In 1958 Midland Diving Equipment Ltd was founded in Leicester. Over the past 60 years the business has grown to become a leading manufacturer of technologically advanced high pressure cylinder valves and manifolds, including an increasingly prominent place in the airgun charging market.
Their market leading integrated charging cylinders combine the Jubilee Gun Valve and high quality steel cylinders that were initially used for scuba diving. Midland Diving Equipment (MDE) technical sales director, Mark Humphreys, explains: “We started the business about 60 years ago manufacturing a complete package of diving valves. This naturally included quite a long-standing partnership with airgun cylinders and valves as they use most of the same equipment. So realistically we got into it from the diving market, and simply changed the type of valve.
“In the early days we could use existing diving valves, and then more and more airgunners started to use PCP than spring powered airguns which led us to create dedicated and bespoke designs,” adds Mark. For airgunners with an existing diving cylinder, MDE manufacture a wide range of charging kits to suit most scuba valves.
The innovative ‘Jubilee Range’ 300 bar cylinder valve, dedicated to safe filling of pneumatic pre-charged airguns, is one such addition to their range. With specialised steps being taken to increase their presence in the field sports markets MDE are increasingly working with reputable brands in the industry.
“As we are a trade dealer and not a retailer, we don’t often attend game fairs, although we do occasionally attend trade shows. We often allow our dealers to go to the shows instead to represent our products, and we wouldn’t want to be there competing with them, trying to undercut them,” says Mark.
“We work with quite a few of the big-hitters in the industry. Many of our dealer relationships are long standing and have been in place since before I joined, but we are always looking for new dealers and new customers. This is something that we are actively working on; we have a sales rep on the road who will now be focusing solely on the gun side of the business – so people can expect to see him dropping in and knocking on doors!”
MDE moved into airgun gear around 25 years ago and through Mark’s experience the trade continues to grow, as he explains: “What we have found – at least since I’ve been here – is that airgun gear has been on the up for the last 10 or 12 years. It is continuing to grow, not only in the UK, but across the European markets and even as far afield as Saudi Arabia. They are quite popular in the Saudi market.
“Especially in the past 12 years it has been a constant up-and-up. Next year we are hoping for more of the same, and to continue to expand our market worldwide. As you know, we have no idea what may or may not happen with Brexit, so a focus on the worldwide market, outside of Europe, is certainly a focus.
“We are not a massively target driven company. Rather than setting goals we just aim to make a profit and improve on the year before. Our philosophy is that if you set targets then everyone will work to meet them and not necessarily try to exceed expectations.”
As Technical Sales Director, Mark has risen through the ranks of Midland Diving Equipment since joining 11-and-a-half years ago as a Technical Design Engineer. Exploring his early days, he said: “I was responsible for drawing and converting paper designs into 3D CAD. I was working closely with the Sales Director so when he left two years ago I moved up into his role.
“There are around 20 people working here now, so it’s a small team and we all get involved. I can do anything from running the sales office, workshop or tech department to dispatches or running maintenance. Its incredible when you think I came out of University, I didn’t have an interest in scuba diving or airgunning, but they had a vacancy for technical design here. I was looking for a job – whether it be work experience or a stop-gap – 12 years later and I’ve moved through the ranks.
“I love the fact that it is a small niche industry; a little family. So when the phone rings you know who you are working with and you can have a really good catch up. You don’t have to be as formal – thats not to say that we don’t maintain a level of professionalism – but even if it is someone you have never met, you know the voice and can spend an hour or so talking business and all sorts.”
This is where Mark and MDE find trade events and country fairs to be the most useful; rather than using the events as opportunities to turn a profit they are ideal for meeting clients, putting faces to names and promoting their products. They provide a comprehensive range with everything required to power a pre-charged air weapon, and complete kits include a high quality tank, made to British and international standards, plus a valve, integrated dry gauge, bleed and an option of 1/8 BSP hose or 1/4 BSP outlet to suit almost any airgun – you need only to add your adaptor and the system is ready to go.
Available in 3, 4, 7 or 12L, all cylinders are supplied with a five-year test from the date of manufacture, designed to meet British standards for surface-use cylinders such as Airgun Charging Cylinders. The simplest method to determine a cylinders use is to examine the valve fitted. If the valve has surface use features like the Jubilee Gun Valve with bleed and dry gauge, you’re awarded a five-year test.
“We have a few changes to look out for, most importantly to redevelop the gun valves. At the moment they are a fast flow so we are working with a number of manufacturers to develop something slower and easier to fill. This will also make it easier to maintain. Its currently in the pipeline as a development project,” Mark adds.
Staying up-to-date and ahead of the game is vital in this market as more companies aim to make to the move into the PCP industry. “The market is price driven though and becoming increasingly competitive. We used to enjoy a certain amount of exclusivity, but recently more people have come on board – come on board to compete. I have no issues with them doing that but it is a price driven industry. We pride ourselves on putting out a quality product, and one that companies will chose to go to,” declares Mark.
“Sales do tend to come in fits and spurts but our 4L canister proves to be quite a popular choice. That and the 7L – the two medium sized cylinders – run particularly well though the year,” says Mark, “but it does upset me when people do decide to go for inferior products such as re-purposed diving cylinders or very old cylinders.
“We don’t want to scrimp on the quality – but we also want to educate people on why we do such a thing. On top of that we offer back-up and good service – we are ready if ever anyone wants to give us a call and very often we can resolve problems over the phone. If not, then we are able to provide spare and replacement parts.”
MDE are always looking for future product development and newly developed valves will be fitted to all ranges from 3L up to 12L. With a range including eight different models – two versions of each capacity – the final designs for an updated valve are currently with designers and a new release is expected in 2019.