Bringing a £350 night vision unit to market is a brave enough move – but Nic Wenham tells Gun Trade News there’s much more still to come from his firm Pitch Black Night Vision
Many were surprised by the arrival of the Pitch Black Hunter: what appeared to be a black box that fits to the top of PCP air rifles or rimfires and promised quality night vision capabilities at a mere £350. More still were surprised by the runaway success of the unit, which has seen the consumer press take a shine to it and attracted enough interest – and, potentially, investment – to see the company begin searching for retailers to stock the unit. But no one has been more surprised at the rise of Pitch Black than the man who’s behind it, Nic Wenham.
“It’s a bit like a cake,” is his way of explaining how Pitch Black has taken off in recent months. “Sometimes I haven’t known what ingredients were going to go in. Initially we thought we were just going to make a basic sponge, but by fate, the ingredients came along to bake the perfect cake. We’ve got key people in key places and it’s made us realise that we’re going to be able to evolve and produce much more.”
In other words, what started as an off-the-shelf night vision unit, made on a small scale as a demonstration of technology, could quickly grow into a lot more. “I’m a lighting designer by trade, and very enthusiastic airgunner,” says Nic. “I was trying to explain to people, because of my lighting and product design background, that there’s certain ways you can go about doing things more efficiently with ‘homebrew’ night shooting equipment. They took the mick and didn’t listen – so I thought, I’ll go away and do it myself.
“When I realised how good it was, I thought, there’s potential in this, so I got Richard Bingham [of Best Fittings] involved, who helped me develop a fixed-infrared, five-hour runtime product, and had some limited success.”
That was the Pitch Black Hunter Mk1, which hit the market in the second half of 2013. The augmented version, the Hunter Mk2, has only just had its full debut at the British Shooting Show 2014. At the same retail price of £350, the newer model boasts independent IR power switch, longer run-time and a host of other incremental improvements.
The bigger story with the Mk2, however, is that it has attracted interest from businesses that could team Pitch Black up with more advanced manufacturing processes and machinery. The upshot is that the technological concepts he’s begun to put into the Pitch Black Hunter won’t stop at a single product – they could soon head into more complex projects and larger scales of production. “The Hunter unit is only our launch product,” says Nic. “It is there to say to people, ‘Part of our ethos is that everybody should be able to afford quality night shooting.’ We hope this approach could open this great facet of shooting up to a bigger audience.
“On the back of that, and as a result of the involvement of these other parties, we are looking to seriously up the game on products and features for the price. We’re dabbling with all sorts of stuff in the background, which we want to bring to the fore. Over the next 12 months we will be developing” – and here he pauses, clearly wanting to stay at least slightly cautious for now – “Well, we can certainly put far more features into night vision, increase the quality, increase depth perception and range estimation – all within price ranges that are far more affordable. We’re looking at bringing the £3,000 product within, perhaps, a £1,500 price tag.”
That’s a big claim – one that sounds like a disruptive market force waiting to happen. But Nic insists he’s not out to kill off the optics market as we know it. “We simply want to make people realise that digital optics, day or night, are not difficult. We’re not going to charge money just because we can. We want to be a successful, happy company.
“I would like to think that I could create a brand that, even in this sceptical age, respects the patrons of our sport, and in return they respect us. Essentially any company exists at the grace of the punter buying your product. We don’t want to forget that.”
Here, he’s touched on the ‘remember your roots’ ethos that is so central to his approach. Whatever Pitch Black produces in future, he says, it won’t depart from the essential philosophy contained within the Pitch Black Hunter, which is to make an honest product at an honest price. “The shooter at the end of the day is what we make our business from. We want to make a mark-up and we want to grow, but we don’t want to make the product any more expensive than it needs be. I like my sport, and people are pretty tight for cash these days. It would be nice to think we can offer them a bit more product for the money.”
And what about that core product? What does Nic really think about it? He’s refreshingly, almost comically, honest about its reception: “It’s still shunned by so many. It’s a box on the top of the gun, it’s ugly, all the rest… And yes, the Hunter’s ugly. It’s designed to work first and look nice second. It is a box, and it does look like a box, but by god, does it work. It is the way it is for a reason.
“The UK market is naturally sceptical. The client base will catch up, and when they do, everything’s already in place. At the moment there’s a tendency for people to think, ‘Well, that doesn’t look like how everybody else does it, it must be crap.’”
But the British Shooting Show was the definitive indicator that the Hunter was winning the public over, says Nic: “While I was still a one-man band, I was trying to gauge its success from the reaction online. People will say anything on there – they’re kings of their own domain. I had people saying it looks like a toaster, and so on. Then at the show we had people coming along saying ‘I love it,’ and people saying ‘I don’t even know what it is, what does it do?’ who went away loving it.
That reception has meant more to me than selling it in the first place. It’s the confirmation that what we’re doing is right. It doesn’t matter how good your product is, you always think someone’s going to take it out of the box and laugh at it all day long. But when they come back and go, ‘That really is a good bit of kit,’ there it is – it’s worth the money, you’ve got the thumbs up.
“Even if this becomes very successful, I would like to think that at the end of the day I’m still a consumer.” Clearly, Nic Wenham knows where he comes from – it’s where he’s going that could really excite the trade.
Interested in stocking the Pitch Black Hunter? Contact Nic on 07899 926552 or visit www.pitchblacknightvision.co.uk.