Andy Statham is a man with big ideas about getting new shooters hooked – now he’s trying to put those ideas into practice. He tells Colin Fallon about new fieldsports directory Excellas.
Directories aren’t exactly the most romantic aspect of a specialist industry – we tend to think of them as rather functional, a mix of sprawling databases and misspelt phone numbers – but Andy Statham doesn’t think like most of us. He’s launched Excellas Sport & Leisure, an online directory of shooting opportunities that aims to uncover the small businesses and forgotten faces of the shooting world. And he sees it not as a glorified spreadsheet but as a way for shooting to solve one of its most persistent problems: How to make it easy for new shooters to get involved whilst providing a valuable resource for the more experienced enthusiast.
“Shooting should be a lot more accessible than it is,” he says, clearly outspoken about the lack of opportunities afforded to new shooters. “I don’t understand why so many shoots say, for example, ‘We don’t want inexperienced gundogs.’ Of course I understand why, on a £2,000 a day shoot, you don’t want a dog that causes havoc. But how do you give gundogs that experience? Where are shoots’ pre-season days for young shots?”
That’s where Excellas comes in – it doesn’t provide those days itself, or insist to the public that they’re going to like shooting, but it does offer a tool by which people interested in fieldsports can easily find the shooting opportunity that suits them the most. “My son now is 15, and out of 14 other kids he plays football with twice a week, only one other child shoots or goes fishing… the rest mostly play video games in their spare time.
“Those kids, if you give them the opportunity, you’ll find that some of them take to it like a duck to water. I’m not saying they’ll be the next Olympic gold medallist, but they might just find something they’re good at. But there’s very little opportunity. There needs to be something that ties it all together.”
Andy’s outspoken nature extends to the Excellas business model too: “I am strongly against the term ‘industry standard’. Everyone charges the same CPMs, everyone does the same this, that or the other… it’s not for me.”
Offering business owners the option of placing a standard listing completely free of charge or charging a flat fee of £18 a year for a premium business listing, Excellas takes in all forms of fieldsports, from stalking to clay shooting to archery and fishing together with gunsmiths, wildfowlers, instructors, retailers and more. Members of the public don’t have to sign up before viewing listings – Excellas trades on its accessibility.
Then again, accessibility isn’t in short supply – fieldsports businesses wanting to put themselves in touch with customers already have plenty of opportunities out there. But, says Andy, the appeal of Excellas is in its detail: “A lot of work has gone into the custom fields you can add data to – is it wheelchair accessible, do you take young shots for a discount, do you take inexperienced dogs… They’re not a generic ‘put in a phone number and thumbnail and that’s it’ job.
“On top of that, Excellas is a holistic service. It ties up the gunshops, the sports providers, accommodation providers and all the other aspects of a day’s shooting, in a way there’s currently just nothing for.
“Say you turn up to a clay shoot and you’re short on ammunition. You Google the nearest gun shop on your phone… Where are its opening hours on the website? Can I just press the phone number to dial it, or do I need to write it down? Does it even sell ammunition? It’s a nightmare.
“All those considerations have gone into this. The plan for Excellas is for the user to tell it, ‘Find me a gunshop.’ Ok, here’s 10 in a 40-mile radius. Click on the nearest – opening hours, email, website, telephone in front of you, all clickable.”
Speaking to me seven weeks after the website went live, Andy’s confident about its potential – he says it’s had more than 400 business sign-ups already. But it’s not all been smooth sailing so far: “I spent three months collating data, typing. I got up to about 25,000 entries. The idea was to use email mailshots to contact relevant businesses, but so many got swallowed up by junk/spam folders or were overlooked. So we changed the plan and sat back quietly, played with Twitter and Facebook, did some calling one on one, and little by little, made sure there’s no bugs in the site – everything from directory searching to invoicing and payment. Customer feedback is always of importance, and having received a wealth of feedback, we are now in a position to go to market more aggressively.”
That marketing involves reaching the dealers, suppliers and service providers in the gun trade, convincing them to sign up and building a ‘critical mass’ of entries. It’s the hardest job for any product of this kind, and Excellas is no exception: “The biggest challenge we face is to impress Excellas’s value on people in the shooting industry, who have heard every variant of sales pitch before.
“There is a blinkered approach out there. People say, ‘No thanks, we’ve got enough business already.’ At first this is disappointing. but when you realise you’re the 312th person who’s called them that day to try to sell them something, you start to understand the attitude a bit more.
“The problem we have is that on the face of it, when you first visit Excellas, whatever you think of the website – unless they spend five or ten minutes going into it, you won’t realise the steps we’ve gone to above and beyond other information sites.”
But Excellas isn’t a numbers operation concerned with getting as many businesses as possible signed up. It’s about getting the right businesses, Andy says – the ones that are really going to interest the shooting public and show them a name or a service they might not have heard of before. “Do I want the biggest companies in the world advertising on Excellas? 20-30 per cent of me would say yes, it’s easy, take the money. A stronger proportion of me says no – because for any customer that comes onto the site, it’s of no interest to them.
“The absolute giants of the trade – everyone already knows who they are. Every shooter already has their preferred brand of gun and ammo. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. Whereas if I have the small businesses that maybe go that one step further to compete with the bigger boys, we could have something of real interest.
“That’s my real goal – a site that’s well regarded, that will give an outlet to the smaller businesses that don’t have the marketing budget to spend £1,500 a pop on a mailshot.”
Of course, since Andy is working on Excellas full-time, the site has to make money too. Here’s where he’s oddly laid back: “I worked as a consultant before this, and I grew so bored of earning people a huge amount of money, bringing them success, and watching them stop doing all the practices I’ve brought in as soon as they think they’ve become successful.
“I started to take it personally when I saw my projects wrecked – I wanted to start something where I didn’t have to answer to anyone and could ensure that at every turn, the company can deliver on all its promises. We should not trade in a world of smoke and mirrors – we should have a straightforward, cost-effective platform that will promise less but deliver more.
“It just has to pay a reasonable wage, but as part of that, if I can crack the charity and community project aspect, raising funds and improving facilities, and get that one letter from a parent thanking us for putting their child in touch with a fieldsports opportunity they’re really enjoying… That’s what I’m really after, as opposed to a few extra noughts in the bank.”
Get a free or premium business listing on Excellas at www.excellas.co.uk.