After some difficult restructuring, distributors Edgar Brothers are back and keen to make inroads into the fieldpsorts industry once again. We spoke to their Shooting Sports Director, Tom Heapy
Please introduce yourself and your current role at Edgar Brothers.
I’m Thomas Heapy—Shooting Sports Director. 10 years at Edgar Brothers previously working in our product services department before moving over to my new role in 2019. As Shooting Sports Director I’m responsible for our commercial sales and product offering.
How is the company as a whole structured and what importance is placed on fieldsports distribution, which is what we at GTN know you best for?
Edgar Brothers works out of one main site now in Macclesfield, Cheshire—2019 saw us move to bring our offices together with our distribution centre. We also have a magazine storage facility close by where we store our ammunition quantities. The two sales divisions: Police & Military (PMD) and Shooting Sports (SSD) share the resources of all our service departments—this grouped resource provides efficiencies within the business and allows continuous workflows through all departments.
Although over the last few years the growth from the Police and Military side has been so tremendous and has thus tilted the balance of sales turnover between PMD and SSD, our structure allows no lessening of resource or focus on our fieldsports business and in some ways quite the opposite. Our heritage is in fieldsports and we remain proud of that association.
Which brands do you represent? And which are the most important and/or exciting to be working with at the moment?
We have a broad range of partners we work with and our aim is to hold a portfolio which covers all categories within the shooting sports sector. Amongst these partners are the likes of Hornady, Hatsan Arms, Spyderco Knifes, Savage Arms, Zoli Co, Bushnell optics, Hoppes, Alliant powders, Hodgdon powders, GSG, Barrett Firearms to name a few. We’ve been pleased to announce a couple of new partners this last 12 months including Schmeisser, Accurize and most recently Safran. We also have a couple of new partners coming on board in the near future, so it’s all go!
What can you tell us about the history of Edgar Brothers?
Started in 1947, JJ & Roy Edgar (the original Edgar Brothers) started making rifle cleaning equipment and had a couple of patents under their name. Roy left for Australia, leaving JJ to man the ship by himself. JJ moved the company into the distribution business with his work with munitions manufacturers Sellier and Bellot and shortly after that with BRNO firearms. Originally based in Liverpool, Edgar Brothers moved to Macclesfield when they purchased the magazine site to store the ammunition and shotshells. The PMD developed in the 1980s. Over the years EB has worked with many leading names in the industry.
2017 was a phenomenal year for you, 2018 a difficult one. When are we expecting your next set of results and will we be pleased for you?
The difference between years shows how much as a business we need an infrastructure that can scale up and down as contracts and tenders are won and awarded. Edgar Brothers went through a large restructure over the last 18 months and these changes take some time to see the benefit, but we are pleased with the progress we have made and really feel 2019 was a great turning point for our business and particularly the commercial side which is now set up for 2020 and beyond.
During that tough time there was a major reorganisation at board level, with a lot of people leaving. How has that affected the senior management team?
Of course, with any structural change there will be movers, the current team has worked closely together before so we all have a good understanding and trust of one another—I believe this is a key fundamental to a successful team.
Your online store seems mainly to be aimed at airsoft players and hikers, is that a deliberate direction taken so as not to compete with the retailers you distribute to?
The world is a changing place so our online store is an example of how we can strengthen ourselves with a wider availability of offers and routes to market that don’t fit the traditional field sports sector. Our plan over the next year is to bring both our websites together to offer a greater user experience and provide a good crossover.
This said, you are correct, we would never consider ourselves as competition to our dealers nor do we want to be, we just want to ensure all our products are being seen and promoted—the consumer experience and level of service that gun shops offer is one that can never be replicated online – personally I find the online experience too sterile, I want to be able to get my hands on a product, ask questions and be informed.
These things add huge value to how you perceive and take to a product. I do believe there is a place for both e-commerce and bricks and mortar retail in our sector, but wouldn’t it be great if the offering was “cheaper in store”!
There’s been a bit of a shuffle around recently in representation with Sportsman taking on CZ for example, which was traditionally one of your brands. Was this a deliberate reorganisation?
A company of our age means you see a lot of change and re-shuffles over the years, our partnership with CZ and what was BRNO is one we are very proud of. Like Edgar Brothers, CZ have also gone through some management restructuring and it was their decision that they would also change distributors. It’s very important as a distributor you are adaptable to change, and this is something I believe Edgar Brothers are good at.
