it’s mainly known brands. We don’t tend to run any promotions, we just manage to plod on really. Gloves, bags and bipods always sell well before Christmas.”

Finally, Richard at the Cheshire Gun Room said that they weren’t “breaking any records” but trade has been steady recently. “You always look forward to Christmas as it gets a lot busier. Gifts are always popular but we sell a lot of night shooting gear as well, mainly NiteSite at the moment. We do reduce a few bits and pieces every so often but we don’t necessarily do it every year.”

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