Colin Fallon joins Frederic Hanner, the new CEO of the Blaser Group in the UK, as he sets out his vision for the future of brands such as Blaser, Mauser, Sauer and Minox.
We are all guilty of mindlessly clearing the spam folder of our email inboxes. But as Blaser’s new CEO can testify, the contents of your junk folder could open the door to a whole new world of opportunities.
Having completed his hunting and fishing licences in his native Germany, Frederic Hanner moved to Scotland to study European Law and Agriculture at University. His degree soon earned him a job with an American advertiser based in Luxembourg.
“One day I got spam email asking if I wanted to be the next ‘star’ of Wild Boar Fever,” Frederic explains. “This is hugely popular on the continent so I clicked ‘Yes’. A few months later I was invited to a shooting competition where the winners would get a spot on Wild Boar Fever. I was one of two winners; this was how I got in touch with Sauer and then got a sales and management job with them.
After three years looking after eastern Europe, central Asia, Russia and the UK, Frederic was invited to replace the departing Robert Sajitz at Blaser. “The owner asked if I wanted to take over the work in the UK, because it was one of my markets. That’s how I ended up in the position and I’m really grateful for it.”
Frederic will be a familiar face to many in the UK, having visited it at least every other month in his previous role. “I’m sure a lot of people will recognise me,” he says, “During open days people still come to me as the Sauer guy and speak to me before they realise I am now in charge of all brands here in the UK.”
Having started his role in June, the immediate concern for Blaser is the impending impacts of Brexit, though Frederic is not flustered. “It’s Frexit for me,” he laughs. “A lot of people in my family have said I could not have chosen a worse time to move to the UK and they’re asking how long it will take before I’m expelled.”
“It will all be fine,” he adds. “There won’t be any craziness about sending people home if they want to run a business or do something that actually works for the country. We pay our taxes and look after the people here, so I don’t think it will come to that… at least I hope not!”
Though still in the early days in his role, Frederic was keen to outline his plans for the future of the Blaser group, and not just the titular brand. He explains: “In the past, it was often the case that a lot of people didn’t understand that there is more to the Blaser group than just Blaser itself. We want to make the point that there is Minox, Mauser and Sauer, which are all great, strong brands with huge followings worldwide.
“We want to open it up a bit to really show that we have something in the portfolio for each and every client, from £785 Mauser M18 rifles all the way up to a £120,000 pair of engraved F3 shotguns. We have a product for everyone and the goal is to gain as much market share with our brands as we possibly can – not only with Blaser but all the other brands we have as well.
“For our dealers it is all about margin. The margins we offer as a group are a lot better than what many competitors offer. In the end we all want to earn money and need to earn money to keep our lights on. We also want to educate the dealers. A lot of them only think about Blaser’s high-end ranges. We want to ask if they are actually speaking to the other sectors, because the guys with a £1,000 budget enjoy field sports just as much as we do.
“Kitting them out for a margin becomes a numbers game; you need to sell more to make money but there are more people that can afford £1,500 or £2,000 than can afford £10,000, £20,000 or even £100,000.”
Frederic has already established a network of core dealers in the UK, but insists he is happy to let his established sales team get on with the job of promoting the Blaser group to British traders.
“I will make a point to see each and every dealer on the list this year, but I see my main job being here in the office, actually running the business.
“Obviously I will be here to talk to dealers – whenever there is a problem or if they want to discuss something with me, they can pick up the phone and reach me. I don’t like it when you can’t reach the CEO. I want to be involved and in the middle of it all.”
With a personable approach and plans to shake up the core brands, Frederic also has his sights set on the future of the sport itself. He explains: “We will look at how we can support the use of game. In my opinion, eating something after you’ve killed it is the only justification for doing it. I don’t think there is any other justification for killing an animal than actually utilising it or protecting humans or livestock.
“I really want to concentrate on our marketing and communications. If we don’t secure the future of hunting and shooting, how can we secure the future of our business? That is what a lot of us aren’t doing. Get politically involved in the debate and educate people in the general public who aren’t in the inner-circle of shooting and field sports enthusiasts.
“The communications need to focus on the non-shooter world. Without wanting to sound arrogant, everyone who shoots is serious about it, and within that group, if you can find one person in 100 that doesn’t know about Blaser, that is a lot. We know we communicate well with the people within our circles, but educating the ones on the outside is an important thing we need to think about for the future.
“I think it is great how the shooting industry is linked in the UK and people do actually speak to each other. It works like a big industrial corporation rather than everybody working against each other. My personal opinion is that we shouldn’t shy away from what we are doing, but show it [on social media] in an ethical way.”
Keen to promote ethical practices as well the latest products, Frederic says there is one product that continues to catch his eye above all others: the K95 Carbon Success rifle. Having launched at IWA in March, Frederick describes it as: “The coolest rifle I have ever held in my hands. I know it will be the next rifle I buy. You look at it and it screams ‘awesome’ – it’s beyond cool. I love it, together with the Blaser scope obviously.”
Ah, tell us more about that scope. Is it just a rebranded Minox? Frederic is quick to say otherwide: “We set up German Sports Optics and hired a lot of the product management team from Zeiss. We also hired the former owner of Schmidt & Bender. It’s a top quality product being designed by top quality staff, directly by Blaser. We aren’t buying it and rebranding it. It is our own product.”
In terms of other growth opportunities, Frederic predicts an upward trend for electronics following the success of night vision gear. “We could even have finger recognition on triggers,” he suggests. “The sky is the limit. I remember being a boy of eight or nine, and we had red dots in a scope for the first time, which was a huge thing. Technology will advance and become a much bigger part of rifles and shotguns.
“The mentality of our groups is to always have the most ergonomic and easy-to-use rifles out there. If you want the coolest and most innovative product out there, which has the highest safety standards in the market, come and buy Blaser – supported by a brand that is world renowned for having a strong stance on the ethics and future of hunting.”
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