What happens when a big distributor picks up a small company? In a Little Acorns special, John Green of Firebird Targets, now distributed by Edgar Brothers, relates his experiences
Firebird Reactive Targets are one of the most exciting shooting accessories on the market today. Whether it is airguns, shotguns, centrefire or rimfire rifles, they deliver a whole new dimension for both shooters and spectators as targets disappear in a flash of bright light accompanied by a loud bang and a cloud of white smoke.
Wiltshire-based inventor John Green spent 12 years perfecting the targets, which contain a small explosive charge that ignites when it receives a direct hit. Back in the 1980s, John taught military organisations all over the world how to operate target drones for missile systems such as Rapier and SAM7. From there, he designed the Gnat, a hugely popular radio-controlled model aircraft for shooting events. After selling the company in 2003, John went on to invent Firebird Reactive Targets.
“There were three main challenges. The first was to make the targets work with all calibres and types of firearms. The second was to make them safe, and finally we had to make them legal,” reveals John, adding: “We went through around 100 prototypes before we arrived at today’s product.”
In 2010, John joined forces with Lucinda Bowers. She left her successful career at Carter Jonas to take charge of Firebird’s sales, marketing and distribution from an airfield in Wiltshire. “While Lucinda looked after growing the brand, I was away working 16-hour days at the licensed factory in Lincolnshire. I made each target by hand. At that stage, it almost took the same amount of time to assemble one target as it does now to make 1,000,” said John.
Finding a factory that was licensed for the manufacture of what are essentially explosives was a big hurdle to the company’s growth. “It was not ideal that the factory was nearly four hours away from the airfield, but there were only around half a dozen to choose from. It was an exciting time, but I was constantly exhausted.”
Over time, the targets and manufacturing process became more refined until the dynamic duo could afford to employ someone on a part-time basis. The next significant milestone in Firebird’s history was when John met Simon Barr of Tweed Media, which in turn led to a deal with one of the UK’s biggest distributors. “Simon introduced us to his client Edgar Brothers, one of the largest firearms and ammunition distributors in Britain,” said John. “Over the next six months, our relationship grew. Now it is the sole UK distributor for Firebird to the retail outlets, which has propelled the product forward to the next level. This link-up is hugely significant for Firebird, and will help put our brand on the map and in front of shooters.”
This deal will ensure Firebird keeps up a well-maintained presence among dealers and consumers countrywide – allowing John and Lucinda to turn their attentions to America. “We are currently setting up Firebird USA in Fort Worth, Texas. We are also gearing up to launch another target, this time for archery fans. So watch this space.”