As the game season begins to bear fruit for retailers, Jessica Hanson finds out what’s been selling well across the back end of summer.
Although grouse season has been under way for some time at the time of writing, most retailers have been waiting for September and October for game shooting to kick in across the country. The game seasons, and the plentiful business opportunities they bring, are what the retailers we spoke to are looking forward to most. Some are starting to feel the benefit to trade, as consumers begin to pre-order cartridges, get shotguns in working order and stock up on accessories.
“We’ve had a flat two weeks, but things have picked up considerably the last few days. It’s the start of the game season,” says Marie Fiddler at R Bamford Guns. “Shooters are digging their guns out of the cupboard, deciding they need a service. The guys are looking to maybe trade up a bit for this season, and cartridges are starting to move again now, particularly the game cartridges as well. And there’s still quite a good number of licences coming through, which is always beneficial.”
And the game season is bringing back loyal customers to many businesses. “We’re starting to see the same old faces reappear as the game season begins,” says Andrew Lunn at Shooters World in Mexborough. “Things are picking up now the farmers have got in the field and started with a little bit of combining. We’ve had quite an upturn in trade over the last two or three weeks. It’s mainly cartridges at the moment, but clothing has started to move a little bit as well. I think one or two of the lads are starting to get themselves prepared for the oncoming season, so one or two pieces of clothing are starting to move – and also the camouflage gear as well, with the pigeon shooting over the stubble.”
It’s a similar story at A1 Guns, based near Pontarddulais, Wales, as the staff prepare for the game season to get into full swing. “Things are steady,” says Chris. “We’re in between seasons, just starting the pigeon shooting, and it should start picking up in the next month, ready for duck.” And of course, there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of repairs and services as shooters ready themselves for the season.
Over at AM Hobbs Firearms pre-orders are bolstering business: “All the cartridges have started already for the game season, people are ordering and pre-ordering various different cartridges that they like.” But unfortunately, some supply problems are stunting potential sales: “There’s a major problem with supplies from America – powder, primers and ammunition – which is definitely having a knock-on effect for all dealers. You can’t get it. The customer comes in, wants his normal primer or normal powder, and we just can’t get it. It’s been like that for over a year now.”
Allcocks, based in Stourport-on-Severn in Worcestershire, is seeing some shotgun sales as the season approaches. “They’re not not as popular as air rifles, but they do go out,” says Mark Webb. “The brands we sell are Beretta, Mirouku, Browning. We probably sell more Berettas than any other gun. We’ve got the clay shoots around us, and the game season’s on its way upwards.”
Speaking of air rifles, it seems that sales in the airgun market are staying steady, with every retailer we spoke to this month who stocks air rifles citing them as probably their most popular sector. Mark of Allcocks was enthusiastic about trade: “It’s very good, we’re busy. We’re very busy both online and footfall in the shop. At the moment it’s air rifles. It’s vermin control and there’s also target shooting; there’s lots of clubs around here, so it’s both – about 50/50.” Mark has also noticed an interesting trend in clientele over recent years, which could reveal junior shooting equipment to be a key market area. “More and more kids are shooting. The parents are encouraging them to shoot. We’ve sold a lot of junior air rifles. I think it must be a family sport, or they want their kids to keep it going in the family.” Andrew at Shooters World also praised airgun sales – “Air rifles are giving a good turnover, mostly for vermin control” – and it seems the market is due to stay strong, thanks to autumnal and winter pest control.
“We sell clothing as well,” says Mark of Allcocks when I ask about the strongest products in their range. “When customers come in to buy a gun, they buy a vest or they buy an outfit, and we cover all sports. They’re buying shirts, socks, they’re buying footwear, they’re buying bits at a time. If they want to buy an outfit, they come in to the shop and try it all on. But we do online as well, which is really taking off. What’s standing out is Schöffel branded products. At the moment that’s probably our biggest selling clothing. They’ve got a new range for this year; we sell a lot of the vests and gilets. All the shooters, they like their quality, the stuff that is well made. If they are spending a lot of money, they want something to keep them dry, to keep them warm and that stands out as well.”
Paul Taylor at Kexby Fieldsports has a different view of clothing as a business opportunity. “It’s something we’re getting out of, because it’s a waste of time,” he says. “They can get what they want off the internet. And people that I’ve been speaking to in the trade who sell it on the internet are sick to death of it, because people buy it and then send it back. It’s a nightmare.”
Other retailers seem to agree with Paul. The staff at AM Hobbs Firearms say that “clothing seems to be pretty dead” and Marie Fiddler of R Bamford Guns, Lancashire, says: “We’re doing very little clothing these days, because we don’t have an internet presence for clothing, so we’ve come out of that part of the business. We concentrate more on our guns now.”
One general consensus to emerge this month is the unshakeable feeling that consumers are still being careful with their money. “I just don’t think people have got the money at the moment,” say the staff at AM Hobbs.
“I think it’s been such an iffy year for the general clay shooter,” says Marie Fiddler of R Bamford. “The type of shooter who doesn’t like to get wet on a Sunday. The weather does have an effect on those sorts of things. The avid clay shooter, who’s in full competition mode, will turn out in anything, but your general run-of-the-mill shooter might not do, and I think that’s probably what’s affected us a little bit this year. And I think the high street in general has been down – we are part of that scenario, at the end of the day.”
Marie has noticed one trend that indicates consumers are still financially wary: “Most of the gentlemen looking at shotguns come with a budget. It’s a case of what they can afford, or what they can afford over the next few months as the credit cards come in. And we’ve noticed over the last few years that when they come to trade a gun, they’re not making a big leap, whereas they used to put £1000, £1500 with the gun they’re trading in to go up two brackets, they’re just moving up slowly. It says to me that there’s not a lot of money.”
Chris at A1 Guns also feels that consumers aren’t willing or able to part with a lot of cash: “In terms of sales, everyone round here, unfortunately, goes for the cheaper option, so anything that’s on that cheaper scale of things is sought after.”
But despite a lack of footfall and disposable income from the consumers, most of our retailers said things were holding steady. “It’s a bit quieter than last year, but it’s pretty much where it should be for this time of year,” says Chris.
“This year, although we’ve had a fairly quiet summer, I would say it’s been steady,” says Andrew at Shooters World. “A couple of the wholesalers that I buy from say we are actually up this year, but I don’t think that applies to everyone across the board.”