How’s Business: Taking stock

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Seeland clothing seemed to be a good seasonal seller

In the first How’s Business column of 2015, Gun Trade News’s Mary Martin tries to find out what new year will have in store for the gun trade

It might be the peak of the festive season right now, but before you know it it’ll be over. Whether you are the type to meet this with sorrow or joy, there is no disputing that Christmas is a strong time of year for sales. Or is it the game season that’s really driving it? Or is it a rise in the popularity of shooting in general? It’s likely that a combination of all three is making for a few smiles among gun dealers this Christmas. It’s particularly the third point that could have a long-lasting effect – if game and clay shooting are indeed becoming more popular, this could continue into 2015 and beyond with a knock-on positive effect in all areas of the shooting sector. Hoping for a spate of positive reports in accordance with this, I spoke to a selection of retailers about how things were going and what they had to look forward to in 2015.

Mike Hurney of The Shooting Party noticed a positive trend likely attributable to Christmas starting in mid-October, with an increase in online sales at ‘giftable’ prices that were “mainly products for men bought by women; masculine products sent to female names.” This increase in sales wasn’t reflected on the shop floor in this instance: “The floor seems busier in January, perhaps as a result of people coming out with Christmas money to spend.”

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The Trophy CO2 flew off the shelves

When asked what the best seller for November was, Mike said the Trophy CO2 by Airforce One has had a brilliant reception: “It sold out in a matter of days!” That’s happening without the gun being immediately available: many customers put the gun on back order to be received in January. Early (or belated) Christmas presents, or just a strong product? It’s hard to say. Mike does think that Christmas is a big factor in shooting sector sales, though: “We all like the increase in turnover. I used to think the shooting sector was less affected by Christmas, but adjusting the product mix to include some affordable products for people to buy as gifts creates a real Santa Claus effect.”

At the Skipton Gun Room, a retailer selling almost an entire complement of shooting products, business has been good throughout the whole year. “Christmas sales do come in,” says Tom Forrest, who is also a Daystate trained engineer, “but a little later in the year.” For Skipton, there is a surge of sales starting a few months before Christmas, but it seems that the game season is the reason. Tom confirms: “The game season has kept us the most busy.” When asked what is selling well, he replied: “Anything game season related, cartridge bags, game bags, shotguns and air rifles. A lot of cartridges.” Hull Cartridges were best selling brand for them at that point. 2015 looks to be a just as busy for Tom, with game fairs on the horizon and occupying a large section of the calendar, starting with the Shooting Show in February where he will appear with Daystate.

Ogden’s Shooting Supplies is a Lancashire-based company, manufacturing shooting luggage. Phil Ogden says they are having a great year, with best seasonal sellers being gunslips and game bags. Phil enjoys the Christmas season: “The best bit about being a retailer at Christmas is meeting customers and having stuff I make being appreciated by them. It’s nice when they come back for presents and their friends who have seen the products come to buy things for themselves.” Phil said Ogdens has an exciting year lined up, with 2015 set to be its first year as an exhibitor at the CLA Game Fair. Phil is no stranger to game fairs, but has yet to exhibit at the CLA, where he is excited to represent hand-crafted English goods. He thinks being a British brand is definitely advantageous: “That’s what sells the stuff, being made in England.” Could it be that the propensity toward buying British is part of a symbiotic relationship with shooting becoming more popular as a sport. Phil thinks that manufacturing in the UK is a good position to be in, and he is selling everything he makes.

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Browning were top selling guns at Oxford Gun Co.

One company that is very excited about 2015 is the Oxford Gun Company. Following on from a 2014 that saw a record 1,500 new young guns take up the sport and an increase in women shooting in the last couple of months, 2015 looks set to continue in the same vein, they tell me. As well as Christmas boosting shop sales, staff have really noticed a lot of products flying off the shelves owing to the large amount of newcomers. Tom Florent, manager, said “The entire year has been really busy, so there isn’t much change, but there is a rise in sales that is not so much caused by the Christmas rush, but because more and more people are getting involved with the sport.” In the shop the best sellers gun-wise have been Browning, closely followed by Rizzini and Caesar Guerini at the high end and Lincoln at the other end of the spectrum. Many makes of cartridges have been selling but when pushed for a top seller, Tom says it has been Gamebore.

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Harkila boots are on lots of wish lists

Products-wise Alan Paine clothing has been selling particularly well. Is this Christmas or new-starter related? “A bit of both,” says Tom. “Seeland are the best selling product overall – as a company they are extremely proactive, and the products are competitively priced.” Tom went on to say that Aigle and Le Chameau boots are always going to sell well in the winter, but for “posey” boots, linked hand in hand with clay shooting becoming “fashionable as a sport,” Härkila were “in a league of their own.” For those that can afford them, anyway!

Tom revealed that Oxford Gun Co is looking forwards to some exciting prospects in 2015. Its the tenth anniversary of The Schools Challenge, and this year, the top prize is a car – not bad!

Tom says: “The Schools challenge is more of a marketing-related company,” and accordingly, they have seen an interest in non-shooting related brands that are getting involved in supporting it. More than 15 non-shooting sector companies are backing the venture, in fact. This has led to exciting developments on the shop side of things, with involvement from a clothing brand outside of the shooting sector looking to cause a stir. Sadly we will have to wait for more information on this.

Back to the job in hand, and, importantly, the question of what the gun trade will be eating for Christmas. As it turns out, 80 per cent of the retailers we spoke to are going to have traditional turkey in favour of game on the big day. What this is symbolic of, who knows?

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