Three years and two brands down the line, Malmo Guns’ Brian Prest discusses with GTN the history and future of the distribution side of the business.
Occupying joint roles as a retailer and distributor can be a tricky task. You have to constantly walk a tightrope between supporting your dealers and not undermining your own retail operation. But there are examples of businesses who get it right – and one of them is Malmo Guns, the Lancashire-based retailer that’s behind the recent growth of Cheddite cartridges in the UK. Three years since Malmo took on the brand, director Brian Prest is outspoken about its potential.
“I think we’re getting it right,” he says. “We concentrated on the clay loads first but we’re seeing a lot of game shooters convert to our cartridges now. The brand is starting to become accepted. It took time, but it’s working.”
Retailers typically only make first forays into the supply side when all the right conditions are in place – which tends, alongside preparation and positioning, to take a certain amount of luck. In Malmo’s case, what’s notable is that it was Cheddite who initially approached them in 2012 – not the other way around. Why would Cheddite pick Malmo over an established distributor? “It was through a recommendation,” says Brian. “Besides that, we were logistically able to do it, we had a big enough premises to handle the storage, which not everybody does. We carry 80 pallets of cartridges – we were retailing a lot even before we took on the distribution. So it went on from there.”
Of course there’s more than just chance involved – and Brian admits the company had considered setting up a distribution wing before. “We’d obviously thought about it, but generally within this trade, most of the ‘good’ brands are already taken and everything is well established, which doesn’t leave much room for a new distributor to start up. When Cheddite became available it was a rare opportunity to take on a strong, established make. Now we’re moving seven or eight million a year.
“Clay cartridges are what really took off first. It’s easier to build a clay brand because there’s a lot more of an outward-facing body to make marketing easier – grounds, shooters and so on, all of whom talk to each other. Game shoots are a lot more insular – they pick their brand and stick to it. If you want to build a brand in game shooting, you can’t go in to it with a ‘brand new’ name – you have to be established already. If you’re already supplying grounds, supplying shops and sponsoring shooters, it becomes easier.”
Those sponsored shooters include Michael Turner, who won the DTL English and British Opens this year, and Ed Ling, who has won a quota place for the 2016 Olympic Games. “I’m not interested in mercenaries,” says Brian. “The girls and guys we’ve got on board are all people we’re proud of.”
Despite this, Brian says the best marketing tool he’s had is the quality of the cartridges themselves. “We never set out to be the cheapest on the market – we’ve created products to a set standard at a reasonable price. We’re not competing at the very bottom end. If I wanted to do that, I could go to the continent, buy a wagonload of cheap cartridges and sell them mega-cheap. But that wouldn’t create any longevity. We offer products such as the Drago Sporting and the Universal, which are almost as cheap as the cheapest on the market, but are a better cartridge. You can tell by the way the sales are growing that people have realised it’s a good product.”
In fact, Malmo has thought about its distribution strategy long and hard: “We price our own retail products accordingly and don’t undercut the trade margin – we leave a reasonable margin for other dealers. It would be short-sighted to do otherwise – soon we wouldn’t have any dealers.
The other thing we do with dealers is give them a decent area. It’s not exactly an area of exclusivity – but we don’t want to have three dealers in a 10-mile radius, making no margin because they’re too busy competing with each other. Cartridges are a bulky product, shops can tie up a lot of money in them – so we can’t let them be sold for nothing.”
At some point, this means Malmo will close the door to new Cheddite retailers – but with around 25 in the current network, it’s currently still looking for growth. Brian describes the qualities he looks for in a retailer: “I’ve been a bit old fashioned – I’ve taken dealers on board based on how I felt they came across. I’ve backed the people who supported me from the start.
“We’ve got a good product and some retailers have taken a while to realise that. I’ve seen retailers turn down the opportunity to stock Cheddite – they’re not prepared to go out on a limb and try something different, even though they’ll make more margin. Then another retailer nearby takes it on, does really well with it – and of course the first retailer comes back to us wanting the cartridges, because all of a sudden people are asking for them. But by that point, we’ve covered the area – so they can’t have them.
You don’t have to be the biggest shop in the world to stock Cheddite. It’s surprising the volumes you can move – when people realise there’s a good product, they will travel for it. I’ve had people saying, ‘Go on, I’ll just try a few thousand,’ and now they’re ordering a pallet every fortnight.”
A newer addition to Malmo’s product range is RA Sport, a range of affordable clay and game guns from Italy. It’s early days, but Brian says they’re taking off too: “Their rep said, ‘What do you want to start with? Five guns?’ I said, ‘No, 25,’ and when the first batch came, we unpacked them and I sent him an email straight away to order another 20. It’s no good thinking ‘I’ll sell these then order some more’ – you have to ensure continuous supply. We’ve had three or four batches since.
“We’re retailing most of them, to be fair, but we’ve had quite a few into the trade. We’ll just let it grow organically. It’s an Italian gun at the price of a Turkish one – that’s the headline that sells it.”
So the obvious final question is: After Cheddite and RA Sport, what’s next? The response is that it’s not about further outward growth – rather about concentrating on growing the brands they already have. “I have invested a lot in these brands – we have a seven-figure stock level. We built a new clothing room two years ago too – we’ve got a lot going on, so just for now, we’re going to consolidate at this level. We have no immediate plans to take on any more. We have two really good brands, and I think we can do well with them. I don’t want to take on too much and go about it half-heartedly. I think, given the proper service, there is the potential to sell 20 million Cheddite cartridges a year.”