How’s Business: May 2014

Taking the pulse of the gun trade, Rebecca Bailey catches up with retailers to find out how the coming clay competition season has affected their sales, and their hopes for the summer

From what retailers are saying, it would seem people may be tightening their purse strings, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking advantage of the oncoming clay competition season. Neville from Essex Gun has started off his retail season with a bang after the Essex Gun Masters and feels “pretty positive for the coming year”. He comments: “We always have some feedback after the masters, it’s helped pick trade up a bit.” Despite this incentive, however, he feels the year could have started better: “It’s not fantastic… but the Masters helps us a lot”. Sales have reflected a cautious customer base that is not investing in the higher-end shotgun, but lower-end second-hand guns are a different story. “There’s still a shortage of sub-£1,000 second-hand guns – we are struggling to get enough”. Neville is pleased with cartridge sales too, and I ask him who is the market leader: “Gamebore – it’s out-selling everything else by a mile, and I sell most things.” And once again, cheapest is selling best, as he reveals that the entry-level cartridges are the real money-makers: “Gamebore Velocity is still the biggest selling, and the Gamebore White Gold and Black Gold were big for us over the last month.” Excellent news for Gamebore. Neville goes on to accurately describe a growing trend for dealers across the board at the minute, with customers quick to buy more budget supplies rather than save up for a premium purchase.

Chris from Clay Shooting R Us has similar findings from shotgun and cartridge sales: “Regards to clay shooting, the biggest interest is in reasonable quality second-hand guns, such as Browning or Beretta”. The favoured model is the 525 Sporter with a 32” barrel, he says, but he cautions: “The problem is there are very few of them on the market. If I can get a 525 or a Beretta Silver Pigeon second-hand [they] won’t be in the shop that long.” With second-hand guns flying off the gun rack, there must be cartridges to go with them. Chris confirms: “We are constantly moving cartridges… The average club shooter has lowered his price on cartridges, so if he was shooting Hull Sovereigns, he can no longer afford them, and he’s coming down to the lower priced cartridges and accepting that.”

With customers’ belts remaining tight and more money being spent on those budget cartridges, Chris notes: “The cartridge manufacturers are responding to this and making better cartridges at a budget price.” Despite their careful spending, it’s good to see that shooters are still getting out there to practice for the season. Clay Shooting R Us is renowned for their nifty Clay Snooker concept, an addictive mixture of clay shooting and snooker, and other retailers are tempting their customers back to the sport with exciting new opportunities for clay shooters.

One such opportunity, supported by Tony Manvell of Wiltshire Rod and Gun, hopes to entice bigger spending with added perks. With every shotgun buy of £500 or more, Wiltshire Rod and Gun will supply one complimentary shooting lesson or 50 clays at their nearby Barbury Shooting School. Designed with the newcomer in mind, I asked Tony which demographic have been taking advantage of the offer: “We have been doing [the offer] for some time… Women [make up] two out of every five new customers at this time, and we are very lucky having Barbury close at hand where customers can shoot seven days a week.” Perhaps on the back of this promotion, shotgun sales have been “strong” for Tony, “with Browning and Miroku, especially the 525 Sporter” and 725 Black selling best. This is pleasing news following the struggling mid- and higher-range shotgun sales across most of the trade, so perhaps special offers and activities for the clay season are just the thing to drum up business and get those customers spending a little more. Another Gamebore retailer,
Wiltshire Rod and Gun have been selling the brand very well, along with the new Eley models.

03_black gold03Keens Guns are also enjoying higher cartridge sales. I ask David Keen which cartridges were most popular: “We sell a lot of Fiocchi at the moment, especially the Black Sporting Fibre.” He has found that Browning are racing ahead in shotgun sales too, the favourites being “the Beretta 686 and Browning 525 Sporter”, which is proving to be a popular gun throughout the country. David is happy with business, as “everything seems a lot busier than last year and the year before”, hopefully indicative of good things for the summer. As with other retailers I asked, however, clothing seems to be on its way out now that the harshest weather of the year is behind us. David admits that “clothing sales have been a bit quieter”, and many dealers are dropping some ranges to make space in their shops for more popular items.

Mike from Dragon Field Sports has watched demand for game season supplies start to dwindle in his shop, but points out “people are still pigeon shooting, so they are still buying game cartridges.” His best-sellers, “strangely enough [are] the Webley 920 and the Hatsan Escort Magnum”, which still sit in the budget range, growing ever popular at the moment. When asked why he thought these guns were so well received, he replied: “I’m still scratching my head about that myself.” His greatest accomplishment this month, however, has been from air rifle sales: “I’ve sold in the past three weeks five Remington Expresses, and I quite like them at the moment”, indicating that this season may show great promise for airgunning as well as clay shooting. Hopefully, with so many budget guns on the market, a greater number of beginners will take the plunge and start shooting this summer.

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