Out-of-season sales

SHOOT OVER: The end of the game season means dealers must find alternative sources of business

So February has come around, and we can’t rely on Christmas or game-shooting trade anymore – what now? Nicola Turner finds out

The Christmas period is over, and as I write this, the pheasant and partridge seasons have just closed too. So at this time of year, what are gun shops across the country selling – and what are their thoughts about the next big event on the shooting calendar, the British Shooting Show?

Amy at EJ Churchill in Buckinghamshire tells me the wet weather has determined their best seller: “Wellies, definitely. Hunter wellies have gone down a storm, without a doubt, and Dubarrys as well. Our own range of EJ Churchill tweed has been selling well. Obviously now we’re out of the main game shooting season, it won’t sell quite so well until about August time. The Barbour and Schöffel three-in-one jackets have been fantastic as well – we’ve sold a lot of those.”

People aren’t just buying for practical reasons though, as Amy explains: “On the ladies’ side, because we do a bit of fashion wear, we’ve found the Duchess of Northumberland clothing has gone down fantastically. We’ve sold a lot of ranges of that so that’s gone down really well.”

From what Amy has mentioned it sounds like quite a variety of people have been shopping with EJ Churchill – is that the case? “Absolutely – we get the game shooters, and then we get a lot of clay shooters as well. We stock a range of clay shooting clothing and accessories – Oakley glasses are popular here, we get quite a lot of custom through those. And we get people that just come in looking for a ‘country look’, so we can cater for them as well – it’s mainly ladies that come in wanting something to go towards a country style. We’ve got either our own EJ Churchill range or the Duchess of Northumberland range, and Barbour goes well for that too. We can cater for the whole country lifestyle.”

EJ Churchill won’t be pitching up at the British Shooting Show – the only show the team does is the CLA in the summer. That’s not the only thing the shop is looking forward to however, as the ground has some pretty exciting plans for this year.

“We’re hosting the clay shooting World Championships here in May,” says Amy, “and I know we’ll be getting a lot more clay shooting clothing in, including a big range from Beretta, so I imagine that’s going to be on top of the list. We’re also redesigning our own EJ Churchill clay shooting clothing, things like skeet vests and merchandise for the Worlds, so I imagine there’s going to be pretty good sales in that in the coming months, from now until then and hopefully from May onwards as well we’ll see bigger sales in that too.”

We ask whether having an own-brand range of clothing alongside established big-name brands like Barbour and Schöffel is beneficial, and how it’s working out for EJ Churchill.

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Amy says, “It’s gone down really well. I think because people can only buy it here it’s a bit more exclusive, and because of the service we offer to our game shooters and clay shooters, people like that more personal approach, and it fits into that well. You can’t get that range of tweed anywhere else and it’s all designed specifically for us and we’re the only ones that sell it to people like that.

“It’s something a bit unique. It’s all designed by our retail staff and MD, so it’s got all of the specific features that you need, whether it’s game shooting or clay shooting clothing.”

Amy hopes that taking Churchill’s stock online will make it available to even more people. “We are launching an online shop fairly soon, so people will be able to buy all of our clothing online, including our own EJ Churchill range, so that’s quite exciting for us. More people will be able to see what we’ve got to offer – at the moment we’re only in-shop so it’s harder for people further afield to see what we’ve got on offer. It’s estimated to go live mid-April.”

Over in Staffordshire at Garlands Shooting Ground, Terry sums up business: “We’ve sold one or two new guns lately, and a lot of clothing, and some accessories. It’s the major brands really. I’ve been selling a lot of the Beretta clothing, in a bit of a sale, and we’ve been selling a lot of the Realtree, and the Rocky.”

Garlands will be going to the British Shooting Show, but as a trade stand, not a retailer. “It’s the first time we’ve ever done it,” Terry says, “and we distribute bits and pieces as well.” They wouldn’t consider taking the retail side to Stoneleigh, then? “It’s hard to say, but we don’t think so – it means taking stuff out of the shop, and if people come to the shop it means they can’t see what stock we’ve got.”

Stocking with the retail business, is it seeing any impact from the recent turn in the weather? Terry says footwear has seen a rise in interest, with Le Chameau and Crispi boots doing best, with a corresponding drop in gun sales. “It’s difficult for people to get out,” he explains.

In Northampton, at Gilders Country Sports, we ask Dan what has been selling well in recent weeks. “Good question,” he says. “Certainly in the last week pigeon shooting equipment has been selling well. We’ve sold a lot of pigeon shooting cartridges, decoys, nets, that sort of stuff, as people get ready to go out shooting pigeons now the season has finished. Game shooting cartridges have slowed down. We’re still selling a few airguns – shotguns as well. Not as many as we sold before the season, but a few.

“We sell a lot of Berettas and Brownings – Berettas mainly. Having said that, the last gun we sold was a Benelli semi-auto. I guess that shows that the game season’s over and people are starting to think more about shooting clays and pigeons.”

Is that reflected in sales of clothing and accessories as well? “Definitely, although the weather has been a bigger factor in it. We’re still selling a lot of wellies and coats – not shooting coats, more Barbour-type jackets, owing to the cold, wet weather.”

To the east at Norfolk Sporting Guns, Chris reveals: “It’s been quiet since Christmas really.” Would he put that down to the weather, or other factors? “Wet weather never helps. In this area the mild winter has meant some of the game shoots have struggled to find their birds, which in turn has hit trade. We’ve been selling one or two shotguns, but nothing in any big numbers I’m afraid.

“In new guns it’s probably pretty much a split between Beretta and Browning, and any used guns we can get hold of.”

Is the same true of clothing and accessories? “Just about the only thing we have sold has been wellington boots. We haven’t sold much in the way of shooting coats despite the fact we’ve had a sale on those. It’s been a mild winter so things like gloves, hats and coats that we usually sell a lot of have been slow-moving compared to last time around. I will probably reduce the amount of clothing we keep in stock, sticking mainly with accessories like hats and socks and that sort of thing, not bothering quite so much with the shooting coats. I think because of the internet perhaps, it’s no longer the fast-moving stuff that it used to be. So we’re going to focus on things that can’t be sold on the internet – we’ll be getting a few more guns in, and some airguns as well.”

Chris would love to go to the British Shooting Show but says he can’t: “I won’t be I’m afraid, I’ve just lost a member of staff recently who has gone to live abroad, so I’m a bit short-staffed and will have to stay here and work unfortunately!”

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