With far fewer actual ‘Edgars’ now involved in the running of the business (at least at board level) do you ever consider changing your name?
It’s funny that you say this, because there are now more ‘Edgars’ involved with the day-to-day business than before. The notion to change the name is unthinkable!
You’re involved in a lot of events and sponsor quite a few shooters. Do you continue to see this as part of your marketing mix going forward?
Yes, very much so, we see huge value in our team shooters and the events we attend, we believe this approach supports the rest of the industry as well as offering great promotion and validation of our partners’ products.
In an ideal world we would be at every event but it’s just not possible, so we try and work out the best schedules we can with the resources we have. I don’t believe we are on our own with this thinking and the British Shooting Show 2020 was a great example of the industry coming together to put on a great event.
We take great care when selecting sponsorships and it’s great to see them quickly become one of the family. I’m proud to have them working with us. They provide a huge amount of support and feedback which is essential for us as a business.
Which events are you supporting this year?
This year we are sponsoring the Precision Rifle League (PRL) with Hornady, Bushnell and Eberlestock. We saw our name back at the British Shooting Show and we are set for the Northern Shooting Show (with the revised dates at the end of August).
We had a number of Edgar Brothers’ events and road shows planned with our partner Zoli but at this time they’re in the air right now—we are just waiting to see how everything pans out.
Would you like to tell us about any of the shooters you sponsor and why you sponsor them?
As you have mentioned we have a number of sponsor/team shooters but a couple of new members this year: Ben McIlwaine and Alfie Tibbles.
Ben is a part of our rifle shooter category and is sponsored with a Barrett MRAD, Bushnell optics and Hornady ammunition. Ben has a great shooting pedigree in many disciplines and is due to shoot the PRL this year.
Competing in the inaugural 2019 PRL, he secured multiple top 10 finishes, and also won two of the PRL’s four extreme long range (ELR) events. Keenly interested in reloading and precision shooting, Ben’s key objective for 2020 is to finish the PRL season in the top five, whilst also continuing to win ELR matches. We believe he can show just how good these products can be and we are very excited to see him compete.
Alfie joins us after recently winning the CPSA’s young shot of the year—and competes in the shotgun shooter category, competing in both Fitasc and English sporting. Alfie shoots a Zoli Z-sport and joins in the footsteps of some of our longer standing team shooters like Ben Llewellin and Stuart Clarke.
About 18 months ago we ran an interview with your MD Ian Gordon who suggested that e-commerce would be a big growth area for you, is that still the case?
Yes for sure, as previously said we are changing the formation slightly so there is more synergy between our online platforms and we expect this to help it grow further.
How has life been under your new MD? It was 20 years since you last changed…
Haha—I suppose I should be careful here! But seriously, very good, Ian is a very level-headed character and this helps tremendously in a time of change, he trusts his team and brings in great experience from his finance and commercial roles previously—it’s fair to say he’s seen it all before!
Ian also promised a bit more fiscal discipline (at least that’s how we read it) Has there been a change of culture?
There is a lot more structure to decision making that’s for sure—this was a goal the whole senior management team shared and there has been a large amount of ‘background’ work done in 2019 for this. I believe though that we have always had a great family culture and this has remained and in some ways has got stronger.
How have you weathered the coronavirus storm?
It’s hard and uncertain for every industry so our business is affected like the rest—we are operating a skeleton crew of key tasks to support the PMD contracts and providing a shipping service for our dealers. We are also able to continue the supply of ammunition to our dealers for pest control and wildlife management. The important thing right now is that our families are staying safe and we continue to support the action that has been taken by the government.
How do you feel about the immediate future for trading?
It’s too uncertain say really, we try to take each day as it comes and are thankful for the work we did in 2019 to strengthen our position—though this was never something we planned for and one thing Ian hasn’t seen before!
How long do you think it will take things to get back to normal?
I’m hopeful that as a country we can bounce back out of this relatively quickly however I’m unsure if we will ever see what we perceive to be ‘normal’ again. Until there is a vaccine, I believe the disruption in varying degrees will continue.
I think 2020 is going to feel like a long year, but I’m optimistic that we will learn from this crisis and take some positives from it—I know from our perspective Edgar Brothers have had to adapt to having more of the team work from home, this has gone relatively well and although it does have its limitations, it does make you think that there is potential that one day a week from home could see wider advantages that wouldn’t have been considered before.
At least our environment is getting a breather for the moment.