The transition from spring to summer is an important time for gun retailers. The roebuck season gets under way, the clay shooting competition season starts in earnest, and the longer days and kinder weather mean that enthusiasm for outdoors sports is rekindled in those customers worn and wearied by the winter chill. In the last edition of How’s Business, GTN reported on a tentative hopefulness among retailers as business stayed steady. This month, that bud of positivity seems to have fully bloomed.
Tony Manvell of Wiltshire Rod and Gun was encouraged by a solid spring: “We had a very good March. I think people have obviously got a bit more money. April was steady. New guns are selling very well, the typical Browning and Beretta. It’s been very strong in the £1,500-£2,500 price bracket. Good second-hand stuff is always in short supply, but when it comes in it doesn’t hang around very much. I would say it’s the best start to a season – after the game season – that we’ve ever noticed.”
So what does Tony believe is the driving factor behind this swell in sales? “I think that shooting is getting stronger and stronger,” he says. “Our local firearms officer was in the other day and he said that the amount of applications was incredible. They’ve never known anything like it. I think we’re fortunate we’ve got a very good shooting ground near us, which is helping. People are getting into the sport and I think that’s going to continue. The coverage of the Olympics and Commonwealth games has obviously hit home for some people, no question about it.” In any case, retailers like Tony are enjoying the boost. “Instead of the normal doom and gloom, it’s quite good! I wouldn’t say that we’re flat-out all the time, no way, but it’s been good.”
But it’s not just a simple case of sunshine equals more business. There’s several factors influencing customer interest and sales. Matt Morgan of Premier Guns says, “It has been really busy, but it has gone a little bit quieter, if I’m honest, just a touch. People are saying it’s because of the Easter break. The election; some people are saying that might be causing it.”
Anthony Bill of Shooting Supplies has also noticed the fluctuation of business in spring and early summer: “I always find that in the first couple of weeks of sunshine, people are usually doing stuff around the house. They’re mowing the lawns; they’re doing everything because it’s the first nice bit of weather. When its been nice for a couple of weeks, that’s when people start saying, ‘Actually I might get the air rifle out, I might go clay shooting,’ and that’s when you get the gun sales moving again.”
We asked Anthony what products in particular have been gaining momentum in these past couple of months. “Air rifles have definitely picked up, but to be fair, it’s pretty much across the board. We’ve sold a few shotguns, a few rifles, a few air rifles. It’s a fairly even mix. We’ve been taking a lot of shotguns part-ex, but it’s been people upgrading. A lot of people have brought in their older stuff, or they’ve brought a couple of guns in, and said, well I want a new gun for the new season.”
Overall, Shooting Supplies is doing well: “We’ve had a steady increase of sales year on year, so we’re about where we need to be at the moment.” Anthony reckons this is owing to the variety of shooting disciplines and products that Shooting Supplies offers. “Because we do everything, we’ve got a nice trend across the year. If one thing hits a bit of a dip, usually another thing fills in.”
Martin Lamb of the Country Sports shop, based in Devon, has also noticed being busier, especially with an increase in rifle and air rifle sales. “From our point of view, it’s just growth in general. We’ve been going for five years and more and more people are coming to us because of our knowledge of shooting, reloading, bits and pieces.” Martin says the business benefits from a lot of eager roebuck hunters now the season is well under way, but the location of the shop means the clay competition season has little impact: “We don’t see much in the way of competitions down here in South Devon because there’s only one clay ground within a massive radius. People do shoot clays, just not competitively.”
In Staffordshire, Mike Hurney of the Shooting Party is also experiencing a surge in sales. “It’s been very busy, partly because of the season,” he says. “Frankly, it’s because we’ve had a few successful new products in, notably the Trophy CO2 pistol.” We talked to Mike about the Trophy back in January; he told us the pistol had been a Christmas favourite. Since then it’s been voted Airgun Shooter’s Top Pistol 2014. But is it still continuing to fly off the shelves? “It has quickly become our bestseller, with the first three shipments being sold out before they arrived. It surpassed all our projections.”
What else has boosted sales? “I always have traditionally felt that Easter is the trigger and that the Easter weekend, if the weather was half-decent, people would suddenly think, ‘I might get outdoors again’. We’ve certainly seen that. We’ve also introduced a couple of new products in our PAO scope range, which has got excellent reviews from Airgun Shooter. That’s had a direct and positive impact on sales. So actually our retail sales are over 100 per cent up on last year. I’m definitely not complaining!
“In the wider economic background, there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there. The key to it is to have exciting, new, innovative products at very competitive prices. There are always customers there with money to spend for that. There’s a lot of products out there that in reality are ‘me too’ products. Oh yeah, another air rifle, so what? You have to have something special to offer and you can see that with products that are very expensive, such as the new Daystate Pulsar; a very expensive rifle, but because it is unusual, because it’s different, because it’s high quality, there are customers there for it. It’s not a product we would focus on, but the point I’m making is that there are customers there if you’ve got something slightly different, slightly better, slightly more innovative to offer.
“So that’s going to be our focus through the coming year. We have a branch of new rifles coming in and a low-cost lightweight PCP rifle based on the Trophy pistol action magazine, which we think will do really well.”
With a few fluctuations, the trade seems to be reporting a sunny outlook, and retailers are optimistic on the whole about the rest of the summer. It is perhaps a good indicator that most of the retailers we contacted were too busy serving a shop full of customers to speak at length. Here’s to the second half of the year yielding similar good fortune.