New distributor Country Sports Wholesale has secured deals for a number of marquee products, including Titan rifles, Steinert bipods and Klinsky aftermarket stocks. But how did it happen, and why are brands choosing a ‘new kid on the block’ as opposed to a more established importer? We asked the founders, Jim Stutley and Jon Workman, for the answers…
So how did it all happen?
JS We started off after Jon left Edgar Brothers – he went out on his own and started getting a few brands together for himself, going round selling them. He came to see us in January and said he wanted to go to IWA but couldn’t get a ticket because he wasn’t with anybody. We said we’d get him a ticket and he could come with us, as we were going anyway.
He said, “I’ve identified some stuff that I want to look at importing,” and went through the details of the Steinert chronos and bipods, and Titan rifles. I said, “How are you going to get the rifles in if you haven’t got an RFD?” And he said, “I wanted to talk to you about that…” Based on that, we came to an agreement. That’s how it started – an amalgamation of Jon and us.
We went to IWA, we had a chat with Titan, they said they want to come back to the UK – we were probably just in the right place at the right time. We talked to Steinert; they were keen. We talked to Energy Hunting, a brand of batteries – they were looking for the same sort of thing, which is to break into the UK market.
Jon had done a lot of homework, and found a lot people that weren’t in the UK. We just approached them, and the ones who jumped on board, jumped on board.
Titan rifles – they’re under the RWS banner, aren’t they?
JW It’s a separate company, an Austrian company that started a few years ago. They used to make the Titan rifles for RWS, but they’re actually a standalone company, and they’ve started doing it in their own right. They’re based in Kufstein, Austria, and they’ve been producing there since 1996.
Your press materials mention Vortex Optics – are you taking that brand on too?
JW No; it’s a separate entity as I operate as a sales agent for Vortex. With the Titan rifles, we are working in partnership with Vortex, putting together packages with Titan rifles and Vortex scopes.
Why have these brands decided to choose you ahead of a more established distributor?
JW Some of the products, especially like Steinert, are new and unique – so they’re looking for people who go at the market from a slightly different angle.
Because we can put wholesale and retail together, with experience, I think that’s what they’re looking for. They don’t want to just fall in as one of a huge number of brands in a big portfolio.
Because it’s pushing new things into markets, they want people who know both sides of the equation, because they don’t necessarily know the markets themselves.
And I’ve got existing relationships with so many dealers – the vast majority of the time, I’m on the road, visiting retailers. The guys at Stutley handle all the back-room stuff, the packaging, the accounts side, and the distribution. My role is to be out there selling it.
What’s the response been like from the trade so far?
JS Really, really positive.
JW They’re actually quite pleased to see somebody new coming into the marketplace, with new ideas and ways of looking at it. The whole idea is that not only are we out there to make money, we understand – because of Jim’s retail experience – that the retailers have to make money too. We’re trying to be quite firm on things like retail prices, making sure they’re held, so retailers can make a proper margin.
Because of that, we know all the products have got to be looked at from all angles. There are actually a few bits and pieces we looked at that we decided not to take on, because the dealer can’t make enough money out of them.
What in your nascent product range are you particularly excited about?
JW Because we’re across several marketplaces, there’s quite a lot with the potential to do well. Obviously the Titan rifles are a big thing for us. The Steinert, with the new bipod, is something completely different. Klinsky stocks, that’s another one – there’s been a few come over but next to nothing. The new centrefire moderator we’re showcasing, it’s brand new to the UK. We’ve specifically tried to go for that, rather than just taking products off other wholesalers. We’re aiming to launch and promote brand new, useful products.
So you want to invest in growing the market?
JS Exactly. The main idea was not to take anything off existing businesses. When you go around IWA, there’s so many products there that you just don’t get over here – we thought it would be a good opportunity to get good products from Europe into the UK.
Where do you plan to take CSW?
JW We’re intending to do the British Shooting Show next year, and we’re also going to support dealer days and range days around the country.
We’ve already started advertising in several magazines to generate end-user interest – in fact we’ve already got a list of people around the country that want to look at it and buy it. We just have to contact them back with the details of their local dealer.
On that note, what kind of dealers are you looking for?
JW We do want to specifically deal with the guys who are willing to invest with us. We want proper dealers who are willing to showcase the products. And we realise it costs them money to turn the lights on and have that showroom – which is why we realise it’s important to preserve their margin.
JS You’ve got to have a retail presence on the street. We’re not looking to go into the internet-sales market. The gun trade as a whole needs a retail presence, and that’s what we want to support.
Have any big names taken on your products so far?
JW We’ve concentrated on some of the bigger rifle retailers, because of the nature of our products. But what we didn’t want to do was do too much showing everything around before our official launch (on 29 June) – we wanted to generate the interest in it first.
We have got a lot of the big guys – Countryman of Derby, Forest Lodge, Bradshaw’s, Thetford Guns – really keen to come on board with it. In terms of actual models in shops, it all kicks off after the press day – we didn’t want to send out all our demonstration models beforehand!
Jim, what’s it been like going from a retail model to a distribution model?
JS It’s been a real learning curve. Actually going to IWA and talking to manufacturers has opened my eyes. It’s surprising from my side what is out there. But it’s good for us. It’s a natural expansion – because of the size of the shop – and it’s been very interesting. It was something David and I had been thinking about, but we didn’t know how to get into it. When Jon came to see us in January, it seemed an obvious decision.
We’ve got an on-site gunsmith, who can do alterations – so we can do anything now within the gun industry. It’s an ideal way for us to go.
JW That’s a big advantage from a trade point of view. Because we’ve got an on-site gunsmith, and everybody is a shooter here, it means we’ve got the technical knowledge to back up our experience. Quite often you’ll find people, especially when they’re new, don’t have that back up.
What’s your ‘elevator pitch’ to prospective retailers?
JW We’ve spent a lot of time doing a lot research before we brought these products on board. We talked to a lot of other retailers out there, and asked them what’s really important for them. And in truth, one of the big things is that they’ve got to make money. One of the traditional problems with the gun industry is they’ve been unable to make a decent margin. They’ll give the service to back it up, but they find it increasingly difficult to do that if they’re not making enough money to allow them to spend time with the customer.
JS CSW will promote a decent margin for you, and a back-up service. Whatever it is, it’ll go out within two or three days of you having a problem. The biggest problem I have with retail is getting a back-up service where the wholesaler responds to your problem. We will do that very quickly for the retailer – because the most important person of all is the end user, and we want them to be able to go into their local gunshop and have their problem resolved very quickly.