How’s Business: Merry or miserable?

With Christmas done and dusted, the retailers’ reports were largely positive

DONE AND DUSTED: With Christmas over, the retailers’ reports were largely positive Photo: Quinn Dombrowski

Jessica Hanson asks the retailers to sum up the festive period and finds there’s plenty of Christmas cheer to go around

In the wake of Christmas and New Year, it’s time for retailers of all industries to take stock of the festive season. As always, predictions abounded in the lead up to Christmas. In the December edition of Gun Trade News I noted that these predictions were massively varied, from forecasts of bank-busting spending to Scrooge-like frugality, what to expect was really anyone’s guess. But hindsight, as they say, is twenty-twenty, so I asked the retailers whether or not Christmas was merry for them.

The round of phone calls started off on not such a festive note; apparently business at Warrington Guns in the lead up to Christmas was nothing special. “It’s been steady,” said one staff member. “Perhaps a little quieter than previous years. It’s been rifles and pistols, mainly.” Add to that the fact that customers are being “careful” with their money, and it’s not exactly the recipe for a record-breaking Christmas.

“The lead up to Christmas was quieter than usual for me,” said Tom Rosling at Charles R Sykes. I began to brace myself for a doom-and-gloom edition of How’s Business. But, I’m spared – there’s a happy upturn: “And then since Christmas it’s been busier than usual – so work that one out!”

I asked Tom what he thought was responsible for that pattern of sales. “I’ve no idea,” he says. “I just go from day to day, I don’t study trends and I don’t make forecasts.” Some might call that wise. “I’ve been here maybe 40 years and I’ve had good Christmases and bad Christmases, and this year the lead up to Christmas the shop was quiet and gun sales were low. Christmas Eve was busy and since Christmas it’s been busy. It’s just the way it is. Obviously people in my area weren’t buying shooting things for Christmas. But since then it’s been better than expected.

“I’m no barometer, but I’ve sold a few rifles and shotguns. I don’t sell that many guns, it’s just a small shop. I don’t expect to sell five guns a week, I just take it as it comes. But it was noticeable, I thought – apart from cartridge sales, which are always good – general sales I would have thought were definitely not as good in the couple of weeks before Christmas.

“I don’t have any marketing strategies, either people come or they don’t. Because I’ve been here 40 years, I see it come and go, so I don’t get quite so worried if things don’t work out one day, it’ll be worked out the next.”

Equally positive and with the same sales pattern to report were the staff at Ian Hodge Shooting and Fieldsports Supplies. “It’s been absolutely mad. It was probably our busiest Christmas ever, and particularly busy between Christmas and New Year. Those were the busiest days in the whole of December. It was absolute chaos here.

“It was mostly guns. Accessories as well, but we did do a lot of guns – a lot of shotguns and a lot of rifles as well, for this time of year. Usually the rifles are a little bit quieter, but they went just as much as shotguns.”

“I tend to find at Christmas-time shoppers don’t think about money quite as much. Between the Christmas and New Year, I always think people have had money for Christmas, and then they want to spend it as quick as they can. We had lots of emails on Christmas Day, which I saw afterwards when we opened again.”

The team at Ian Hodge has also been growing the business, with plans for expansion in the new year: “We do advertise quite a bit. We’re fairly pro-active with advertising and Facebook, and I like to think we offer a good service. We are extending the shop, as long as we get planning permission, which shouldn’t be a problem. We doubled the size of the shop three years ago but we’ve outgrown that now. We can’t complain too much!”

Gary Ward at the London Gun Company, which comprises the London Gun Services on the servicing side and Frederick Beesley on the retail side, also reported a strong Christmas. “It’s been spectacularly busy,” he said, citing the services’ move to the King’s Road as a major factor. Retail also saw a surge: “That’s been very busy with clothing and gun sales.”

Another business full of festive cheer was Churchills of Dereham. “It’s been very well, actually,” said Will. “We’ve done our bit and lots of people are still keen to buy guns over the game season. In terms of Christmas presents and clothing, there were lots of little Christmas presents being sold; wives buying gifts for their shooting husbands, that sort of thing. Especially little things like cleaning kits and gun mats were very popular.

“Obviously we’ve got a lot of game guns in. A lot of 20-bores seem to be selling, but obviously with the game season drawing to a close, people will probably start going for the sporter guns with high ribs, they’ll be coming into more demand now.”

On top of a solid Christmas, Churchills is planning for a successful 2016 too: “I think we’re going to be doing a lot of advertising and we’re going to a game fair. There’s also the local village nearby where we are planning on doing a small clay shoot and having a stand at the village fete. And we’ll in general keep cracking on, keeping people happy.”

Things aren’t all doom and gloom after all, then. On the whole retailers reported strong sales, with the occasional trend-bucking surge to keep them on their toes. All in all, the retail sector looks set for a pleasant start to a happy new year.

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