How’s Business: Game Fair build-up

IMG_825401It’s finally here – the CLA Game Fair is on the horizon. Gun Trade News’s Rebecca Bailey speaks with members of the trade about whether they are going to the fair, or have decided to go their own way

It’s been an intense countdown, what with the wet start to the summer, but the CLA Game Fair is finally coming to provide a much-needed boost for countless traders. Rain or shine, the punters will be there ready to spend – but who’ll be there selling? I spoke to a wide range of dealers and distributors hoping for a mixed reponse – and that was just what I got.

First up, I spoke to Arthur Branthwaite from A Branthwaite Gunsmiths, who responded with a resounding affirmative. Sharing space with another stand, A Branthwaite Gunsmiths will be in attendance with an assortment of Caesar Guerinis: “We’ll be taking a good spread of them, probably about 15 different models,” which will “all be subject to negotiation” at the Game Fair, with some room for arranging a bargain on the day. Arthur was a big fan of the fair in general, remarking it was “a very good show”, and the post-CLA sales being “one of the benefits of going”. Best-sellers Beretta and Guerini have been making a particular impression in the shop, and with more Guerinis for the fair, it’s looking like a good season for the brand.

The ever-popular Ogden’s Shooting Supplies has a unique reason for skipping the show. We spoke to Phil Ogden, busy as ever at his trade and expertly finishing another project at the sewing machine, who told us he was missing the show for his birthday: “I am going on holiday.” Regardless, Phil’s a firm fan of the fair, and regards it as “a flagship” event, one of his favourites, and the CLA always yields another 25 per cent of business for him in the weeks immediately following. He’s had a lot of interested in his Cambridge range of cartridge bags and shotgun slips, and last year found they were the all-time favourites: “It ticks all the boxes, it’s well-made, reasonably priced and dead-on the right colour, and it’s guaranteed.”

Andy from AA Decoys was full of enthusiasm for the fair, and was eager to tell me about the best sellers and offers he will be displaying: “We’ve got the Turbo Flapper, which is our best-seller.” A keen CLA Game Fair attendee, Andy is a fan of Blenheim Palace, and visits “twenty-odd” game fairs a year. A busy schedule, but he always makes the CLA one of the first events in the diary.

Luxury leather goods manufacturer Daniels & Wood is another company we might see there. We asked about their success of last year, after their collaboration with Boxall & Edmiston for the BASC magazine prize draw, for which the lucky winner gained a new customised gun from the gunmakers, and a range of Daniels & Wood’s kit to boot. Following the competition, Boxall & Edmiston invited the leather manufacturer to share a spot at the CLA, something more and more companies are doing to spread costs.

I spoke with Nathan, the director at Daniels & Wood, about their combined special offer from last year: “You would buy one of their guns and it came bundled with a lot of our leather products.” He mentioned that the collaboration with Boxall & Edmiston made Daniels & Wood’s presence possible: “We can’t really afford to go on our own, and the cost of it is huge… although it’s a fantastic opportunity.” Yet there were other reasons for Nathan’s trepidation for the company going solo. “The weather is a huge part of it,” he said, “and sometimes the cost of our products – you’re looking at £250 for a gunslip, and some people just don’t want to part with that at a show.” Nathan also had a few improvements he would like to see at the Game Fair: “The other big bugbear from a trade point of view is lack of WiFi. I’ve actually contacted the CLA to find out why that is, and they reckon it’s not required, but when you look at how many people couldn’t take payment on chip and pin machines because of the limited bandwidth… there’s so much you could do with technology.” Nathan suggested developing a specific CLA app for exhibitors and visitors, an opportunity for technological improvement for the show. Perhaps with more things to offer the exhibitors for their money, like basic WiFi or a special app, more retailers would consider attending. Regardless, the team at Daniels & Wood have plenty on their plate at the moment. With high hopes for a new leather factory on Mersea Island, Colchester, and the promise of a burgeoning English manufacturing chain for import-free products, Daniels & Wood is showing the trade that even without CLA attendance, their summer won’t be dull.

Another trader who won’t be at the fair with a stall this year will be Solware, but that doesn’t mean the team don’t have a range of opportunities lined up. We contacted Tye to discuss open days at Solware. Firstly, we asked why Solware would not be selling products at the CLA: “To be honest, we probably would do it – it’s just the cost of doing it.  If the costs were less, you’d have a lot more shops like us there, you’d have more bargains for the customers, and it would be bigger.” It’s a sentiment echoed by many of the traders we spoke with, and seems to be the over-arching reason smaller retailers are put off. Tye focused, too, on customer experience and expectation, and pointed out that the customers “want the deals and they can’t get the deals because the retailers have already been financially hit.” This knock-on effect has taken its toll, and now retailers are thinking about alternative PR approaches. “We do our own little open days,” said Tye. “Last year we had nearly two thousand people attending.” With the next Solware open day coming up soon, and previous events boasting manufacturer demonstrations, night shooting gear trials and game-cooking, it looks to be quite an attraction.

From the various dealers we spoke with, the most pressing reasons for not attending have been expense, weather worries, security concerns and a lack of support from the organisers. That said, I expect attendance to be as healthy as ever – most of us just can’t afford to miss it. It’s good to know that retailers who aren’t attending will not be idle, though. Independent events and open days across the country could be the way to go for those hoping to entice summer spending away from the fair.

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